Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday says if Jefferson County Public Schools turns around its lowest-achieving schools—called “priority schools”—it would help turn around all statewide education results.
JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens says that doesn’t go far enough, and she maintains committed to results for all students.
Holliday and Hargens discussed the state of JCPS’ failing schools at The Louisville Forum Wednesday. It’s the second public forum for the pair since Holliday used the phrase “academic genocide” to describe some of the worst performing schools in the district.
“I might have overreacted. But I overreacted for children,” he says.
Holliday backed his claim, again, saying that the words may have been harsh but they seemed to have worked to get the community riled up.
JCPS is the story of the “haves and the have-nots,” and it’s home to some of the worst and best schools in the state, he says, adding it’s the culmination of chronic problems the district has faced, which predates Hargens’ hire.
Holliday warned earlier this year that more state intervention might be necessary if the district isn’t able to post positive assessment results this fall.
“I’m already running two districts—I don’t want to run any more schools. I don’t want to run any more districts. I want to be your cheerleader. I don’t want to be your critic. So let’s all work together for the children and you’ve got a great leader in Donna Hargens,” he says.
Holliday says early student assessment results are promising for some JCPS schools, but not all. He says he’ll wait for the School Report card results in the fall—which include the measurements as laid out by the state’s new accountability system and include graduation, college and career readiness, gap, growth and proficiency rates—and will consider recommendations from state audits that could follow if adequate progress is not made in certain schools.
Holliday tells WFPL it’s rare that he overrides Kentucky Department of Education recommendations determining principals or districts don’t have the capacity to lead turnaround efforts. And while JCPS has appealed such recommendations in the past he says that will not happen again.
Holliday says he doesn’t ever want to take over schools, though it’s happened at six Kentucky high schools. He says there have been some success stories like Leslie County High School, where he credits the staff with implementing KDE strategies with fidelity, but he also says some schools like Newport High School have a ways to go.
Superintendent Hargens says since she joined the district in 2011 there have successes, including the U.S. News & World report that recognized JCPS high schools and the recent Broad Foundation report that acknowledged AP testing for African American students.
Hargens said that if JCPS focused on the district’s 18 lowest-achieving priority schools, it would bring the district’s stateside percentile up from 23rd to around 40th. But she says this isn’t good enough and maintains the district should continue following the district’s Vision 2015 strategic plan to improve learning conditions for all students.
Hargens says the district is making gains and reminds the community that before last year’s assessment results that placed the district in the 23rd percentile, JCPS was in the 6th and 9th percentile.
Addressing Holliday’s “academic genocide” comments earlier this year, Hargens commended the community and said it didn’t need any encouragement to act.
“I think it’s unfair to say this community needed anything to step up. I see them stepping up every day,” she says.