The Jackson-Madison County School System is often cited as a main reason families and businesses relocate to the area. The system’s 23 schools, which include two magnet high schools, an Early College High School, a Montessori elementary school and middle school academies, provide students with a high-quality education while preparing them to compete in an increasingly high-tech, global economy.
"Our students will become the next generation of leaders in our community, so the school district's work has a tremendous impact on the region’s quality of life,” says Jared Myracle, Ed.D., chief academic officer for the Jackson-Madison County School System. “Local industries rely on the district to equip students with the skills necessary to enter the workforce and to contribute immediately, so it’s incumbent on us to make sure we are doing that in an effective manner.”
Myracle says workforce development is central to the system’s mission with a primary emphasis on career readiness, whether that means direct entry into the workforce with the ability to earn a living wage or attendance at a college, university or technical community college.
“Our best efforts at preparing students for success at the next level is an emphasis on building their capacity to read and think critically,” he says. “We can’t wait until a student is in the junior or senior year of high school to start. This starts with an early emphasis on literacy and building soft skills, such as timeliness and the ability to work with others, in elementary schools and continues until they walk across a stage as a high school graduate.”
The school system introduced 1,000 new laptops into the high schools in 2017, and a new math curriculum is being implemented that starts in kindergarten and goes through Algebra II in high school. But Myracle says the system’s most valuable resource and “the thing that makes our students successful is the person at the front of the classroom innovating on a daily basis to change the lives of students.”
“The most innovative aspect of our district will always be our people, not our programs. Every day you can walk into a classroom at any number of schools across JMCSS and find a teacher who is using innovative methods and strategies, along with good old-fashioned hard work, to reach students. Our job as a district is to equip our teachers and principals with the tools and resources they need in order to meet the needs of students,” he says.
Jackson families also can choose private, parochial and college preparatory schools, including Augustine School, Jackson Christian School, Sacred Heart of Jesus High School, St. Mary’s Catholic School, Trinity Christian Academy, University School of Jackson, West Tennessee School for the Deaf.
Stuart Hirstein, head of school at the private University School of Jackson, says he wants his school to become an engine for Jackson’s economic growth.
“We’ll do this through preparing our students for the 21st century while developing leadership skills, critical thinking skills, communication skills, and innovation,” Hirstein says. “In our current information- age economy, too many schools are still focused on teaching as if we were still in the industrial age. At USJ, we are preparing students for college and beyond beginning as young as our lower school students. We encourage teamwork and think one of the biggest things to ensuring success in college and beyond is the ability to solve problems within a team.”
He says the school also focuses on teaching complex thinking skills to prepare students for highly technical jobs. The school’s Makers Space innovation lab in the lower school encourages students to work in teams to solve complex problems using the latest technology. In the middle school, students are learning to build complex roller coasters by measuring velocity while using engineering and mathematics skills, and upper school students are taking computer coding classes as well as classes focused on community service and civic responsibility.
“In the workplace today, it is important to solve problems using the best path. Our modern-day workplace requires innovation, creativity, critical thinking and strong communication skills. We are preparing students for some jobs that don’t yet exist using technology that has yet to be invented. This requires us to focus on skills that will always be of value in any future,” he says.