Mara Powell
502-895-8167 *122

Statement by Dr. Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates

Can we find a way for the state to intervene to help kids and address the recent audit of Jefferson County Public Schools while preserving local control of schools?

I can definitively say the answer is yes. I have learned a lot about how people perceive the Kentucky Department of Education’s action around the Jefferson County Public Schools over the last two weeks. Our role at Kentucky Youth Advocates is always to be the independent voice for Kentucky’s kids. That means we always want to ensure that kids are the front and center of any discussion, no matter how political that may be. And secondly, we try to be a catalyst for all kinds of opinions to come together in a safe – and constructive – place to discuss (and fuss).

We know there is going to be some state action around Louisville’s public schools. I am convinced that if we fail to find a common ground for this state intervention, then we fail kids.

There seem to be three arenas in which folks of all persuasions agree, and those common agreements offer hope for shared progress:

  1. There is a broad agreement with the conclusions of the audit that apply to student outcomes and well-being. As an example, everyone shares KYA’s belief that every JCPS student deserves to be protected from abuse by employees. The local board has failed to address this issue historically and the state’s intervention on this issue can, in fact, give kids the protection they have long deserved.
  2. The local school board made one its best decisions in years when it hired Dr. Marty Pollio. He is seen as the coalescing force who can make JCPS a national urban schools model. Everyone shares a belief that Dr. Pollio must be supported at the state and local levels and should be given the broadest of latitude in which to operate. The best individual to lead local schools is a strong, effective and local leader.
  3. We need a clearly defined metric of success. That will lead to a common understanding of the finish line that must be crossed for the state oversight to end.

If these three arenas offer real hope for common agreement, I have to be honest. There is one area around which it is going to be difficult to reach an agreeable consensus – and that is around governance. If we cannot find agreement in this arena, then we are set for protracted litigation and a divisive community discourse. In listening to folks who have widely divergent views on this aspect of state oversight, I wonder if both the state and the local boards could give up some of what each wants to achieve a broader common good. There are no doubt multiple ways to think about some shared ground here.

As an example, what if both the Kentucky Board of Education/Kentucky Department of Education and the Jefferson County Board of Education signed an agreement for reciprocal parameters of governance?  On one hand, KBE/KDE would assume governing responsibility for certain identified findings, such as physical restraint and seclusion of students and the implementation of IDEA. And on the other hand, JCBE would maintain its governing authority in other arenas, such as student assignment and employee contracts. I get it – neither the local board nor the folks in Frankfort are going to like a shared governance model, but maybe when it comes to student success, a little shared unhappiness is just what we need around governance. We don’t need resources and energy drawn to the courtroom; they need to be invested in the classroom.

The challenge we all face in response to the state oversight action is to identify arenas of commonality that will serve children and to honestly and directly address points of friction that can get in the way of serving children. And then – and only then – will my five grandkids in JCPS and their more than 100,000 classmates be the winners.

As the independent voice for Kentucky children, we have been working to get the state to address the issues raised in the audit in a way that prioritizes what is best for children and preserves local control. What ideas do you have for how the Kentucky Board of Education can help JCPS students succeed by addressing concerns raised in the state’s audit?

On behalf of kids and democracy, send your ideas to members of the Board. You can find their contact information here.