Seven candidates are competing for a single seat on the Jefferson County Public Schools’ Board of Education. Benjamin Gies resigned from the District 4 seat representing the southwest side of Louisville in July.
Under a new state law, the JCPS school board was able to select a candidate to fill the vacancy in the interim before the next possible election. Board members selected Joe Marshall, who has been serving in the seat since August.
Marshall and others vying for the seat had to file for the upcoming election even before the board made its selection. Several candidates said they chose to run after initially hearing no one had filed for the seat close to the deadline. Eight submitted in time; Saundra Gibson has since withdrawn her candidacy.
District 4 encompasses the neighborhoods of Cane Run, Pleasure Ridge Park, Shively and Valley Station.
The board has a lot on its plate this year, as JCPS prepares for another state audit in fall 2020. The board is also expected to make changes to the student assignment plan that manages where students attend school and to approve a new internal security force that may rewrite how the district uses police in schools. Meanwhile, the latest state test score release landed 35 JCPS schools among the bottom 5 percent of Kentucky schools. Here are the candidates who hope to take up these challenges:
Goodin is a retired Air Force veteran and a former special education assistant at the Binet School and Carrithers Middle School. He is the grandfather of several JCPS students and regularly volunteers in JCPS schools.
Goodin said the biggest issue facing the board this year is “the ongoing of failure to take care of our most needy or disadvantaged and underprivileged boys and girls.”
Gray is the Director of Employee Relations at Volunteers of America Mid-States, the regional office for a national nonprofit that primarily serves homeless residents. Gray said she currently volunteers helping students with their resumes and applications for their future plans.
Gray said the biggest issues facing the board this year are teachers’ retirement funds and the teacher pipeline, as well as a pending state takeover that is “still lingering.”
Laurenz is a delivery driver for Eagle Paper and the father of a JCPS teacher and grandfather of a JCPS student. All three of his children also graduated from JCPS. He coached many children in baseball for 14 years.
Laurenz said the biggest issue facing the board this year is school security.
Joe Marshall | Campaign Facebook page
Marshall is a current school board member and a 4th grade teacher at the West End School, a tuition-free private school. He taught at JCPS for four years and was also a substitute teacher prior to that. He is a father and he has worked with the YMCA and coached flag football.
Marshall said the biggest issues facing the board this year are: honesty and transparency, a teacher shortage, protection from state and local government overreach and equity.
Parrish-Wright is site manager for The Bail Project. She has served on nine boards in the Louisville Metro area and is the parent of six children, including three JCPS graduates and three current JCPS students.
Parrish-Wright said some of the biggest issues facing the board this year are student assignment and providing equitable resources for all schools.
Ryan describes herself as a homemaker and is the mother of four JCPS students. She has been a PTSA President for four years; a PTA President for three years; and served on two schools’ School Based Decision Making Boards.
Ryan said the biggest issues facing the board this year are “the potential charter school takeover” and school security.
Ryan was unable to schedule an in-studio interview, but provided WFPL with written responses.
Whitlock did not respond to a request for an interview. He made news headlines in 2011 after he shot a woman in a Walmart parking lot. A former Kentucky Constable, Whitlock was off-duty when he claims his weapon discharged at Tammy Ortiz, whom he suspected of shoplifting. Whitlock resigned from that position as part of a plea deal for assault charges, according to WDRB News. He is a former County Commissioner and has unsuccessfully run for Metro Council.
We asked candidates these questions about JCPS test scores, the student assignment plan and school security. Audio responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.
The latest state test score releases put 35 JCPS schools among the bottom 5 percent of the state. What do you think is the board’s role in helping JCPS rise out of that position?
“One place I would start with is the curriculum. Is the curriculum relevant? With at-risk kids, with our minorities, I think concentrating on those kinds of things that they would be interested in. Something that a black teacher can relate with a black child — we need more of that. I mean, it’s like raising your own kids, you’ve got to find out what they’re going to eat, what they’re going to take, you know, and go with that route.”
“I believe that there needs to be a very direct dialogue with each individual school. I think that plans have to be addressed for each school individually. I don’t think that just a blanket program is going to solve the answers. I think that we have to look at real solutions for each of the schools based upon the needs that they present, what techniques, talent, what curriculum would be best in setting that school up for success.”
“That comes down to not teachers, but principals. You’ve got principals in schools, and they’re supposed to be the lead person. You’re supposed to excel in all things such as classwork, just many things that goes along in school. And some schools need more attention than other schools. You know, in our district, it seems to be on the poor side. I hate to say that, but the poor side needs more attention, more money. I would think that would make things a lot better, as far as attendance, parents attending functions, just things like that.”
“You know, it’s very striking, when you see as many schools in the bottom 5 percent. We moved from 21 to 35 [schools in that category]. Our job as the school board is to review policy and to make sure that our policy is equitable for our students. And so we need to be an attractive district. We need to be a groundbreaking district. We’re not going to be able to look at a lot of places and just follow their lead. I really want to push the board forward to follow our lead to the future of education, not what’s worked before, but what’s going to be best for who we are in Jefferson County now.”
