The state Board of Education has begun what promises to be a lengthy hearing on what to do about the six Little Rock School District schools in academic distress.
The School District argues for steps that focus on the schools, not an entire district takeover. Attorney Chris Heller repeated his argument that a takeover goes beyond what the law anticipates. Superintendent Dexter Suggs, asked for specifics on obstacles to doing his job, said there had been none. He said only he was concerned the School Board’s current “energy” might not continue for the four or five years it will take to improve the schools.
Board President Greg Adams said the district was not accepting the status quo and listed solid achievements the district has recorded. He urged all parties to stop trying to place blame and instead collaborate on solutions.
“I dont think we’re going to fail,” he said.
State Rep. John Walker spoke against takeover, which he said was generated by a “small group of persons who purport to be the community fathers and the ones who set policy.” He said the chamber has done nothing to help poor, black children in the city core. He said district decisions were made by administrators, not teachers. They make the policies and adverse decisions and have never been strictly evaluated. Accountability “frightens” those people, he said. He said the chamber wants the state to take over the schools because their effort to elect a friendly school board majority had failed. He said the state shouldn’t take schools over without a plan or simply to contract the job out to someone else.
Sen. Joyce Elliott noted that distress is based solely on two test scores. That prompted Board member Alice Mahony to note the percentage of poor and special ed students at schools in distress. Shouldn’t that be a factor considered? Of course. The complete picture isn’t there, Elliott said, including surrounding community.
I’m turning it over to Benji Hardy, who’s on the scene and will continue in a separate post.