Attached below is the completed questionnaire for Christopher Fell, candidate for the JCPS Board of Education in District 7. I have not edited his responses except to insert page breaks and spacing on the questions. If you have questions or comments for Chris, please post them in the comments.
I am in the process of contacting each of the JCPS School Board candidates and providing them the questionnaire below. If you have other questions you'd like to see answered, I will be happy to pose them to each of the candidates and post their responses here.
I have advised each of the candidates I will post their responses on Louisville School Beat without editing.
According to the Courier-Journal there are 17 candidates running in the three open JCPS districts. As the election approaches, the Louisville School Beat will be in contact with the candidates to find out where they stand on issues impacting the district. Are there questions YOU would like to ask the candidates? I've listed some of the ones we'll be asking here. Are there any you'd like to add? Please post them in the comments or e-mail them by clicking here.
With the many discussions about the pros and cons of neighborhood schools, one thing that I've been worried about as a parent is losing my ability to choose a school. When I've discussed this with other parents, I've framed the discussion (for myself anyway) as being able to choose the best school in terms of test scores and discipline issues. I'd lost sight of the way JCPS is currently arranged and presented to parents, as best viewed in their Choices handbook for parents.
If you haven't read Choices, it's a magazine sized booklet that provides you with information on applying for JCPS schools and profiles of those same schools. I recently provided the booklet to a friend who was considering their school options now that they have a new child. Yesterday she indicated that even though she and her husband both have advanced degrees, trying to puzzle through the choices JCPS offers made them feel overwhelmed.
Magnet programs. Waldorf schools. Montessori schools. Traditional. Self-directed. Advance. Gifted and talented. Honors program.
How does a person with a young child look at these options and make a wise decision for the next six years of elementary school, or 13 years of grade school? Where does one go to decide the best path for their child when the child can barely read? Paraphrasing my friend, "most college students aren't sure what they want to be when they grow up, how do you decide which career path to choose for your child in kindergarten?"
More importantly for most JCPS parents, how do you choose correctly to ensure that your child's path leads you to the best middle and high schools?
How can we tell if all of these choices are really serving parents and students? Are these separate programs really helping different types of students learn more effectively? Are they providing valuable enrichment for our children? Are they all simply ways in which JCPS can try to fill lower achieving schools with students who might not normally choose them? Or, are they simply, as my friend put it, an "experiment"?
As someone who grew up in Oldham County's excellent schools, where the only choice you had was the outfit you wore each morning, I'm hard pressed to say that all of this choice necessarily offers a better education. Certainly at the high school level it may help parents and students make decisions for college and future careers. But at an elementary level is it possible that all of this choice is simply a wasted effort that might be better focused on a rigorous program of reading, writing, and arithmetic, with a generous helping of social studies, science, arts, music, PE, and other classes tossed in?
JCPS might do better to create an atmosphere within the system in which each individual school is not trying to position itself against another, but where the schools are sharing expertise, resources, and each learning together from their successes and failures. They certainly could do a much better job of explaining the differences to each parent in their communications and in person to help them make more educated choices.
So what do YOU think? Are these choices important? Are they confusing? Did you make the right choice? Would you rather have all schools offering the same core set of programs and teaching methods, or would you rather see the variety of options you have now?
One of the news pieces about JCPS that hit my inbox was from WHAS radio host Mandy Connell. Mandy's blog post, Dropout rates go UP at JCPS, offers Mandy's opinion on the Courier Journal's article about graduation rates in Kentucky and the poor performance of JCPS.
I cannot disagree that we should be angry and ashamed that the graduation rates in Louisville are so low and that we need to do something about it. But Mandy's analysis of the situation strikes me as simplistic at best. My thoughts on Mandy's comments (in bold), which focus in part on the performance of Iroquois High School, are below.
(I)f you can't graduate at least half of your student body, you should have to simply cease to exist and those kids should be absorbed into schools that can manage that feat."
