Walks back tough takeover talk
"I don’t want to run any more districts."
He thought about it before he did it. Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday recalled a judge who had lambasted the North Carolina Board of Education for its failure to provide all students with a sound basic education, calling Halifax County's academic performance, “nothing less than an academic disaster.”
A report from KDE had found that 16 of the 18 persistently low performing Jefferson County schools that underwent overhauls are showing little or no progress, despite receiving millions of dollars worth of resources to boost student achievement.
Holliday thought about it some more, and chose to raise the temperature on his commentary with another of the judge's more colorful expressions, "academic genocide." Holliday said, “I used that term purposefully to get this community involved." Later he threw in a reference to JCPS's "apartheid" system for good measure.
Then last week, conservative writer John David Dyche praised Holliday's brains and guts for taking on the Jefferson County schools and its teachers union, for his use of the phrase, and his willingness to take over the schools if necessary.
On Wednesday, during a meeting of The Louisville Forum, he took it back...a little...and presented a kinder, gentler Commissioner who praised JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens and said he wanted to be a JCPS cheerleader. He also told the Courier-Journal that he took credit for improvements in Jefferson County saying his comments spurred action.
This and Audio from WFPL:
JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens Talk Failing Schools
Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says if Jefferson County Public Schools turns around its lowest-achieving schools—called "priority schools"—it would help turn around all statewide education results.
Holliday and Hargens discussed the state of JCPS’ failing schools at The Louisville Forum Wednesday. It’s the second public forum for the pair since Holliday used the phrase “academic genocide” to describe some of the worst performing schools in the district.
“I might have overreacted. But I overreacted for children,” he says.
Holliday backed his claim, again, saying that the words may have been harsh but they seemed to have worked to get the community riled up.
JCPS is the story of the “haves and the have-nots,” and it’s home to some of the worst and best schools in the state, he says, adding it’s the culmination of chronic problems the district has faced, which predates Hargens’ hire.
Holliday warned earlier this year that more state intervention might be necessary if the district isn’t able to post positive assessment results this fall.
“I’m already running two districts—I don’t want to run any more schools. I don’t want to run any more districts. I want to be your cheerleader. I don’t want to be your critic. So let’s all work together for the children and you’ve got a great leader in Donna Hargens,” he says.
Holliday says early student assessment results are promising for some JCPS schools, but not all. He says he’ll wait for the School Report card results in the fall—which include the measurements as laid out by the state’s new accountability system and include graduation, college and career readiness, gap, growth and proficiency rates—and will consider recommendations from state audits that could follow if adequate progress is not made in certain schools.
Holliday tells WFPL it’s rare that he overrides Kentucky Department of Education recommendations determining principals or districts don’t have the capacity to lead turnaround efforts. And while JCPS has appealed such recommendations in the past he says that will not happen again.
Holliday says he doesn’t ever want to take over schools, though it’s happened at six Kentucky high schools. He says there have been some success stories like Leslie County High School, where he credits the staff with implementing KDE strategies with fidelity, but he also says some schools like Newport High School have a ways to go.
Superintendent Hargens says since she joined the district in 2011 there have successes, including the U.S. News & World report that recognized JCPS high schools and the recent Broad Foundation report that acknowledged AP testing for African American students.
Hargens said that if JCPS focused on the district’s 18 lowest-achieving priority schools, it would bring the district’s stateside percentile up from 23rd to around 40th. But she says this isn’t good enough and maintains the district should continue following the district’s Vision 2015 strategic plan to improve learning conditions for all students.
Hargens says the district is making gains and reminds the community that before last year’s assessment results that placed the district in the 23rd percentile, JCPS was in the 6th and 9th percentile.
Addressing Holliday’s “academic genocide” comments earlier this year, Hargens commended the community and said it didn’t need any encouragement to act.
“I think it’s unfair to say this community needed anything to step up. I see them stepping up every day,” she says.
This from the Courier-Journal:
JCPS improvements due to his criticisms,
Kentucky education chief Terry Holliday says
State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday on Wednesday defended statements he made in February accusing Jefferson County Public Schools of practicing “academic genocide,” saying that his words helped spur improvements in many schools.
But school Superintendent Donna Hargens said that improvements in many of the 16 schools that were deemed to be failing would have come with or without Holliday’s criticisms.
The two spoke at the monthly meeting of the Louisville Forum, a non-partisan public issues group.
Holliday, who called himself Hargens’ “ruthless and compassionate friend,” said the biggest problem with the Jefferson County school system is t a system of “haves and have nots” that developed as the city’s neighborhoods developed largely along socioeconomic lines.
That he said, gave Louisville some of the best schools in the United States but also left students in lower-income areas struggling in some of the worst schools in the country.
“We’re going to improve our lower-performing schools if we’re going to improve our economy,” he said.
Holliday has been on the offense against Jefferson County schools since testing found that 16 of 18 persistently low-achieving schools were not improving or were improving slowly.
"This is about poverty, this is about kids who are not coming to school, this is about lack of parental engagement and, frankly, it's academic genocide. What hope do these children have?" he said in February, when he threatened to intercede and take over the schools.
He said testing results to be released later this summer will show many of the the schools have improved, which he tied to his comments.
“I meant to get the community a little riled up, and I guess it worked,” he said.
Hargens, who has led the school system since 2011, however, said that the improvements is the result of the district continually trying to improve education for all students, particularly in the poor-performing schools.
Hargens told the forum that there are no quick fixes at some of the low performing schools but that schools are improving. For instance, she noted that in one year, Southern High School went from 12 percent of graduates being college ready to 25 percent.
“It takes time to see improvement, it takes long-term dedication and a focus on continued improvement,” she said.