Dear Members of the Kentucky Board of Education,
I write you today as a public school parent fed up with attacks on our public education system. I spent 12 years in Kentucky public schools and my daughter is a Sophomore in Jefferson County Public Schools, where she has been since Kindergarten.
We did not take our decision to put my daughter in JCPS lightly. I was a grad from Oldham County schools and my wife went to Catholic schools. Both of us heard the horror stories about busing and “failing schools” back when we were looking to put her in JCPS. But we did our research. We went to numerous schools to visit. We learned about our choices we had for our daughter and we took the plunge.
JCPS is not perfect. Far from it. And anyone in JCPS’ current school board can tell you that I have been very vocal for years about issues. But it is not the “failure” that we continue to hear from some of our leaders in Frankfort. And it is not something remedied by simply saying “teach better”.
The story of JCPS and indeed Kentucky is in the demographics. JCPS serves about 100,000 students with a high number of students who have great needs outside of our school system. Homelessness, unstable homes, hunger, poverty, lack of fixed address, and limited ability to speak English are just some of the barriers that a large urban district has. Unlike charter schools and private schools, JCPS and our schools throughout the state have to find a place for ALL kids and educate them.
If you look at the “worst” JCPS schools, you tend to see a data trend. High poverty indicators and low parental involvement. These are difficult for a school to address without a lot of resources.
JCPS’ data and outcomes are also skewed by the fact that so many kids with higher family incomes and high parental involvement attend private schools. Students with advantages tend to score better, and their parents tend to have a louder voice when it comes to making changes that improve education.
When you talk about “gaps”, you can’t do this without talking about the entire picture for kids who are falling into those gaps. We talk about “choices” like tax scholarships and charter schools, but there is little explanation of how this will raise achievement, or the fact that a kid with nobody at the plate to make choices for them will still suffer for it.
I do not know any of you, but I do know from research that many of you have ties to private schools and send your kids there. I struggle to see how a board that is so closely aligned with private schools can truly understand what public schools are like. I’m curious why you made the choice NOT to send your kids to public schools, and I’m curious if your perceptions line up with the reality of these schools. Having graduated from Oldham County Schools, I was oblivious to the great public/private divide in JCPS, but I have had some interesting conversations with friends and coworkers with kids in private schools who seem to have an ignorance of much of what goes on in JCPS beyond perceptions honed 40 years ago when busing was in its infancy.
The recent state audit surrounds events that occurred when Dr. Donna Hargens was in charge of JCPS. I can tell you as a parent during her tenure that few, if any, parents, teachers, staff, or students were happy with what happened during Hargens reign. Her wholesale changes of staff alienated many good district employees. Her lack of leadership led to much confusion and fear among the administration and the teachers at large. Her failure to attend to issues of violence, complaints about discipline, and many other issues are what led to her ouster. We have a new leader. Dr Pollio is someone with experience in the system and a tremendous desire to solve problems. He takes action when complaints are brought to his attention. He responds to parents in board meetings immediately when necessary. He is ready to right the ship and improve things. None of these were in evidence with Hargens.
Additionally, our board is the most focused on achievement across the spectrum as any board in my 11 years at JCPS, and has addressed the dysfunction that plagued it during Hargens’ tenure.
They, and we, deserve to be allowed to fix our problems from the last several years, and work to improve. But we also deserve not to be demonized by Frankfort policy makers who amplify the bad, ignore the good, and are not impacted by any decisions they make because their kids do not go to public schools. We need a holistic focus that realizes our teachers are only as good as the support the kids they teach have the 2/3rds of the day they are not in school.
I would ask that with that in mind you keep the consistent leadership of Stephen Pruitt, who has the respect of public educators statewide, and who has been involved in the state audit of JCPS since the beginning. Eliminating him and replacing him with someone else, especially someone with a political agenda, will not help the 100,000 plus students and their families in JCPS.
FInally, I ask that you talk to us. Talk to the parents. Talk to the teachers. Talk to the staff. Not just the ones who come to you with complaints, but the ones that are in it every day and love it. Learn from those who treasure public education. Stop demonizing our public educators. Stop attacking our schools as “failing”. Instead help us. Champion our cause. And improve Kentucky education.