In Jefferson County, there are seven seats on the Board of Education. All are non-partisan, and voters elect representation based on where they live.
This year, four seats are on the ballot, and only two of those races are contested. One of those contested races is the District 6 seat, which is currently held by Lisa Willner. Willner is giving up the seat in a bid for the Kentucky statehouse. The district stretches down central Jefferson County along much of I-65; here’s a map.
Eddings, Shull and Smith participated in a forum held by the League of Women Voters last month. Here are some of their responses; answers have been edited for clarity.
Why are you running for school board?
“My name is Angela Smith. I’m a retired service member, 20 years in the service. And the reason I want to run for the board is to be an advocate for the students in the school — and not just the sixth district but citywide.”
“I got into this race because I wanted to be a contributing member of our community. My focus in this race is trying to spur more parental and community engagement.
I think the teachers work hard every day. I believe that administrators at the board and other stakeholders work hard every day. I think we can do a lot more if we can build a larger coalition of people supportive of what happens in the classroom and in the school building. I look forward to this rigorous debate. I have a lot of respect for my peers who have chosen community service who share the table with me — it’ll get contentious at points. But I think at the end of it, hopefully we’ve all listened to a different perspective and have made the decision to perhaps elect myself to school board.
But regardless of the choice on Election Day, I think that we’ll be well represented with new leadership at the board. I welcome you to check out my website. It’s waymen.us. And just a little bit about me, I’m a parent of five attendees in the Jefferson County Public Schools; went there myself. I value looking into our classrooms to find ways to create better citizens.”
“I’m running for school board, the District Six seat, particularly because I want to be a part of continuing the very noble work that Dr. Lisa Willner has begun in the sixth district on our board of education. I want to ensure that the very positive work over the course of the last four years — such as the creation of the racial equity policy, the creation of the boys’ school, the creation of the backpack initiative — is continued, that is implemented widely and that it is resourced at the level that it should be.
I believe that every school in Jefferson County can be an excellent school. I think that with the right minds at the table, with us finding creative strategies to ensure that every school gets the resources that it needs that we certainly can have the best school district in the United States of America. That is the reason why I am running for a seat on JCPS’ school board and I’m so happy to be here with you tonight.”
What are the main challenges you see facing our school district?
“As I said in my opening statement, parental and community involvement is crucial. I’ve been to different important meetings at the Board of Education and committee meetings and I can’t say that those meetings are well-attended and well-represented by all members of our community. As you said at the beginning, this is a large district, there are a lot of different systems at play. But there are also large challenges and if we’re going to overcome and create the best school district that we can have, as my opponent said, ‘the best school district in America,’ it’s going to take every resource to be put on the table.
So as we talk about the good work that was done in the past, I think that new blood, new perspectives, new communication and new connections need to be brought to the table. I’m running because I have those connections, a connection to the grassroots, connections to Frankfort, connections to inner city Louisville and the suburbs.”
“I think the greatest issue facing Jefferson County Public School District is the gap in achievement, often based on racial demographics. Also our children with special needs have began to be factored into that achievement gap. I think that by broadly implementing rich and deep educational strategies, making our classrooms teacher-centered again. Our teachers understand how to make their classrooms come alive and therefore they should be treated as professionals and allowed the resources that they need to ensure that every child is learning, that every child is rising to the level where they can maximize their potential. And so I think that the ratio that that the achievement gap — often based on lines of race and special needs — is an issue that we need to forcefully and valiantly up again, to focus our attention on.
“I think the main challenge is for the kids to learn and have the resources they need to become productive citizens in the world once they leave the school. And also I think a challenge would be well-received if we can give them more toward a skill-learned setting to learn more than just reading a book and learning more. Because a skill will take you where a college education don’t sometimes. We all are not college-bound and won’t be college-bound, so for them to learn a skill throughout the years, I think will be a good thing.”
Do you believe the charter school movement is a threat to JCPS? Please explain your answer.
“I do believe that is a threat in a sense that the money that a charter student receives, that money leaves when that child leaves, so if he’s or she’s in a public school and they bring with them and they leave, for my understanding.”
“I think that the General Assembly has empowered us with a new solution and how we can conduct public education, and it’s charter schools. And because of the hard work of local unions and statewide unions, we’ve hammered out what could be one of the best charter school laws in the country. It holds the charter school operators accountable in Jefferson County, and in Kentucky. You can’t be for-profit in this game, which might be a very positive change.
I believe that charter schools could be an important part of the mix going forward. Right now, Jefferson County Public Schools has about an 80 percent stake hold in education in this county. Some kids go to private school, parochial schools. So we currently have a mix. Adding new solutions to the mix that are held accountable properly. We are careful and how we vet the owners and operators, operators of public schools. I think that we can improve education locally.”
“Charter schools are not the answer to the issues concerning the educational system here in Jefferson County. I don’t know how you can have charter schools that are not funded by local dollars. Charter schools across the nation are funded by public funds, and they funnel toward privatization of these charter schools, these public private schools. They are not the answer to the issues that we have here.
I think that we have the answer if we would treat our teachers as professionals, if we would allow the most contemporary practices for educating our youth to take hold in our school buildings. That is how we will achieve solutions to the current problems facing our public school system. Not charter schools.”