“If the spending is reasonable, then what else is missing? Do we need more teachers that are able to teach to those students? Do we need more students putting their voices in the decisions that are being made at their school? Because each school is different. You can walk into a school and the temperature is totally different at every school. And then schools need to look the part too, right?
“I want my school to have the technology that it needs to have. I want my school to not look like it’s falling down. What’s happening at Manual that is not happening at Shawnee? And how can we start from that place and fix that, and then how can we have the students informing us of what we really need to do?”
[Ryan provided written responses, published here verbatim.]
“I think the biggest challenge is to see exactly what each school is lacking and begin to make those changes. As a Mom, that had four boys in separate schools I was quite puzzled by those findings. Also, what has been a big issue of mine is the fact JCPS has been comfortable for decades that we only have a few higher learning schools. Why settle for that? We should see what truthfully works in these successful schools and model after those schools. We must find a way to get the administration, teachers and parents on the same page. Once that is done then a strategy of improving the lacking schools will begin.
“There is never a successful school without all those factors united as ONE! Another way to continue to make appropriate changes is make the diversity and equity a priority. This should be shown across the school system. Meaning, as we begin to work closer together no matter what our differences are it will make positive changes. Lastly, give the teachers an opportunity to change the way the curriculum are at the low performing schools. I have had kiddos at low performing schools and high performing. There is a difference and it should never happen but it does. Doesn’t all kids deserve the best education possible? Yes, they do?”
Another big item on JCPS’s plate is reviewing the student assignment plan. The district is considering a proposal that would put more schools in the West End and give more families who live there the option of attending a local school. Currently, the “resides school” for many of these students — their default school if they don’t go to a magnet — is farther out in the suburbs.
What do you think of the proposal to build more schools in the West End to give students a local option, and what other thoughts do you have on how the student assignment plan could be changed?
“We need much more balance than what we have. We can manage, we can re-manage, we can revise and we can amend assignment planning, and make sure that everyone’s getting their fair share of kids that do have academic needs. We’ve got to do something about the achievement gap. The way that we do things now with the student assignment plan, is we widen that gap by allowing our most privileged, our high performers, to opt out of the neighborhood school. Fine tune that assignment plan, get those student-teacher ratios down and build these new facilities that we need, and build them where we need them. Our neighbors in District One [in the West End] need it.”
“When I was in JCPS, I was one of the first to be a part of the student reassignment, the busing plan. When that was developed, the students that went into higher level schools were not prepared. There was not a plan that was put in place to assist them. And so I see busing and student reassignment as a real failure on the school system’s part, not so much on the students wanting to come in and the families wanting their child to be exposed to a better education in other areas. So today, when I look at the opportunity for more schools to be built in a student’s home area, I think that’s definitely a great answer. But again, we need to identify the needs of the children and make sure that school is set up to deliver on those issues that they face.”
“In Jefferson County, we really don’t have that many new schools. I mean, it’s a shame. Kids that are in these magnet schools, like my grandson, he’s been in what they call an AP school. You really have to have, I hate to say this, but certain kids are at a different level than other kids. I mean, it’s just, society, you know. So for me, if you was to take the kids that’s going to the West End — or I don’t care what part of town — you know, it’s the education, it’s the teachers, it’s the love they feel when they get there. It’s not the part of town. To me, I would think it’d be a great thing.”
“If we’re going to be honest, our families of color have bore the burden of diversity. They’ve been the ones called upon to send their kids across town. So eventually something’s going to have to reciprocate to them to show them that, you know, we believe in them, and we’re willing to invest in their areas. It’s not about what part of our city is growing the most, where we need to put our money. We need to put our money where our families are, and where the need is, and let’s have a whole lot more equity in the plans that we make.
“Do neighborhood schools, are they going to allow our parents to be more involved in their schools? I’m happy to say that in my first 30 days in the seat I’ve already visited all 29 of my schools and met with every single one of my principals. And a lot of them believe so. They believe that parents having a little bit more choice to be closer to home would allow them to reach those parents, to allow those parents to be more involved, especially for our parents that do not have reliable transportation.”
“I think our student assignment plan for us being the 27th largest school district is very complicated — but it’s also very buildable. We don’t want people to segregate because of ‘Aw, it just makes sense to send my kids to this neighborhood school because it’s up the street.’ I think every school should be a magnet. Every school should be treated as a magnet; every school should have magnet opportunities. When I was a single parent and as a mother, sometimes it was easier that my sons went two blocks away to Maupin [Elementary] but Maupin needed to have the quality education as well. So we need transportation to match whatever assignment plan we come up with. I do believe in family choice.”
