The Path Forward
Core Concepts of the Strategic Plan
Take a Stand
Our students need more than knowledge; they need courage. Initiatives targeting character, ethical, spiritual, and leadership development will support student growth and confidence.
Traditions & Transitions
When Ray Higgins joined JA in the 1970s, he shared his love for and the benefits of the great outdoors with our students and families. “The seventh grade canoe trip begins the transition for youngsters in a classroom to youngsters on the way to adulthood,” explains teacher Bruce Sumrall. It’s a tradition we intend to continue. Our strategic plan includes expansion of outdoor and experiential education for every grade level.
Lunch to Lead
This relatively new opportunity for Upper School students invites community members to campus to explore and discuss ideas about courageous and unconventional leadership. Speakers have included a recent JA grad attending college at Ole Miss, a Catholic sister who is also president of a health system, and a local physician. The workshops allow students to interact with adults who are confident, caring, and spiritually centered. These explorations of “quiet leadership” are targeted for growth as part of the strategic plan.
Each year, JA sixth graders, faculty, and chaperones spent a night at Heifer Village, an experiential learning setting designed to increase awareness of how hunger and poverty affect people. Middle School students reenacted the challenges of living in areas of the world where Heifer International sends aid. This trip builds on the learning Lower School students do about Heifer International and the communities touched by the organization’s work. As part of our strategic plan, JA will expand this relationship and seek additional servant leadership opportunities for students.
What We'll Do
- Define standards for and implementation of formal ethical and character education
- Develop additional character-building and team-challenge traditions similar to our rafting and canoe trips so that each grade-level and parents can participate
- Identify service-learning and servant-leadership opportunities within Jackson, regionally, nationally, and internationally
- Integrate leadership development, mentoring, and relationship strengthening across co-curricular offerings
- Expand our partnership with the Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education
For decades, JA has been celebrated as a place that produces not just great students, but also good kids. Our outdoors experiences have served as “a-ha” moments where students learn their limitless individual potential, explore spirituality, and come to believe in the power of teamwork to address challenges. Students at JA also have a long history of initiating volunteer and service projects that give back to the Jackson Metropolitan area.
Why It Matters
Our economy and society both continue to change rapidly. Cultivating both professional and community leadership requires students to understand the perspectives of others and to overcome adversity. Possessing a strong moral compass as well as the confidence and resilience to navigate the unknown are crucial to thriving whatever the circumstance—while still retaining deeply considered beliefs about what is right and just.
On the Path to Purpose
The Ethical Education Committee has developed a student-centered plan that fosters both knowledge and action and reflects the Jackson Academy mission. On the Path to Purpose poses the questions: Who am I?, Who are we?, and What is my purpose? Through self-awareness activities, students are guided to recognize how physical habits, emotions, strengths, interests, and stress affect behavior. Each student is also helped to develop self-management techniques to handle emotions, achieve goals, develop courage, and gain resilience in the face of failure. On the Path to Purpose provides students tools and practice for relating to others effectively, including showing respect, increasing cultural awareness, and honing listening skills. To work toward discerning purpose, students are asked to write a reflection at the end of each grade that will ultimately become a portfolio they will employ in their junior and senior years to write and act upon an individual statement of purpose.
Chairs: Nic Henderson & Sarah Love
Uplift Each Student
Every child comes to JA with individual gifts and talents, as well as unique needs. Personalized learning, augmented counseling, and college/career exploration programs will help our students achieve to their greatest potential.
From Center to Central
JA’s Academic Resource Center (ARC) has traditionally been viewed as a place where students who struggle in the classroom go for assistance. Going forward, the idea of differentiated instruction for all students will be embedded in classroom teaching and learning. Teachers will be trained on recognition of learning differences and strategies to keep students both engaged and successful—from remediation to address challenges to independent study for those students who are gifted in specific areas.
Students with specific learning differences often stumble based on the delivery of course material or assessments—not the content itself. In the past, summer school offered a chance for students to re-take courses in a more customized environment, but students found themselves facing the same traditional classroom challenges come fall. JA has introduced a suite of bypass strategies to help students achieve—from software that allows students to speak instead of write an answer to pattern recognition tutoring for students with dyslexia.
Saved by the Bells
Scheduling can make a tremendous difference on how well students balance the demands of classes and co-curriculars. JA expects small scheduling tweaks to make a big, positive impact. Starting in the 2015–16 academic year, schedule adjustments will roll out that create specific times for students in grades 7–12 to meet with teachers during morning “office hours.” Resource periods will also be introduced so that students can meet to collaborate on projects or seek academic and counseling support.
What We'll Do
- Offer differentiated instruction to meet individual student needs
- Design a gifted education program for Lower School students
- Enhance the college and career counseling program to support student exploration of a wider breadth of academic and training possibilities
- Create resource spaces on campus for student support of writing and math
- Offer specific intervention programs for students with learning differences such as dyslexia and math dyscalculia
- Coach students more specifically on the management of time, tasks, and stress
- Incorporate appropriate social-emotional learning opportunities for students and parents across grade levels to support child and family wellbeing
- Modify schedule to offer school-day opportunities for students to meet with teams and seek individual assistance from teachers
Over the past decade, JA has made great strides in addressing learning differences. Many of the programs for JA students have found a home in the Academic Resource Center (ARC). In addition, JA launched a Saturday “Gifted Explorations” program for second- through sixth-grade students from across the region. And together, the academic resource and counseling teams created “Third Thursdays,” a lunchtime parent education program designed to educate parents on the effective home reinforcement of individualized learning and counseling concepts.
