Across the United States, 12.8 million people under the age of 18 lived in poverty in 2017.
(U.S. Census Bureau)
A Brief History of Poverty in Marks, Mississippi
The deep and persistent poverty in Marks, Mississippi, home to the school district and the administrative center for Quitman County, was first made known to the nation by Dr. Martin Luther King after he visited there in 1966. King was deeply moved by the degree of poverty he saw. One month after he died, Marks became the starting point for the mule train that was a part of the People’s Poverty Campaign, an effort intended to advance economic justice and human rights for the poorest Americans.
Today, Marks and Quitman County are still struggling. The unemployment rate in Quitman was 6.7 percent last spring compared to 3.9 percent nationally. Approximately 30 percent of Marks residents live below the poverty line. The hospital and grocery store have closed. There’s no public transportation in Marks but a long-awaited Amtrak station that serves the line running from New Orleans to Chicago opened in April of this year, bringing with it some hope for new economic opportunity.
“There’s some obvious differences between educating children in the Delta and more affluent communities but it has nothing to do with their capacity to learn; it has to do with their access to a quality education system,” Jossell said. She cites access to quality teachers as her biggest challenge to providing a more equitable education and boosting student achievement. “Recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers is one of our mandates, but it is often difficult to achieve due to the low tax base in Quitman County, which impacts the district’s ability to offer competitive salaries.”
“We’re not the most attractive option to the best and the brightest educators,” continued Jossell, who has been a resident of Quitman County for 26 years. There isn’t a hospital or grocery story in Marks, the county seat. Nor is there an adequate supply of good housing or even a movie theater. Like Canter, Jossell has worked to change the paradigm and conversation around education and teaching within her district by communicating the opportunity to impact district students. She also has led some out-of-the-box initiatives that are putting qualified teachers in every classroom.
NAEP Scores OF Mississippi students
"We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else." Former President Barack Obama