What Is the Message Sent to the Children?

                  Pictured: JCPS Board Members Front Row: Chris Brady, Ben Geis and Chris 
                  Kolb, Back Row: Lisa Willner, Linda Duncan, Diane Porter and Stephanie 
                  Horne. 

The Jefferson County Board of Education accepted a deal last night to avoid a full-blown state takeover of the district. You can read more about that action and the deal here:

https://insiderlouisville.com/education/jcps-takes-deal-with-state-to-avoid-hearing-and-potential-takeover/

I have issues with the deal itself: Commissioner Lewis has complete control over 3 particular areas, the power to review and request changes to policies in two other areas, ultimate power and final say over any disputed corrective action plan, and final say over whether the Board can fire the current superintendent. Is this really that different from a full takeover?

I have issues with the way this negotiation process played out – in secret, behind closed doors with no opportunity for stakeholders and voters to have a voice.

But plenty of other folks are giving voice to these concerns, so I won’t do that here. What I have been thinking about today is what message did the board and our superintendent send to the public school children they serve with this decision?

  1. The Superintendent chose job security over the kids.

The deal expressly states that Dr. Pollio cannot be removed by the JCPS Board before 2020 without the permission of the Commissioner. It was stated publicly that the superintendent supported the deal (who wouldn’t support a deal that guarantees your own job?), and at least one board member indicated that Dr. Pollio’s support of the deal was a factor in her decision.

I have been a vocal supporter of Dr. Pollio and many of the positive actions he has taken for the district since he took on the role of superintendent. The development of a racial equity policy, the backpack of success skills program, the formation of a student assignment review advisory committee, his handling of the conflict around a problematic principal at Manual High School, all pointed to a superintendent who was putting the needs of the kids first.

I still maintain that the work that he has done so far has been good for the district and good for our kids. But my trust in him has taken a serious hit. As soon as it was apparent that this deal specifically protects him, he should have stated publicly and to the board, that for him to take a stance on the deal would be a conflict of interest and the board needed to make the decision independent of him. Now, with every action he takes, I will be asking, “Is he doing this for the good of the kids or for himself?” Whether he meant to or not, he has sent the message that job security was more important to him than what was good and right for our students. In doing so, he has broken the community’s trust in him and that will impact his future effectiveness in the job.

  1. Our kids are not worth fighting for.

So many of the quotes I’ve seen praising the deal say that it’s good that we don’t have hearings, that a prolonged legal battle wouldn’t have helped anyone. Really? Why not? If we say we believe that our democratically-elected school board members who live and work in this community are more qualified to make decisions about our district than political appointees who didn’t go to public school, didn’t send their kids to public school, much less a large, urban school district, then shouldn’t we be willing to fight for that to happen?

Sure, it will be difficult, time-consuming and costly. But aren’t our kids worth it? Sure, it may bring to light some unflattering truths about JCPS. Isn’t it important that such things are uncovered and made public so that we can be sure that they are fixed?  Not wanting to deal with the hearings and legal battle is not a good reason to make a deal. It sends the message to our kids that they don’t matter enough to fight for their interests.

  1. It’s not important to stand up for what is right.

It’s important to remember how we got to this place. Kentucky had a highly respected, highly competent Commissioner of Education who worked faithfully for 14 months on the JCPS audit and was prepared to recommend state assistance to help the district.  Then the governor appointed new board members to the Kentucky Board of Education, the majority of whom have no experience with public schools and have ties to the charter school movement. This board removed the commissioner for no stated reason and appointed a new one who also openly supports the charter school movement. He spent 14 days on the job and 2 days in our district before recommending a takeover.  This is politics at its worst. There were clear agendas at play here that have nothing to do with what’s best for our kids.

By even entering into negotiations with the current commissioner, the board validates all of those actions. It sends the message they aren’t willing to make a stand for what is right.  These actions by Bevin, by the state board and by Commissioner Lewis are unjust and just plain wrong. By negotiating with them anyway, the board sent the message to our kids that avoiding messy conflict is more important than standing up for what is right.

These are the messages the JCPS Board sent to our kids this week. I am disappointed and angry and heartbroken by it.

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