Dear Kentucky Board of Education,

As a public school parent, School Based Decision Making Council Parent Representative, a former PTA President, a 16th District PTA Board Member, and Parent Advocacy Trainer in Fayette County Public Schools, I implore you to NOT takeover the Jefferson County Public School System.

Quite simply, this is an unprecedented attack on Democracy and local control, including the destruction of parent voice and power in JCPS. This is not to say that this is a vote for status quo, but to allow Marty Pollio to continue the good work he is doing within the district.

Please allow the recently elected board members and the newly hired Superintendent to keep the momentum of improvement that is currently happening! Please allow local constituents to retain control over their tax dollars and school governance, through KDE State Assistance and support, NOT through an unnecessary and politically driven takeover of local control!

Respectfully,

Lucy Waterbury

Dear KDE Board members,

I retired from JCPS after 36 years of teaching. I absolutely agree that JCPS has problems, especially in the last few years under Dr. Hargens. However since Dr. Pollio,  I have seen a greater energy and focus in JCPS while visiting my previous school and in discussions with friends from multiple schools.

I implore you to choose State Assistance, giving JCPS a set of goals in which to show improvement. Allow Dr. Pollio time to turn things around. The downward slide took quite a few years, I can already feel the difference in the District.

Taking control of JCPS will not solve the problems. History shows state take overs of Districts create more problems than they solve. If the State will just offer suggestions and give Dr. Pollio time to implement them, I think JCPS can make vast improvements.

Thank you.

 

Cynthia Wetterer
Retired Teacher, JCPS

 

Submit your open letter to the KDE Board and Commissioner using this link on the Save Our Schools Kentucky website. Copies will be posted here.

Dear JCPS,

It seems that when you move to a better neighborhood, your child is forced to go to a school that places them with those that are not within the same neighborhood. The reason why we moved in the East End was to have a nice safe home and schools for our kids. Now we are being forced to move our oldest out of Eastern and our 4.0 GPA middle school turned high schooler in the fall in a school that has not only proven to be unsafe, but understaffed and unruly. I have grown up going to schools like these in my youth, which is the reason why I have avoided it for my children. However, JCPS is seemingly forcing us to go to a school, taking my son out of Eastern for the past two years, and placing him and his sister in an uncomfortable school in which they are not accustom to. Being a black man, I already know the pitfalls some of these schools have for my children, and moving away for the more crime filled areas only to have to have my children deal with it in school makes no sense. I will take my children out of JCPS before they will attend Waggoner or Jeffersontown. Why take a kid out of a school that they have been for the last two years and move them to a completely different environment? This is the reason I favor charter schools as parents have a choice as to what the education and the safety of our children will be. JCPS takes the choice out of the parent’s hands as they know what is best for our kids. This letter is more of outrage of what JCPS decides what’s best foe kids without taking some basic considerations in their decision. I will be appealing and while I wait, sending our particular case to my media friends,,,,

The views expressed here are those of the author, not of Dear JCPS. If you would like to respond, you are encouraged to submit a letter using our open letter form

Dear JCPS,

I am in writing this email in support of Mr. Steed. My daughter [Name Withheld] was in the Louisville Best Hood group. I want to express the importance and relevance that this group has had on my child. I am so grateful she had the opportunity to learn real world content. I have heard some of the concerns around a lesson that taught the students of what they would do in an traumatic event around overdosing. I feel strongly saving one life is critical for our young people to learn. Many of our students live in an environment where overdosing is happening on a daily basis. To NOT have these conversations is detrimental to them and their families. In the past, students learned CPR, however in today’s times YES they need to learn how to save a life. We as a district should stop tip toeing around life and death issues. JCPS has for too long been ignoring the issues that affect black and brown communities and data proves this statement. Mr. Steed has been a pillar in many schools with addressing students needs. He should not be punished. His action were not malicious in any way. He should be commended for thinking out side of the box in addressing a societal issue which we all know spills into the classroom. Again I would appreciate your consideration of this email as a parent support letter as well as his colleague. As an educator I have been so excited to know that both of my daughters had him as a teacher. I would recommend any students I know to have him as a teacher. I can recall many students that had him speak highly of him. He is a teacher that develops relationships with all of his students. As anyone in education could state Building Relationship is key in student success and students feeling save and have a sense of belonging. Thank you for your time and attention in this matter.

Have a wonderful day.

