Jefferson County Public Schools officials have released the following letter to media regarding comments made by Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.
Holliday used the words “academic genocide” when referring to the district’s lowest performing schools, upsetting and surprising some community and board members. In the school board’s letter they defend the work being done by JCPS staff and ask that Holliday communicate directly to the district, rather than media:
Communication is the glue of cooperation. It’s what holds together partnerships between many people with different views and ideas and keeps them working toward common goals. When problems arise, we should talk about solutions and formulate plans to overcome these problems. In the absence of communication, goals are compromised and partnerships can come apart.
Over the last week, Kentucky Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday has spoken with the media concerning the lack of progress in the Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) District’s lowest-achieving schools. Dr. Holliday accused JCPS of committing “academic genocide” on Louisville students and compared JCPS to “apartheid.” We emphatically reject this characterization of our district and the work of JCPS’s 16,000 employees. We are concerned this reckless language will distract from the real issue of increasing student achievement by starting yet another squabble among adults, about adults.
We share Dr. Holliday’s sense of urgency; however, it would be far more constructive if he communicated directly to the superintendent the specifics of what his staff is seeing in order to help students at these schools. When the commissioner met with The Courier-Journal editorial board this week, he expressed dismay at the board’s failure to ask hard questions regarding this issue during last Monday’s school board meeting. That’s a fair point for someone on the outside to make. Although a presentation on persistently low-achieving (PLA) school performance was on the agenda and the board heard testimony from principals of three of these schools, we were frankly unprepared to respond to Dr. Holliday’s accusations. We pledge that future meetings will better explain to the public what the district is doing to turn around our weakest schools and how effectively our plan is being executed.
We agree with Dr. Holliday that PLA schools must improve at a faster rate for students to leave these schools prepared for the future. We also agree with the commissioner that, since coming to JCPS, Superintendent Donna Hargens and her leadership team have made great strides in working cooperatively with the state in improving performance at these schools. Dr. Holliday is right when he describes this as a community problem that extends beyond the purview of the school. He is also correct when he says the state and JCPS share the responsibility to improve performance at an acceptable and reasonable rate.
We are united in support of Superintendent Hargens’ plan to achieve JCPS’s mission for all students to reach their full potential and graduate prepared. We will continue to operate with a sense of urgency. Some progress has been made, and we are optimistic that this plan will work. We agree with Dr. Hargens that we will do whatever it takes to improve student achievement, including revising plans to fix what’s not working. We won’t give up on our schools.
The huge challenges we face are not insurmountable. However, it will take the wisdom, intellect, engagement, and elbow grease of every stakeholder to turn the tide in these PLA schools. The commissioner and JCPS need to continue to work together and in good faith. Our children and community deserve nothing less.
The Jefferson County Board of Education:
Diane Porter, Chair, District 1
Carol Ann Haddad, Vice Chair, District 6
David Jones Jr., District 2
Debbie Wesslund, District 3
Chuck Haddaway, District 4
Linda Duncan, District 5
Chris Brady, District 7