A big crowd of Little Rock School District supporters packed the state Board of Education meeting room today to demonstrate their desire to regain local control of the district, now in state receivership.
Education Commissioner Johnny Key gave no response to a TV reporter asking about a call from the appointed civic advisory committee that he be removed as commissioner and a temporary school board be appointed. Key has already indicated he’s going to replace the advisory committee with a community advisory aboard more akin to a school board.The president of the civic advisory board said Key had not been an advocate for the district.
The subject of Little Rock began before the state Board with a heartfelt and extended cheer for students and teachers in the district from Baker Kurrus, the superintendent, fired by Education Commissioner Key effective June 30 after Kurrus objected to charter school expansions in Little Rock that Key supported.
Kurrus wore a “keep the public in public schools” sticker as did many in the audience aligned with the #StandUp4LR group advocating return of local control.
Kurrus emphasized the positive — scholarship winners, award winners, schools with rising test scores and more. He called out those who talk of poorer performing schools in supporting charter schools. He said even those schools exceed their peers when you compare with like student bodies. He named the poorly performing Covenant Keepers and Little Rock Preparatory Academy by name. Both are predominantly minority students from low-income families. They both score far below all Little Rock schools, but have been allowed to continue to operate while the Little Rock District was taken over for low scores in six of 48 schools. Key has even waived the rules so that Little Rock Prep can get early consideration for an EXPANSION. It is already working to get a building owned by a Walton family enterprise in apparent expectation of approval of the expansion. Kurrus mentioned, too, Henderson Middle, a school regularly trashed by the Walton-paid lobbyist in Little Rock, Newton. It’s shown notable growth in student scores. “Lots of teaching and learning is going on at Henderson,” Kurrus said.
He closed by saying the district was improving and needed to be allowed to go “on its own” as quickly as possible.
In response to a question about facilities, he said it made no sense that charter schools were building new facilities with tax money in a city where the Little Rock district had surplus space. He mentioned, too, questions about ownership of facilities the charters are using.
Board member Jay Barth of Little Rock commended Kurrus for the spirit he’d encouraged in the community and spoke of the broad feeling of “mourning” at the news he would be replaced. Kurrus responded that his had been a labor of love and he was “gratified” by the support he received.
Johnny Key is expected to give a statement. A lengthy list of supporters has signed up to speak. Key began by naming a group that will study school district alignment and cooperation with charter schools south of the Arkansas River in Pulaski County. This grew from an earlier suggestion by Barth.
Key also outlined the process for dealing with academic distress. The originally list of six schools has been reduced to five and the situation will be re-evaluated in the fall based on test scores. Key suggested the board had leeway to take actions other than continuing total district control for any schools that might remain in academic distress based on a three-year rolling average of test scores. Questions illustrated a school board could be put in place as early as next year.
Comments are coming from parents, Sens. Joyce Elliott and Linda Chesterfield, Bill Kopsky of the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, two representatives of the League of Women Voters, a student and many parents. The Board voted to hear everyone after Board chair first suggested a limitation to reduce redundancy.