[Parent Name Withheld]

While everyone in Louisville is focused on Derby, let’s talk about another horse race.  One that’s been rigged for nearly a decade.

When the Supreme Court ruled that districts could no longer use race alone as the determining factor for student assignment, Jefferson County came up with a more elaborate plan. It may have been well-intentioned, and it may have served the majority of students in JCPS, but it left one school in particular out in the cold. That school was the Academy @ Shawnee, in Louisville’s highly segregated and disenfranchised West End. A part of town where residents already suffer from high poverty, high trauma, high gun violence and drug influence, high rates of incarceration, food insecurity, lack of employment, lack of transportation, lack of shopping, higher rates of abandoned homes, and so on. You get the picture.

While other schools used race, educational attainment of parents and zip code to determine which students would attend, and a target between 15% to 50% of families in the most affected tier was achieved, it was necessary for one school to have a much higher concentration of students in poverty in order for the plan to work. The Academy @ Shawnee was the only high school to have a saturation level of 87%.

Its aim is to leave no school with more than half its students from low-income, low-education and high-minority neighborhoods. Except for Shawnee High School. Under the proposal, Shawnee would still draw 87 percent of its students from low-income, low-education and high-minority areas — more than double the rate of any other high school.

Let’s talk about the student assignment map itself. In order to achieve this student assignment plan above, the district had to carve up the neighborhood immediately surrounding Shawnee and assign the students to one of a dozen or so schools around Louisville. Then to fill Shawnee, they had to backfill from the Portland and Highland neighborhoods.

District officials could have created a satellite attendance zone for Shawnee in a more affluent area of Jefferson County to diversify enrollment. But they chose not to.

And if the school had been given the resources and supports, as well as some empathy and latitude when their high-stakes test scores do not keep up with a school like Manual, for example, so that they could focus more on meeting students where they are and less on “keeping up with the Joneses” authentic progress could have been made. But former Superintendent Hargens was tone deaf to those requests, which is why many members of the community, including our organization, pushed for her resignation, as well as the removal of board members who propped up her continued failures. And instead our community elected board members who vowed to hold her accountable and remove her.

If one was paying close attention, they might think this horse race was rigged in order to make Shawnee an ideal sacrificial lamb for a conversion charter school. Bevin told us in December of 2016, there were going to bring Charters to Kentucky and they were going to start in the West End.

Charters are NOT proven to improve outcomes for students of color. However, supports, interventions, smaller class sizes, less emphasis on high stakes tests, early childhood education, and 100 other things are. And on top of that, state law ties the hands of district leaders, forces adults and schools to “compete” for a Hunger Games type situation where the bottom 5% of schools continue to face radical punitive measures if they do not perform well. It’s dog eat dog, so collaboration from a peer at another school is out of the question when you’re both near the bottom. Administrators have lamented how they feel relief when another school fails, because at least it wasn’t them! It’s an awful paradox to put them in.

Why not try removing the unfair handicaps instead of taking JCPS down a path of privatization and even greater opportunities for waste and fraud?

 

 

Dear JCPS,

I am the Robotics instructor at Newburg Middle School.

I will tell you that Newburg is undefeated in VEX IQ robotics this year and we’re representing Kentucky and the USA at VEX Worlds next week.

Our Math and Reading scores are 34% and 37% respectively on state assessments, yet we have beaten all other middle schools in the state in robotics. Based on our scores, most people would not think this was possible. That is because these state tests are not accurate assessments of what kids in a school can do. I can guarantee that from first hand knowledge.

Our kids have been successful because over the last two years my school has secured over $35,000 through grants and donations to build a robotics and engineering program. Now my kids can be successful because they are exposed to the material and the technology. Our robot to student ratio is 1:2.

Any school can do what we’ve done IF we can get proper funding for our public schools. State tests are NOT reliable performance reviews and they need to STOP being used to measure a school’s success.

