I wrote a pessimistic column this week about the Little Rock School District. With the end of state desegregation support, division on the school board, schools in academic distress and a community full of enemies, I’ve found reason to contemplate even such measures as a state takeover.
Greg Adams, president of the School Board, asked for an opportunity to respond. He wrote individually, not as a board leader, with a note of optimism.
He cites improvements:
Beginning in 2013, a litany of significant progressive changes has occurred. A reform-minded superintendent was hired and land was purchased for a needed middle school in west Little Rock and a new and improved high school facility in southwest Little Rock. An aggressive community outreach effort was begun with stakeholders across the district and leaders from government, business, and service organizations. We already are seeing positive results from this effort as evidenced by a revived Public Education Foundation and new business partnerships in our Career and Technical Education programs. The first phase of an ambitious 1:1 technology program for 4th and 5th graders was started in 2013. Two underperforming schools were approved for transformation to innovative, needed, unique- in-the-state schools in the forms of Forest Heights K-8 STEM Academy and Geyer Springs Gifted and Talented Academy. Against very long odds, LRSD initiated new negotiations in the long-running desegregation case which led to a new overall agreement which allows for an orderly end to the case and increased control of the district’s own future. Finally, a facilities study is being completed in preparation of a district-wide facilities improvement plan where the needs of the whole district are identified and addressed rising above narrow parochial concerns. This is a very impressive list of accomplishments in a fairly short time, and it is only the beginning.
He acknowledges the challenges, but finds in budgetary, competitive and regulatory pressurs reason for optimism, not despair.
The pressures to dramatically improve academic performance and to develop a more sustainable budget have been present before but never to the intensity that they are now, and these pressures will continue to increase. These increased pressures provide us with a new and unique opportunity to make bigger and more innovative changes in the district both academically and financially. In reality, those changes have already begun, as described above.