The Hutchinson administration’s decision to sack Baker Kurrus as the high-performing leader of the Little Rock School District in favor of Michael Poore of Bentonville has produced a wide protest in Little Rock.
It has also produced some cheering in Bentonville from people who’ve had disagreements with Poore. It is fair to note that being school superintendent always brings conflict. It’s a rare school leader with unanimous support.
Poore’s critics sent me word last night how happy they were to learn of his departure from Bentonville. Two years ago, the then-Bentonville School Board President Wendi Cheatham wanted to fire Poore. (Link corrected.) She’s no longer on the Board. One of Poore’s strongest defenders was Board member Rebecca Powers, herself a controversial figure because of leadership of the religious forces that opposed a district policy to protect LGBT employees and her alleged cyberbullying of a student. Poore ultimately sided with Powers. He said the district needed no policy because existing policies were sufficient. He also promised to provide a training session on how federal guidelines on sex discrimination covered gender identity, but that training has not been provided as yet.
Poore had disagreements with Cheatham, too, on his insistence on using a district-hired auditor rather than submit to the more strenuous review of state legislative audit. Bentonville is not the only district that has chosen this path.
He’s drawn fire for school rezoning and an initial resistance to a plan for a new high school, but defenders would say the explosive growth of the district inevitably meant some displacement for parents and that the district has managed growth well.
He’s knocked, too, for proposing advertising on school buses, as he’d done in Colorado. And critics point, too, to the district’s defense of prayer at a school-related event because it wasn’t an official district event.
Critics have much more to say, but it’s mostly water under the bridge now. He’ll soon enough be known by his deeds. The largest looming question is whether he’ll ever follow in Baker Kurrus’ footsteps with a call for analysis of the segregative effect of charter schools and their lack of proven academic performance as they drain students from the Little Rock School District. Charters haven’t been much of an issue in Bentonville, where the minority population is scant and there’s little pressure from parents to find havens from concentrated populations of poor children.
Poore has never worked in a district with a significant percentage of black children. He moves to one that is about 70 percent black and had a majority black board until the state took it over. But one of his admirers on the school board vows you’ll never see a leader who knows staff better and who gets out in the community more tirelessly than Poore.
Another reader pointed me to a “white paper” on Poore’s website for a view on his education thinking. I had a hard time parsing it.
PS: Rumors floated yesterday that some deal might be in the works to keep Baker Kurrus working in some capacity under Poore. I believe this was floated by Northwest Arkansas political players (Walton organization) in hopes of saving face for the Hutchinson administration after enormous backlash to its decision to boot a wildly popular, effective leader. It is not going to happen. You’d willingly serve as a shill for somebody who tossed you aside like an old dirty shirt, wouldn’t you?