Why It Matters
A one-size-fits-all approach to teaching and counseling ignores everything science tells us about the differences in our students’ still-developing brains. By integrating learning difference concepts into classrooms and encouraging greater collaboration among teachers and counselors to share their experiences and best practices, we create an educational environment where students are naturally more engaged with their learning. That, in turn, leads to expanded possibilities for each student as they embark on life after JA.
JA Partners with YouScience
Jackson Academy is dedicated to preparing all students to reach their highest potential and succeed through the college years and beyond. The challenge lies in discovering each student’s unique set of talents and understanding how those talents will drive college major, career, and even life choices. In fall of 2015, the counseling office partnered with YouScience, creator of the innovative new tool called the YouScience Profile.
In November 2015, counselors visited each junior and senior English classroom to help students activate their accounts and begin the assessment. With this program, students discover their unique set of talents through the revolutionary intersection of aptitudes, interests, and personality.
The online, scientific program takes students through a series of assessments and interest questions, designed to determine their results in the 14 key aptitudes utilized in the working world. The results include a review of the student’s strengths, suggested environments where they will succeed, detailed information on possible careers that match those skills and interests, majors that map to those careers, and much more. Counselors help students review and interpret the comprehensive assessment results.
The YouScience Profile is designed to help students to make more informed decisions when it comes to major and career-related choices, which can translate into a more cost-effective and enjoyable journey through the college years, as well as helping students make better initial career choices.
Learn more about how the program works and watch
video demonstrations at www.YouScience.com.
Chairs: Beth Murry-Wilson & Paula Pratt
Evolve to Lead
Continuing to both innovate and adopt evidence-based practices in education ensures that JA can offer the most progressive, student-centered teaching and learning environment possible for our students.
With the building of the Performing Arts Center, JA created a space for students and the greater Jackson community to gather for arts and music. As part of this strategic plan, our next step will be to significantly expand arts and creativity programs for students. From voice and instrument training to 3D design, JA students will be encouraged to explore how craft and performance can uncover hidden talents and lead to cross-disciplinary discoveries.
Better Than Dodgeball
While JA students traditionally participate in athletics in high numbers, the school recognized that emphasizing fitness in addition to competition could have long-term benefits for students. Physical education leaders at JA researched schools that had effectively launched “PE for Life” programs, and designed a similar program for JA. Students use technology like heart-rate monitors and “exergaming” to monitor biophysical signals and adjust. As part of the strategic plan, JA will encourage similar innovation across subject matter.
Building the Bastille
As part of our strategic plan, JA will continue to expand the ways we assess student learning. New tools like podcasts, videos, and portfolios demand greater engagement than a multiple-choice test, and students constantly surprise us with their creativity and digital savvy. One recent student used the video game “Minecraft” to design and build a replica of the Bastille. To produce the project, the student had to examine and understand the minute details of the building’s architecture. When students can connect deeply with subject matter, they often go far beyond memorizing what’s in the textbook.
What We'll Do
- Review and modify current scheduling to create time for greater collaboration opportunities for student projects and teacher coordination
- Connect arts and creativity more concretely to the curriculum in the service of developing well-rounded students who explore all aspects of their talents
- Continue the expansion of learning assessment to projects, portfolios, and other alternatives to traditional tests
- Identify additional applications of technology that will result in greater student engagement and learning outcomes
- Strengthen professional development opportunities for teachers and reward a culture of innovation
- Improve organizational effectiveness and infrastructure to better support excellence in teaching and learning
JA has always recruited faculty and staff members who seek opportunities to grow professionally and apply their learning back to the classroom. Our teachers embraced the incorporation of technology into classrooms across every division—from physical education to multimedia arts. Instructors leveraged our new Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) curriculum and labs to awaken and inspire students in new ways. We’ll continue to advance in ways that meet students’ needs.
Why It Matters
As world cultural and career trends shift around us, we all must recognize that the most important skill our students can gain at JA is not what, but how to learn. JA will continue to examine every facet of our school so that we can stay not just competitive, but ahead of the curve. From formalizing professional development plans for teachers to ensuring our revenue stream will afford proven educational technology, JA will evolve to lead.
JA Pilots Professional Growth Plan
The Professional Growth Plan Committee has launched a pilot professional growth model in the Upper School, with plans to implement the model throughout all divisions in the coming years. The model being tested is designed to be both meaningful to the school and the faculty/staff member and be organized to offer flexibility of goals that are developed collaboratively by the faculty member and his/her dean and the staff member and his/her supervisor. Ultimately, this plan seeks to help each teacher become a better teacher and each staff member become a better staff member.
Chairs: Steven McCartney & Eddie Wettach