Public Engagement Matters

WDRB reported today (http://bit.ly/1BeQcae) that my colleague Tess McNair participated in an advisory committee that helped Superintendent Hargens hire a JCPS executive, and that this is improper. Here are my thoughts.

I value aggressive reporting about all our public institutions.  Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and citizens owe a debt of gratitude to the reporters who dig into facts and work to connect the dots.  In addition, I support the legal provisions and legislative intent regarding anti-nepotism and non-interference with management duties as it relates to school board members.

That said, I see nothing improper here.  If my colleagues on the board, at the Kentucky School Boards Association or others have different views or concerns, I welcome them. If there’s an actual error here, I will correct it. But here are the facts:

Superintendent Hargens has regularly sought input and guidance from qualified community leaders to help her interview and hire strong executives. She brought non-JCPS employees into the interview process in response to a scathing third-party review of Central Office staffing that found JCPS administrative leadership to be insular and inbred and noted that “employment processes are widely perceived as discriminatory in favor of friends or relatives.” http://bit.ly/17DfjqJ, pp. 10-12.

Tess advised Dr. Hargens in this context, and the process resulted in the appointment of an executive with whom I have no work history or any other relationship.  Although Tess informed me that she had volunteered to help, and Dr. Hargens told me that Tess was on the advisory committee, I had no information about or involvement with the applicants or the selection process.

I thank Tess for her tireless work in support of JCPS, JCTC, Simmons College, Business Leaders for Education, 55,000 Degrees, and all the other Louisville education institutions with which she’s engaged.  She’s a pro, I’m blessed to have her as a colleague, and in my view Louisville is fortunate she’s taken on the mission we share:  Improving education outcomes in Louisville.

My deepest concern here is that a story that depicts a highly qualified member of Louisville’s education improvement community as a minion and “proxy,” and implies that civic engagement is somehow shameful, will cause other talented community leaders to think twice about working with the ancient structure that is JCPS.  That would be a shame.

Just as sunlight is the best disinfectant, outside pressure is essential for JCPS to improve.  Keep pushing!