Baker Kurrus, encouraged by an old friend, gave what may have been his first public speech tonight since ending his time as Little Rock School District superintendent. It was part of a monthly program at the little Presbyterian Church I attend once and again.
He preached from Matthew, about the least among us. He talked of what he’d tried to achieve. He, and nearly everyone there, were moved near tears by accounts of the kids he tried to reach as superintendent.
He talked of the threat charter schools present to the Little Rock School District and spoke knowingly of how a new state school voucher program — limited in scope and seemingly aimed at needy children — may be but another way to divide and segregate rather than unite school populations. Will it take only lightly disabled, not the profoundly challenged students public school districts must find a way to help? He noted a newspaper article that said a private school hoped to score some of this money, but one child presented too many problems for the school to handle. Guess who gets those kids? Guess who get the kids with minor speech impediments? How does that rejected kid feel?
The least among us were high on Kurrus’ list of talking points. He came with photos of his time visiting schools — such as Spiderman (seen above), whom he wrote memorably about. And the kids at Washington,who rubbed the head of the bald man for good luck
We lost a good man as school leader. And the crowd rose in a prolonged ovation as testament. I wish I’d recorded the talk. He said he’s not mad at anybody (but make no mistake: he was fired for speaking out against the damaging influence of charter schools). He simply recited facts: Of the broken promises of charter operators to serve the needy; of the numbers that don’t reflect true diversity in charter enrollment; of the determinative destiny of economics in education and how charter schools don’t better the Little Rock schools despite the advantages. A school teacher chimed in: She’s a teacher in a poor neighborhood (all students qualify for free meals). Her school has high test scores but is decimated by transfers to eStem, soon to build a nearby school in an area with, already, five schools within a mile radius. This is efficiency in education? This is meeting an unmet need?
Most devastating stats: The 80% proficient and advanced performance rate on students that eStem and LISA take from Little Rock public schools. (Were they trapped? The numbers say they weren’t.) The 6,600 seats soon to be occupied in parallel school districts, including eStem, one of the 20 largest in Arkansas, within the boundaries of the district. The resulting concentration of poor and disadvantaged children.
But let me not belabor all this.
Baker’s friend asked the question on all our minds. So, what next?
“I want to serve,” said Kurrus.
More specifically? He did not say. But he did say elections matter. He did say local officials should stand up and be counted on whether they endorse the resegregation of Little Rock schools by race and class and the potential harm to the city if it happens. This begins with the Little Rock City Board and rises to the very top of state government. So we shall see.
There’s more to come in this story. I think the reaction in this crowd of aging white liberals indicates he could get some votes.
His invocation of John Wesley reminded me of my own Methodist upbringing:
Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.
Even if I don’t have the Walton millions to match their effort to tear down the Little Rock School District, I’m with Kurrus. Do all you can.