This statement implies that the issue simply is the school itself, and that by closing a school and shifting hundreds of kids to other schools, the scores of these students will improve. But is a poor school the only factor in the performance of these students? Let's take a look at Iroquois' numbers versus Dupont Manual High School, one of the best in the state, as found here, on the Kentucky Department of Education's website.
Looking at the parental involvement figures for Manual vs. Iroquois, we find that Manual reports 1800 students had at least one parent/teacher conference and Manual parents volunteered 7,700 hours in the 2010/2011 school year. At Iroquois, just 150 students had parent/teacher conferences, and the total volunteer effort from parents was 45 hours. 45 hours! Digging further, we find here that Manual had 16.9% of their students on free or reduced lunch (a good indicator of students living in low income households) while Iroquois had 84.5%.
So while it is possible that moving these kids to high schools with better scores might help them, it would also seem that the issues these young people face run far deeper than the school they are attending. Educators can only be there for the child for 1/3 of the day. When you have parents who cannot or will not get involved in their children's education, it is very tough t0 produce students who achieve. Simply closing the schools these kids attend won't change the issues of parental involvement and poverty.
I think JCPS should (if they aren't already) start collecting as much data as possible about students both individually and collectively to identify the common characteristics that run through the schools and students that are underachieving and those that are excelling. These results can be used to measure the impacts of changes made within our school system to determine where and how changes need to be made. All of these results should be presented to the public at large to explain the reality of JCPS' situation without any whitewash.
Whatever decisions we make should be based on information, not the supposition we know what's wrong and how to fix it.
But please, for the love of pete, please stop fighting any attempts to offer parents a choice in the form of charter schools. If you really care about the children like I believe you do, classroom teachers, then I ask you to consider fostering a system that meets the needs of ALL children, not just the ones lucky enough to draw the long straw in the busing lottery. Charter schools are not perfect, but if a charter school shared the same statistics as some of our persistently low achieving schools, they WOULD cease to exist.
I agree 100% that a school system should meet the needs of all children. But if only 150 parents show up to a parent-teacher conference in a school where the kids are failing, how can we be sure those same parents will have enough involvement to steer their kids into charter schools? Will we have enough spaces for them all? And will charter schools get results that are any better than our current failing schools? Charter schools have had mixed success, with some doing very well, and others failing compared to their public counterparts. A Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) study determined that while some charter schools do better than a regular public school, the majority do the same or worse.
Mandy Connell and I both agree that we need to do better for our kids. I would hope that Mandy, her fellow hosts at WHAS radio, as well as the media at large would start focusing on the schools in a way that fosters a real discussion about the challenges facing the school system, and not just focus on rehashing the same simplistic criticisms and magic solutions that we continually hear about.
My daughter is a budding artist and is a participant in the Young Rembrandts art program after school. A few years ago, JCPS discussed eliminating afterschool programs like Young Rembrandts because they required a payment and were run by for-profit companies. The potential of eliminating a valuable learning opportunity for my daughter upset my wife and I greatly, so I decided to go in front of the board to address the issue. It was something I was glad I did because it made my voice heard AND it resulted in my family getting exactly what we wanted, the continuation of these afterschool programs.
If there is something that is bothering you or that you would like to address with the Board of Education, I encourage you to do so. What follows is a step by step guide to having your voice heard by the board.
Step 1: Determine what you want to say. Note that you will have three minutes to address the board, so you'll need to be concise and try to only address one or two topics. I highly recommend making some notes for yourself and practicing to make sure that what you have to say is less than three minutes. Be sure to state your issue, provide information on how it impacts you or the community, and advise what you want JCPS or the Board of Education to do. Be sure to avoid inflammatory comments and to be polite to the members of the Board.
Step 2: Call the Board of Education at (502) 485-3342 and advise the secretary that you want to speak at the next board meeting and why. Meetings are typically held on the second and fourth Mondays of the month, starting at 7 PM. (The meeting dates can be found here.) You also may register in person before the meeting. Board meetings are held at the VanHoose Education Center at 3332 Newburg Road. (Map)
Step 3: Show up on time for the evening's meeting. There is a sheet at each meeting where the public can sign up to speak. Even if I have already called, I usually sign this sheet to make sure I'm on the agenda.