JCPS Teacher

Dear JCPS,

I am a parent of four JCPS students who is deeply concerned about academic achievement and about school discipline methods and especially about the disparities in these areas for students of color and students with disabilities. Do I think JCPS has work to do? Yes. Do I think a state takeover is the way to do it? No. Here’s why:

National data on the effectiveness of state takeovers has failed to show that this is an effective model for improving a district. An analysis from the Pew Charitable Trust found no clear-cut evidence that this type of intervention leads to better student performance or fiscal management.1 A study from Rutgers University found that while they may yield more gains in central office management, student achievement often falls short.2 A Vanderbilt University study of state takeovers in the state of Tennessee found that schools that remained in the local school district outperformed similar schools that were taken over by state government.3

Furthermore, examination of such takeovers in New Orleans and Detroit found that such takeovers had harmful effects on students of color and students with special needs. In 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a lawsuit against New Orleans’ Recovery School District (RSD), presenting evidence that the rights of more than 4,500 special needs students had been violated because the state did not insure that they had equal access to educational services. According to the lawsuit that was eventually settled in 2015, special needs students faced discriminatory enrollment practices, difficulties accessing adequate evaluation services and illegal discipline for manifestations of symptoms of students’ disabilities.4

In Michigan’s state-run Education Achievement Authority, more than 6000 suspensions were issued for a student population of 10,000, more than 60% of which were for minor infractions such as truancy, insubordination and disorderly conduct, with suspension rates for students of color disproportionately higher.5

In the two hours of research I did on state takeovers, I could not find a single report or article that cited real data that showed that state takeovers are more successful than other interventions. So why should JCPS parents, teachers, administrators and community supporters possibly want this action taken?

The Center for Popular Democracy, in its report on state takeovers of low-performing schools, notes that in many cases, when states do this, they do so after first failing to meet their own constitutional obligation to provide a district with adequate resources for students to be given a fair and substantive opportunity to learn.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, funding for education in Kentucky was reduced 5.9% from 2008-2015 and per-pupil funding in Kentucky has dropped 15.8% from 2008 to 2018, making Kentucky one of the 12 states with the deepest cuts for K-12 education since 2008.6 So why should the state, which one could argue, has failed to meet their constitutional obligation to resource the district adequately, now be able to infringe on local citizens’ democratic rights by taking over the district?

Finally, this board newly appointed by Bevin is comprised mostly of people who have no experience with public schools. In fact, some may have a vested interest in seeing public schools fail to make way for charter schools. So how can we trust them to act in what is the best interest of our public school students? Even if their motives are pure, how many of these board members have actual experience working with our most marginalized students who struggle to achieve academically? What knowledge and experience do they have in closing achievement gaps for public school students? If this is really their goal, why did they remove an education commissioner who actually had classroom experience and extensive knowledge in this area, and was given a glowing recommendation by the board four months before he was removed?

As a JCPS parent, I will continue to push JCPS to provide a better education and appropriate discipline fairly and equitably for all students. But who should I trust to oversee this work? A newly appointed state Board of Education filled with people with no public school experience and a vested interest in charter schools? Or our own democratically elected school board and new superintendent who has experience with our district and a vested interest in seeing it succeed? I’m going with door number 2.

Cindy Cushman
JCPS Parent


1 Mitchell, Corey. 2016. “Study Raises Questions About State Takeovers of Districts.” Education Week.
2 http://ielp.rutgers.edu/docs/developing_plan_app_b.pdf
3 R. Zimmer, A. Kho, G. Henry, and S. Viano, “Evaluation of the Effect of Tennessee’s Achievement School District
on Student Test Scores.” December 2015. Available
http://www.tnconsortium.org/data/files/gallery/ContentGallery/ASD_ Impact_Policy_Brief_Final_12.8.15.pdf.
Accessed January 3, 2015.
4 Dreilinger, Danielle. 2013. “Unrelenting New Orleans Special Education Problems Alleged in New Court Filings.”
The Times-Picayune.
5 The American Federation of Teachers, “State Takeovers of Low-Performing Schools and School Systems Are Not
the Answer: Evidence from Louisiana and Michigan.”
6 Leachman, Masterson, and Figueroa. (November, 2017). “A Punishing Decade for School Funding.” Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/a-punishing-decade-for-school-funding

Dear JCPS,

I have done a brief review of the Bellwether report commissioned by the SCALA education subgroup and I wanted to share some information that should call into question the validity of conclusions drawn by or from the report.  Specifically, the Bellwether report cites a number of other reports that have been discredited when subjected to academic peer review.