“I think the plan to allow West End Students to go to other schools has a Catch-22 issue with that policy. Meaning, if I lived in the West End then yes I would want my child to have a better education so as a temporary fix that could be a good option. However, in doing so the families will have a harder time to volunteer or intend events. What if they can’t make it to after school events, tutoring, parent teacher conferences just to name a few. With this new policy then what happens to the families that choose to keep the reside school because they need their kids closer to them. The transportation for families is a crucial issue. In my opinion, at the end of the day this only hurts this community. If our best option is to move them across town then our issues in the West End are still troublesome in our community. If we put the adequate help in the schools I think it will improve truancy, suspensions, drop-out rates and ultimately crime. The idea of making positive changes in those schools would bring a change that we all should desire to see. This is why I spoke of a Catch-22. If all we do is bus then student with the better education still comes home to a challenging environment that can’t be helped because it doesn’t impact their suburb school.
“The student assignment plan can be altered by placing better schools in each cluster. There are some clusters with not many options and slapping the word MAGNET on a school that you know is not doing well is fraudulent at best. Be honest. Work to improve the problems and not use that magnet word as a Band-aid.”
SROs have also been a hot topic this year. School started this fall without any SROs after the board had a split vote on renewing local SRO contracts while the board seat you’re running for was empty. Now JCPS is working to create an internal security force.
What are your thoughts on what the JCPS internal security force should look like?
“I don’t like how SROs have been demonized by the board. I’ve worked with SROs as both an employee and as a volunteer. They’re wonderful people. They love these boys and girls. I like the concept that our SROs are security people. That they will be JCPS folks will be accountable to our security department. They answer to the school principal. I see them as interventionists for restorative justice. I don’t see them as heavy-handed as some people try to make them out to be, but they’re going to be that staff member that gets involved with you know, trying to get these kids turned around. “What is it that’s making you so angry? How can I help you?” And you’ve got to protect these kids to get to protect staff as well. I don’t like that you have to have an armed member in the school and the school building. I don’t like that. But from my experience, I see it as a deterrent.”
“I do like the idea of having an internal security resources program. However, I want to make sure that they are well equipped — one, to handle situations and two, to also handle it with dignity. So I hate that we started the school year without that in place, but I do believe that it is something quickly emerging. I would not like to see an SRO with a weapon. It’s just a force that doesn’t need to be present in the school systems. I believe that they should be outfitted very well. You need to be able to pick them out in a crowd or as they’re walking down the hallways, but no, no weapons in the school.”
“Security for your kids to go to school is a really, really big thing for me. When you watch Little Johnny or Susie leave your house, you want that feeling of security. And today, I just don’t believe that they have that in the schools today. I really don’t. I hate that it’s come down to this. But I’m thinking all schools are going to eventually had to have metal detectors. We see kids today in high school that are bringing weapons in. We’ve had situations where, you know, even elementary kids were killed. You put these metal detectors in there — and I’ve seen this at other schools here in town — they do use them. It is a deterrent.”
“Student safety is number one. It is proven by fact and by data, if students do not feel safe, they are not learning and they are not achieving at their highest level. So we have to take care of safety. So since we’re moving forward with this plan for our own internal force, I think we have to focus on the word resource. I do not like the language of policing our students, because I do not believe our students need policing. I believe our students need to be educated. They need to be protected. They are not the ones that we should be looking at to arrest or to interrupt their learning. We should be looking at them as the future of Jefferson County, and making sure that these officers are working with our building administration, our teachers, our students, to ensure the safety of the building.”
“Whatever replaces SROs and the way that we’ve come to know them needs to be able to be controlled by JCPS, because that’s who you’re going to answer to. It needs to be a complete overhaul. I mean, their uniforms, the colors that they wear, the training that they receive, and it has to be youth based training. And they have to be trauma-informed, as well as mental health. They have to have the ability to deal with our youth that are dealing with a myriad of issues in our community, and they’re coming to school. And we have to deal with that when we’re interacting with them.
“You need to have people who work in these roles that are able to understand, Oh, because Johnny stormed out of the room…’ does not mean that Johnny needs to be in handcuffs five minutes later. We need to figure out what’s happening, and we need to look at the whole student. Pull Johnny out and deal with Johnny on a case-by-case basis.”
“I think the new security force should have security that has been properly trained to deal with all races, mental illness students, special needs children and even families that may need a better understanding of what they are doing in the schools. Why not introduce the Security to the Families. The security force must understand that as an African American my house of four boys and a hubby looks at police totally different. They should be mindful of this fact. Once they gain their trust I believe the violence in the schools will decrease. The respect will be there and not the fear.
“Also, the administration and teachers need to have a relationship with the Security Team because things do occur out their hands and when issues escalate I assume they want to feel they are safe. Their biggest concern should be preparing these kiddos to be productive citizens. Our goal is to make all kids career or college ready for this world called Life. It truly takes a village and I believe it can and will happen if we work together!”