This letter was submitted via our open letter form. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Dear JCPS.
Jefferson County Public Schools is in crisis. However, we have not reached the point of no return…YET. I come from teachers. My grandmother dedicated 30 years to our district, many of those years served in struggling schools. I myself am a ten-year veteran of JCPS, all of my years served in Title One schools. I went into education to help shape our next generation. I loved school. I loved my teachers. I learned Reading and Math and Science and was made to believe that I could be someone in this world. I wanted the same for all of the kids who would cross my path. I wanted to help them believe they could be better people, that they could be somebody. For those of us in classrooms, we have seen a change. Last year was tough. This year has been my most difficult year yet. I feel that my mission, my passion, is no longer relevant. My days have become more about survival. Being able to teach or make a difference is a bonus. Here are some things that those who work in my building, who work with OUR students, need for you to know.
- We have had four teachers resign since August. One of them, a veteran teacher of more than 20 years, was attacked by a student and injured. She decided that she had had enough after our administrator ridiculed her and called her a “big baby” in front of the office staff. Another resigned two weeks ago citing “hazardous working conditions.” This leaves three classrooms in our building with a rotating cast of subs, IF there are subs available. We are in crisis.
- Many of our students make our learning environments unsafe. Within the first month of school, I had a first grader who attempted to stab another student in the head with a pencil. He would have succeeded had I not intervened. We are in crisis.
- One of our staff members is currently engaged in a lawsuit and has an active protective order against a parent who threatened to gun her down. This parent has a criminal record involving instances of gun violence. We are in crisis.
- We have had more suspensions in our building this year than we have ever had. All of these suspensions have been hard suspensions for violence against adults and other children. We are in crisis.
- We try hard to follow a progressive discipline plan, but it often takes an act of congress to get the help that WE need in order to help our students. We are following the correct procedures and doing things the right way, but our kids aren’t getting the help that they need. One kid, three suspensions, two of which have been pushing and threatening to hurt teachers. However, he is still in a classroom. We have followed the pathways to success, implemented each step, yet he has not gotten the help that he needs. We are in crisis.
- The best of us are cursed at, disrespected, and made to feel that we have no authority in our own classrooms. This disrespect comes from students, parents, and sometimes administrators and assistant superintendents. We are not supported in our efforts to stand up for ourselves. We are asked if we have used all of the “tools in our toolboxes.” We are in crisis.
- Those of us who are in the trenches, who work with our students in the most need, students in crisis, have ideas on how to make things better. However, we don’t feel like anyone is listening to us. Those of us in our building need…
- Change the student code of conduct. Take the administrative ambiguity out of consequences. Some things in the code of conduct need to be black and white. It makes teachers feel more supported to know that there is ONE pathway towards a consequence for a particular action. For example, if a student demonstrates violence towards an adult, it should be an automatic suspension to the board of education, with a parent, before they are able to re-enter the classroom.
- Stop telling us that we are suspending too many black boys. Students who are committing acts of violence and disrespect, no matter their race or gender, need to be suspended. Allow us to appropriately discipline students, even if they fall within a minority class! The real world has consequences. It is important that we teach ALL students that there are consequences for their actions.
- Allow elementary school students to be suspended to the board of education for certain actions. If they have to appear before you for breaking the rules, then maybe you will have a better idea of what we are constantly dealing with in our classrooms.
- Address the fact that certain schools end up receiving many of the behavior problems other schools don’t want to deal with. Kids are shuffled around. Just because your school has parents who would file lawsuits or press charges against violent and disruptive students doesn’t mean that they should become another school’s problem.
- Bring back small behavior classrooms within each building. Our most severe kids need somewhere to go where they aren’t interfering with the learning of regular kids. Pour your resources into those classrooms. Hire trained staff and implement multiple support systems to address the emotional, physical and educational needs of these students. Construct progressive plans of re-entry so that students can be integrated back into comprehensive classrooms as they make progress.
- Make parents ACCOUNTABLE! Require parents to meet with teachers and administrators before re-entering school. Children should not be allowed to come back to school until the parent shows up and signs a plan of action to prevent future suspensions.
- Let’s be creative with our suspensions. Maybe suspended kids shouldn’t get the day off. Require them to do mandatory service work. Provide a bus leaving from VanHoose. Put them to work reading to the elderly, cleaning cages at Louisville Metro Animal Services, etc. Be creative with the use of restorative practices.
- Get creative with addressing our students’ social needs. If children are failing to thrive in their current environments, why not find ways to remove them from those environments? We as a school district needs to take the lead on some of these societal problems.
- Bring back vocational programs in our middle and high schools. It is unrealistic to believe that all of the children who walk through our doors will be going to college. Not every student will enjoy or be good at the core subject areas and disinterest leads to behavior problems. Teach them to use their hands. Teach them a skill that could lead to a job. Allow them to become passionate about something other than Reading and Math.
- Stop making it so difficult for students to qualify for special education services. Children who struggle because of a learning issue often feel so unsuccessful that they act out in school. If you streamlined the process for getting the necessary kids qualified, they may begin to feel like they CAN achieve success in school. You’ve made it so difficult for teachers to refer a child for services that many teachers simply give up and pass kids off to the next grade level without the help that they need.
The long and short of it is that if things stay the way they are, if our classrooms and schools continue to become places of violence and mere survival instead of places of learning and thinking, you will lose students. We will lose our best and brightest to the private or charter sector. You will lose parents. They will invest both their human and capital resources elsewhere. Most importantly, you will lose teachers. There is only so much abuse that a person can take, no matter how worthy the cause. You have the opportunity to fix this. It will not be an easy job. However, if you are willing to take our suggestions and admit that you are working on these issues, we will stand with you and do our part to make sure that EVERY school and EVERY student has the chance to succeed.
Sincerely, a JCPS teacher who wants to TEACH, not just SURVIVE *
*Identifying information has been removed from these letters. However, their source is not anonymous to Dear JCPS. JCPS Board members have been provided with a Dear JCPS liaison and are encouraged to contact us to validate, verify, and follow-up on any of the concerns or suggestions in these letters.