With decreasing financial support from the state, and in order for JCPS to make the improvements mandated by the state, additional funds are necessary. What methods such as tax increases or other sources of funds do you support to improve Jefferson County Public Schools? Please explain how you would ensure adequate funding for a quality education for every student.
“So I think at our last forum, everyone who was in attendance agreed that in this county tax increases are essential. We have really painted ourselves into a corner with facilities that are falling apart, the demands in the classroom increasing. And you got to understand that that’s not the way that I came into this race. But I like to be an honest candidate for the people. And from my analysis, there are about three or four methods of increasing taxes that haven’t even been explored in any county in Kentucky, but are on the table for a district such as ours that needs revenue for infrastructure and for implementing higher-quality classrooms.
So some of those things include excise tax, some those things include other modes of tax increase, including property tax increases. It’s a humbling place to be. I mean, we’re talking about $700 million in deferred repairs that frankly, at the current rate, I think we may be spending about $50 million on facility. How do you get there from here without additional revenue? But that’s going to also put a pinch on the rest of the operations in public schools, unfortunately. And I would have some contention about spending less into the classroom. We did a lot to make sure the pensions were fully funded as a state.”
“I agree we did a lot to make sure pensions were funded. But it came at teachers having to vacate their classrooms during educational time in order to ensure that our state government did what they were supposed to do by teachers. And I don’t think that we need to give our state a pass on that, we don’t need to give the governor a pass on passing measures to fund pensions. I will say that I am a proponent, as Mr. Eddings has previously said, of raising taxes to ensure that we can contribute to the upgrade of our infrastructure in the way that it needs.”
“And I guess we are all three of us in agreement with raising taxes. I don’t know how the parents will feel about that, but raising taxes and getting the community involved in some type of fundraising and also the businesses that’s in the communities, I think, getting them involved and hoping that they would help try to fund some of the things that we need in the schools as well.”
What factors do you think in contribute to the achievement gap in this district? And what do you think should be done to improve student performance in that regard?
“I think there are many factors that contribute to student achievement in Jefferson County. Many of those issues begin at home, and they parlay into what’s happening in our school buildings. I think that the dominant approach to the ‘teach for the test’ model has failed our students. It has robbed us of the creative approaches to do education. I think that we need to reclaim those in order to increase student achievement. I also believe that the bureaucracy that is in place, whereas our teachers are doing a lot of paper pushing, instead of thinking of creative strategies to make their classrooms come alive, are really robbing us of some of the indigenous resources that we have in our schools.”
“The achievement gap, I think, as I say, starts at home teaching kids the basics of learning and also giving the teachers more leeway to teach and to give students guidance. Like I say, the teachers are with the kids more so than some of the parents sometimes, and just being a backbone to the teacher, and helping them to guide and to lead in the right direction. And also getting back to the community and the businesses in the community in hoping to get some help from them. And the people that work in the community to volunteer to help the kids when there are shortfalls in learning.”
“I think that the equity report issued by the district makes it extremely clear that the predominant issue in student performance has to do with the neighborhood that you are sent to the school district from and the rights of your child. Bottom line. It’s been indicated by the data expert in equity that a suburban wealthy black kid performs worse than a poor white kid in Jefferson County Public Schools. And that’s shocking information.
I encourage everyone in here to do a deep dive into the equity report that fed the equity plan, which is now being rolled out by our school district. We also talk about 40 percent of the students being African American in Jefferson County Public Schools, but you know, we’re talking about disproportionate non-representation of minority teachers, especially black male teachers. So it’s sobering But finally, this district starting to have a real conversation about achievement.
What changes if any, would you make in student assignment to promote diversity and enhance student achievement?
“The Student Assignment Plan was a road that we endeavored upon because of some of the persistent challenges that we’re facing in our community and that I alluded to earlier about diversity, equal opportunity for all students. And I have a controversial stance. I believe that at this point, we have severed minority ownership in our school district by busing folks who can’t overcome the distance challenge to other sides of the community.
I don’t know if you can speak to it, speak to my opponent who is not from Jefferson County. But when I went to elementary school, I was bused 45 minutes away from my home in the projects of West Louisville. There was little chance that my parent was going to be able to participate after school. Went to middle school and was shot to the other side of the county in Middletown. Elected school president. I couldn’t stay after school to participate in programming because it meant another 45 minute or hour trip home. If student assignment’s not contributing to student achievement, let’s scrap it and fight it out in court.”
“I think we’ve already fought it out in court and we don’t need another court battle on our hands.
I think the Student Assignment Plan is designed to ensure diversity in all of our schools. I think, of course, there are some redresses that that it needs. But our student assignment plan helps us to overcome the challenges that are rooted in the Ninth Street divide, where we just don’t have enough schools in the West End, per se, to have neighborhood schools. So that conversation is really a moot point as it relates to implementing neighborhood schools. Unless you’re going to come with a billion dollars to build neighborhood schools across this county, you’re going to have to continue to adhere to the student assignment plan. Let’s make it the best student assignment plan that we can. But I mean, it’s going to be a reality in Jefferson County.”