Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is taking steps to ensure Jefferson County’s lowest achieving schools—called priority schools—have the strategies in place to improve.
Holliday met with Superintendent Donna Hargens Tuesday and discussed numerous expectations and recommendations for JCPS to consider.
The district’s Comprehensive District Improvement Plan—a state mandated document that sets a district’s blueprint for its priority schools—does not currently include the vision or specific strategies to support its 18 lowest achieving schools, Holliday says in a letter written to Hargens and JCPS board chair Diane Porter.
The letter recognizes the collaboration that Hargens has been willing to engage in with the Kentucky Department of Education and it notes seven highlights in the district over the past year, including improvement among some priority schools and increased college and career readiness district-wide.
Holliday also lists a dozen challenges the district faces including the lack of a vision to turn around JCPS’ priority schools. He then lists eight expectations and says JCPS must address the teachers unions contract, which he says creates perceived barriers “such as stipulation that seniority is the priority basis for the determination of assignment of teachers to courses/students.”
The letter further says: “With the level of inexperience currently coming to the classroom, the current model with these contract stipulations does not set up retention of teachers nor success with challenging populations and their dynamics.”
JCTA president Brent McKim previously told WFPL that a priority school’s turnaround plan overrides the teachers union contract and Holliday agrees.
“We’re just trying to get that clarified in the contract language,” he says.
One example: some schools allow KDE staff to meet with groups of teachers called Professional Learning Communities that review curriculum and discuss strategies. Other schools say KDE cannot join those groups, he says.
Holliday adds seven recommendations for JCPS, including continued collaboration with state officials and considering negotiating a separate teachers union contract for priority schools.
Holliday says in the letter he will wait for new 2013 assessment data before making any further decisions or actions, which could include leadership audits that could lead to more state management.
UPDATE, 4:20pm: Commissioner Holliday says the meeting included Hargens, associate KDE commissioner Susan Allred, JCPS board members Diane Porter and Carol Haddad, David Karem, chair of the Kentucky Board of Education and Mary Gwen Wheeler, a KBE board member.
Holliday says certain districts like Breathitt have undergone a similar process with KDE. In Breathitt, that process eventually led to a state manager overseeing the district.
“The expectations are requirements that have to be put in place and the turnaround schools’ funding could be impacted if those are not put in place. The recommendations are options…. but the superintendent agreed to do all of the expectations and recommendations.”
JCPS sent the following response on behalf of Superintendent Donna Hargens:
JCPS and KDE share the responsibility and resolve to increase student achievement. The meeting today focused on our mutual goal of improving communication and aligning our efforts to benefit students. JCPS continues to address the concerns Dr. Holliday first brought to us last month and will collaborate with KDE to review the recommendations and remove any barriers to student success.
Read Holliday’s letter below: