Let’s begin by laying the foundation. It’s January 25, 2021 in Louisville, Kentucky, home of Breonna Taylor. Breonna was a graduate of Jefferson County Public Schools. JCPS is three times larger than the second largest school district in the state of Kentucky (nearly 100,000 students), and 29th largest in the country.
I am a privileged, white PTA mom, turned public school advocate, turned radical racial justice activist and accomplice. I fight for the right to equitable access of quality public education for Black, Brown, poor and disabled students in the urban pocket of West Louisville, deep in red state territory, where many people still believe Trump won the election.
I moved to Louisville in 2012, when my youngest son was starting high school. All you really need to know is that the school we chose to send him to really opened my eyes to the injustices that our city’s most marginalized occupants experience. And the harder I tried to make even the slightest difference, the harder those in charge made it for us.
This told me I was on to something, I just didn’t know what it was yet.
In 2015, I co-founded Dear JCPS and in 2016, Save Our Schools Kentucky. Dear JCPS is a watchdog group that was created to shine light on corruption that enables predators to siphon tax dollars away from our public schools, often at the expense of West Louisville’s impoverished, downtrodden Black families. Once we started lifting rocks, we started connecting the dots.
Efforts to address disparities in our district have been met with hostility. Community activists have been successful at rooting out and exposing many of the predators who showed us their hands. There was a sea change in district leadership that started in 2016, which continues today.
In 2017, we called for the resignation of our “willfully incompetent” Superintendent and the newly elected board was instrumental in choosing a superintendent who had grown up through the district and could hit the ground running on Day One.
At the state level, “woke” voters removed a whiny ALEC-backed governor in 2019, making way for an education-friendly governor, who thankfully cared more about saving lives than turning a profit when the pandemic hit. One of his first acts as Kentucky Governor (a title once held by his father), was to dismantle the privatizer friendly disaster of a Board of Education, prompting the resignation of an even greater disaster of a Education Commissioner, Wayne Lewis. More on this later.
Noticing unaddressed disparities between schools, parent involvement, fundraising and support, we tried to make change within the district-wide and local PTAs. When this effort proved futile, we created a slate of candidates to run from the floor. We were not successful, but we did expose a myriad of attempts at election-rigging and unethical practices, designed to keep “troublesome” Black and Black-allied parents from serving. This led to a 3-minute speech about oversight of third-party organizations during a JCPS Board meeting in July of 2019.
We also realized how monumental the structural barriers for educational justice really are. And that’s why the upcoming JCTA Elections are so critical.