For example, the Bellwether report includes multiple references to “A 21st Century School System in the Mile-High City.”  A review (attached) of this report by (White – University of Colorado Boulder) found:

A report published by the Progressive Policy Institute calls for aggressively closing more public schools and expanding charter schools and charter networks. It highlights reforms adopted by Denver Public Schools, notably a “portfolio model” of school governance, and argues that these reforms positively impacted student test scores. However, causality cannot be determined, and the report did not attempt to isolate the effect of a multitude of reforms— including charters, performance pay, and a new performance framework—from larger complex forces shaping student demographics in the city. Written in a reportorial voice, the only data presented are in the form of simple charts. The lack of conventional statistical analyses thwarts the reader’s understanding. The report also characterizes the reform’s adoption as a “political success” born of a healthily contentious electoral process. In doing so, it down- plays the role of outside forces and moneyed groups that influenced the form of reforms, and it disregards missed opportunities for meaningful engagement with community stakeholders. Finally, while the report acknowledges the district’s failure to close achievement gaps and admits limitations with the evaluation system, it never explains how a successful reform could generate a widening gap in performance between student groups by race and class.

The Bellwether report is also based on “Measures of Last Resort: Assessing Strategies for State-Initiated Turnarounds.”  A review (attached) of this report (Malen and Rice – University of Maryland) found:

The stated goal of this report is to strengthen the evidence base on state-initiated turn-arounds and to provide guidance to help states use turnaround strategies more effectively. The report draws on multiple sources of information to develop a conceptual framework and profile of state-initiated turnaround strategies, to array the evidence on the effectiveness of turnaround initiatives, and to identify key elements of a successful turnaround strategy. However, given multiple methodological limitations, the report fails to elevate either the research base or the policy discourse. Specifically, the methods used to carry out the original research (e.g., analysis of state policies, interviews with stakeholders, and illustrative cases) are neither explained nor justified. Likewise, the methods employed in the eight evaluations selected to assess the effectiveness of turnaround approaches are not described, and the evidence base produced by these evaluations is not sufficient to support the sweeping claims made in the report. Equally important, the report neglects to consider relevant research on the specific mechanisms (e.g., school reconstitution, intensive professional development, private management systems) that states use when they employ the broad turnaround strategies discussed in the report. As a result of these problems, the report does not enhance the evidence base or provide the substantive guidance state policymakers require to make informed decisions about the use of various school turnaround strategies.

These examples illustrate a broader problem with the Bellwether report – it is based on reports that would more accurately be described as policy advocacy documents than objective research.  As such, making consequential decisions that would impact our community based on the Bellwether report would not be advisable because the report’s validity is highly questionable at best.  Basing high-stakes decisions on such untenable evidence could lead to significant negative consequences and unintended outcomes.

I hope this information can be shared broadly, including with the full SCALA committee and that all involved will review the attached peer analyses carefully.  I have also attached an additional analysis of portfolio districts, by William Mathis at the University of Colorado Boulder, which individuals may wish to review.

Brent McKim
JCTA President

Attachments:
Portfolio Districts Analysis – Mathis

Measures of Last Resort Report Analysis – Malen

21st Century School System Report Analysis – White

Dear JCPS,

I wanted to check back in with you since it has been quite some time.  I think you now see why I have been reluctant to divulge my name up until now.  Here we are months later and Principal Mayes still sits at his desk at Manual running the show.  It infuriates me every day that he has remained in this job, not on administrative leave, while this investigation takes place.

Manual parents, students and staff STILL REMAIN IN THE DARK about this supposed investigation into Mayes’ completely inappropriate behavior and conduct.  No one from the district has ever reached out to us to give us any sense of what is going on.  When you call the superintendent’s office no one will answer your questions and they give you the brush off. Everything is just as I expected — the district is silent just waiting this situation out and brushing everything under the rug.  The posts to dear JCPS have ceased because we all know that the countless incidents of his vile behavior reported so far by students, alumni, staff and parents have not truly been paid attention to.  Those of us brave enough to speak out (on behalf of countless others too fearful to do so) are disappointed and feel defeated that the district has not taken our concerns seriously.  If they really cared for the students at Manual, they would have put Mayes on leave months ago.  This wasn’t one allegation, it was countless ones.  Alumni speak about his abuses going back years and years.  How the district didn’t outright fire him over all of this is truly shocking, but the fact that he remains in charge at Manual is unconscionable.

Sincerely,
Concerned Manual Parent

The views expressed here are those of the author. If you or someone you know has a concern regarding events taking place at Manual or another JCPS school, you are encouraged to submit a letter using our open letter form