Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Behind that JCPS school board statement on “academic genocide”

This from Toni Konz's Education blog at C-J:
By now, you have probably read the statement/response that the Jefferson County Board of Education sent on Friday in response to Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s assessment of the district’s persistently low-achieving schools in which he compared the lack of progress being made to “academic genocide.”

Until Saturday, none of the school board members responded individually to Holliday’s comments. (More on that later on in this blog post). But last night, newly-elected school board member David Jones Jr. took to Facebook and addressed the situation, saying that the “honeymoon is over” and that the “events of the past week need to be a wake-up call to JCPS and to the school board.” Here is his full statement:
Well, the honeymoon for new school board members is over.
The events of the past week need to be a wake-up call to JCPS and to the school board. How we as a board manage our business, what we spend our time debating, what questions we ask, and especially what expectations we demonstrate all make a difference.
The District has been reorganized under Superintendent Hargens’ leadership in a concerted effort to improve student achievement; as a board, we must take a page from that book and reorganize our work to show the same urgent commitment to improvement that we’re demanding from JCPS educators.
While my colleagues and I are personally repelled by Commissioner Terry Holliday’s choice of words, it’s time to let go of that and face the bigger issue: What are we doing to turn the tide so all students receive the education they desperately need to be functional adults in an economy that will continue to demand more from them?
Since joining the board I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t know about Dr. Hargens’ reorganization of the District, and about changes that are beginning to take effect. But there’s no question these changes have not yet fixed our weakest schools. We must do far more to explain planned changes to the community and engage parents in their kids’ education, while seeking the help of every Louisvillian to push our students to succeed – and supporting them as that happens.
Our schools are teaching students to approach problem solving with high-level, critical thinking skills. If we embrace those same skill sets we can – and will – effectively address the crisis of persistently low-achieving schools.
I’m pleased that the board is united on the urgency of turning around our weakest schools by energetically implementing Dr. Hargens’ turnaround plan. But we can and must do more to show the community the change that’s underway – and that we’re ready to try new things if this plan doesn’t work. Passively waiting for state data, and then reporting it to Louisville parents and voters, just won’t do.
So – I’m repelled by Dr. Holliday’s word choice, but I welcome his heat. I want adults to model reasonable discourse, which is what we’re trying to teach our kids, but I also know that candor is essential to fixing any problem, and that passion in pursuit of a lofty goal is no vice.
Please let me know your ideas and thoughts on this subject. Post your concerns here or email me at david.jonesjr@jefferson.kyschools.us. Thank you!
Now, let’s get to the back story of that “unified” school board statement and how that came about.

On Thursday, The Courier-Journal decided to poll all seven members of the school board and ask them each several questions about the district’s persistently low-achieving schools. I made several phone calls to board members, but could not reach any of them by Thursday afternoon, so I decided I would send them an email with some of my questions, so that they would be prepared to talk to me.
Here is the email that I sent to the JCPS school board members at 4:08 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 14:
JCPS school board members:
I am working on a weekend story where I need to speak with all seven of you and ask you a few questions about the events/comments that have unfolded in the past week in regards to Jefferson County’s persistently low-achieving schools. This story is strictly about the school board and what each member feels, not the school district or Donna Hargens.
I have tried to call some of you by phone and have left messages. I decided I will email you my questions ahead of time so you can look at them and have some time to think about them before we talk about it, but I am working on a tight deadline. I need to speak with you by 1 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15, 2013. If you don’t believe you can meet that deadline, please let me know ASAP! Thanks.
Here are the questions:
1)     What is your reaction to Education Commissioner Terry Holliday’s characterization that the lack of progress at Jefferson County’s priority schools is tantamount to “academic genocide?
)     Is JCPS correctly handling oversight of the PLAs? Do you feel the district is doing  everything it needs to help students at these schools?
 3 )      What are the implications of the state’s warning that it might take over oversight at some of the district’s priority schools? Is it warranted, and will it improve those schools turnaround?
4) Please read over the following paragraphs from my article in Wednesday’s newspaper:
Asked Tuesday if Jefferson County had created a system with two different levels of expectations, Holliday agreed.
“Some have suggested that I should have used the word ‘apartheid,’ because I think that is exactly what has happened,” he said. “You have two very different systems in Jefferson County, and the data would support what you’re saying.“
Holliday said he hopes the school board will start asking important questions to ensure “not just equity of opportunity,” but that there is “equity of learning outcomes for all children.”
            Do you believe that two systems of expectations exist in JCPS?
Antoinette “Toni” Konz, Reporter
The Courier-Journal
525 W. Broadway Louisville, KY 40201
Office: (502) 582-4232
Fax: (502)582-4200
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I knew each board member had opened my email because of return receipts I had attached to my note, but by Thursday evening,  I had only been contacted by three of them – Diane Porter, who had returned my earlier phone call but had not read my email, so I asked her to read my email and then to let me know when we could discuss my questions; Linda Duncan, who emailed to say she could talk later on that night or on Friday afternoon and Chuck Haddaway, who emailed to say he was sick with the flu and would be unable to respond to my questions.

I heard nothing by my deadline of 1 p.m. on Friday from any of the school board members. At 1:04 p.m., JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey called me to tell me that the school board would be issuing a statement shortly and to be on the lookout for that statement.

I was caught off guard initially because I did not send my questions to the district. The school board is elected — they don’t report to Superintendent Donna Hargens or her staff. I wasn’t looking for a response from the district and I wondered why the board would not contact me directly, either by phone or via email, instead of through the district’s communication department. Jackey told me that he was simply asked to forward the statement on to me.

The statement did not arrive in my inbox until 3:25 P.M. on Friday. It was a direct response to my questions and it was sent out to the other media in town as well.

When I asked Diane Porter, who is the school board chairwoman, why individual school board members did not respond to me, she said it was because two school board members (who she would not name) felt it would be best for the board to respond as a whole. She said the statement was written with input from all board members, with the exception of Haddaway who was sick, but that Haddaway had signed off on it.

My story ran in Saturday’s paper; in addition the “unified” school board statement was published online as well.

As of today (Sunday), only two of the school board members have contacted me in regards to my original email – Linda Duncan and Debbie Wesslund, but neither have elaborated beyond the board’s “unified” statement. I’ve left numerous messages for the others, including Jones, to no avail.
If and when I see or hear any other individual responses to my questions (either directly or indirectly) from other school board members, I will be sure to let you know.

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