Step 4: Wait for your turn to speak. Note that the comments from parents are typically reserved until the end of the meeting unless relate to an agenda item. If the agenda is particularly busy, you may have to wait two or three hours for your name to be called.
Step 5: When your name is called, approach the podium and give your remarks. If the alarm sounds that you've exceeded your time, make sure to wrap up as quickly as possible. Always thank the board for listening.
Step 6: Repeat as often as necessary throughout your child's school career.
I truly believe that the students, parents and community that JCPS serves need to be an active presence at School Board meetings. When we all make our voices heard at these meetings, we can affect change for the better within JCPS.
If you'd like some help addressing your issue with the Board of Education, feel free to contact me.
The new JCPS Parent Connection came in the mail on Monday to JCPS Parents. If you're the type of person who treats it as junk mail, I urge you to at least page through the headlines to see if there is anything that catches your eye. The current issue contains information on opportunities for free breakfast, information on signing up for the parent portal, alternate ways to get information from JCPS via social media, the Vision 2015 strategic plan, advice for getting ready to go back to school and more.
I asked Thomas Pack of JCPS Communications if JCPS offered an option to opt out of the paper version of the Parent Connection and instead receive it online. He indicated via e-mail "we cannot take individual names off the list for the print version because the mailing data comes directly from schools each month. In other words, there is no separate Parent Connection mailing list. It is generated new for each issue because our student population changes dramatically each month. There is always a large number of parents who move to a new attendance area or who move into or out of the district."
If you did not receive your Parent Connection or threw your copy out, you can read them here.
As I was reading the Courier-Journal article, "Restaffing brings teachers with little or no experience; principal says mix OK" about the changes at Thomas Jefferson Middle School, I was struck by this sentence:
Under state law, there are four options for restructuring struggling schools: transferring management to an outside agency; closing the school; restaffing or replacing half or more of the faculty; or choosing a “transformation” model that would, in part, link teacher evaluations and pay to academic progress.
It's hard to believe that any of these four solutions is a real fix to the problems of a school system the size of JCPS. When you look at JCPS you see a mix of schools that do very well, that perform among the average within the state, and that wind up at the bottom of the state's rankings. As schools start to slip, the best performing students with the most involved parents do their best to steer their children away from the lower performing schools, which only increases the problem.
The four solutions offered by the state are a Fire, Ready, Aim approach to fixing a problem. Rather than looking at the root cause of poor academic performance within these schools, the state assumes the school itself must be the problem, and only radical moves can be taken.
Let's examine the problems with each of the four choices.
Additionally, all four of these solutions do not take into consideration the fact that the choice and magnet schools within districts like Jefferson County Public Schools tend to create performance issues solely because your best students get distributed to certain schools and the lowest performing wind up at others.
So what's the solution? It seems as though looking to the business world might provide the best answer. In my opinion, each school system should have a rigorous program for measuring academic performance, demographic, survey and other relevant data, and then tying that data to each student at an individual and group level to identify the trends for low performing and high performing students. School systems should use that data to identify common factors among these students to see what is working and what isn't and using this data to determine the best way to fix low achieving schools and their students.
JCPS TO SCREEN KINDERGARTEN STUDENTS -- WFPL reports on efforts to screen kindergarten students to gauge their abilities as they enter the school system.
THE FOURTH DISTRICT FINALLY GETS SCHOOL BOARD CANDIDATES -- Joe Hardesty's seat looked like it was going to remain without a candidate this year, but two have entered the race just before the deadline. Hopefully we'll hear more about the candidate's stances on the issues as the race approaches election day. [C-J]
OUR KIDS VIDEO FOR AUGUST 2012 -- Stories from several area schools in this video produced by JCPS.
About Rob Mattheu
I created the Louisville BEAT to help JCPS parents become more informed and involved in the school system. You can contact me here.