At last night’s meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education I commented on recent concerns within the JCPS community and among broader Louisville stakeholders about possible changes affecting student discipline rules and employee salaries. Here’s the text of my remarks:
Two weeks ago, members of the Jefferson County Board of Education met in work sessions to discuss the Code of Conduct and the recent Salary Study. The weeks since then have been difficult for our JCPS community, and I want to say a few words about the board’s perspective as our meeting begins tonight.
My fellow board members and I are distressed that our work sessions have left so many teachers feeling disrespected and undervalued, because nothing could be further from the truth.
- We treasure our teachers and their commitment to the students in our district;
- We understand how hard they work and that the conditions in schools are often challenging;
- We know that a great teacher is worth his or her weight in gold – and while we can’t pay that we intend to maintain a competitive salary structure;
- We know that our system of discipline must be improved.
- And we are committed to investing in great teachers and safe and well-resourced classrooms because success – for every student – is our highest priority.
We hear the unhappiness with how JCPS has communicated on these topics.
But we took up these topics for important reasons. And it’s no good pretending that the work will be easy, or taking refuge in calling each other names or blaming our problems on bad communication.
Every member of this board ran for office, and was elected, because we believe our schools must improve.
- We are not content with the academic results, which suggest that only half our kids are graduating ready for their future;
- We are not content with school climate or discipline, with teachers telling us regularly of eroding standards of student behavior, even as suspension rates rise;
- We are not content with the one-size-fits-all environments imposed by standardized testing, even as we value the insights this gives us into gaps within and between our schools;
- We are not content with the equity delivered by our schools, with neighborhood, family income, race and other factors correlating so highly with student learning.
The board spent the bulk of 2015 consulting deeply with the community, with national experts, with the teachers’ association, and with other internal stakeholders on how to improve. These consultations are reflected in our strategy, Vision 2020, which calls for significant change so that JCPS delivers:
- Deeper and more personalized learning, beyond what’s measured in today’s bubble tests;
- Successful investment in building the capacity of our teachers and principals so they can teach and lead today’s youth;
- Staffing our schools and coordinating other services that overcome the social factors that impede so many of our students – including more psychological and behavioral supports in schools;
- And more.
Having asked our District leaders to drive change, the board expects them to propose it. If we’re not content with student behavior, we must be open to hearing and debating new ideas about how to change — that’s what was going on in the Code of Conduct work session. Having demanded changes that we know cost money, we must be open to proposals about where to find it. That’s what the Salary Study work session was about.
The elected board together has asked the Superintendent to take on hard issues. We know it will be messy; after all, there’s no national blueprint for how to succeed in big city public education, no other large urban district whose success we can simply copy. We wish all the people up here spoke with the tongues of angels, but we, like the District’s executive leadership, are busy people who don’t always find the right words, and sometimes clang like noisy gongs.
So the board respects the concerns of our teachers and regrets the disruption. But we are united behind Vision 2020, which we believe represents the community’s call for improvement in its schools. And we expect continued focus and tenacity in finding and funding improvement.
One final point. This hard work is made harder when professionals who help shape public opinion don’t share their knowledge of the issues at hand. I’ve said before how grateful the board is for the small number of media outlets that fund full time paid professional reporters to cover education in Louisville. I’m still grateful for that.
But just as I praise good reporting when it shines needed light on hidden issues, I want to express my disappointment with the quality of reporting over the last two weeks. The reporters who sit through every board meeting and work session have a deeper understanding of the board’s work than our teachers and citizens can have. They know, for example, that the board sets its own agenda – a subject on which we’ve spoken ad nauseum this year — and that interim reports and recommendations from community committees don’t lead automatically to board action. They know JCPS is party to union contracts, and that thoughts about salary are subject to negotiation, not board fiat.
In short, they know there’s a difference between the sausage factory of work sessions and formal recommendations to the board. And yet both reporting and silences over the past two weeks have frightened our teachers and enraged our community by creating the impression that action was imminent to cut salaries and weaken standards for behavior and discipline. This was never the case, and I ask our colleagues in the Fourth Estate to think not just of likes and followers and retweets, but of the community they serve.