The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette today has an op-ed from three former members of the state Board of Education outlining their ideas on the future of the Little Rock School District. Read it, should the newspaper pay wall allow.
The authors are Jay Barth, Mireya Reith and Sam Ledbetter. Famously, they split on state takeover in January 2015, with Ledbetter casting the deciding vote in favor of the takeover.
The article says, in a kind way, that Barth and Reith were right and Ledbetter was wrong. In their words: “…the district has not made the kind of progress many hoped for when the state takeover decision was made.”
They also speak as one for return of local control to residents of the school district.
The state’s management of the district over the past four-plus years has not brought calm or stability. Instead, it has fostered an atmosphere of distrust and suspicion. Despite the diversity of our state’s capital city, Little Rock has united around a desire for local control.
But …. There must be “reconstitution” of the district and the state must do so with a plan “that looks holistically at gaps, opportunities and the equitable allocation of resources.”
This is a recognition that school alone isn’t the solution for an economically and ethnically disparate population full of specific and sometimes mind-boggling needs.
With the nation now looking through the lens of equity, research consistently points to the following strategies as key to school turnaround: high-quality early childhood opportunities that prepare children for kindergarten; wrap-around services (from expansive health care to innovative after-school and summer programming) that aid them once in school, and a teacher with training to teach diverse students well in a culturally competent manner.
This model goes beyond simply providing these services to students. It also makes parents and the broader community (including nonprofits, businesses, faith-based institutions, and city government) equal partners in bringing these to fruition.
Money and the involvement of every part of the community — churches, nonprofits, city government, individuals — are needed to create a holistic approach to serving children.
It is a tall order.