In the past couple of weeks I've received two mailers and seen one slickly produced TV advertisement for Fritz Hollenbach. None of these advertisements is cheap, and none was paid for by the candidate. Instead they were paid for by the Bluegrass Fund, which has spent $216,000 on TV broadcast advertising according to an an election finance statement from September, 2016. (See image at bottom).
Who is the Bluegrass Fund? The Bluegrass Fund is a non-profit funded by several prominent local business people whose goal seems to be to fund and shape the JCPS School Board for their own goals. It should be noted that Joe Burgan, mentioned in the article above, has been a large player with Hal Heiner in pushing for charter schools in Kentucky. (See articles here and here.) The Bluegrass Fund's stated purpose is "to promote and advance an agenda that will positively change the direction of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, in order to compete with its neighboring states." So what exactly does that mean? And how does that translate into putting hundreds of thousands behind an unproven candidate like Fritz Hollenbach?
Who is Fritz Hollenbach? His own website says he has been a teacher in JCPS and both a teacher and administrator in the Archdiocese of Louisville, although it appears this experience was almost 30 years ago and no specifics are provided on his resume. He appears to have just moved back to Jefferson County in 2015, so it's questionable how much personal knowledge he can have of the system. I'm not aware of ever seeing him or hearing him speak in years of attending school board meetings.
The only real information about Mr. Hollenbach comes from his website, which indicates he has "deep roots in Louisville" but shows him living in Wisconsin from 1987 - 2015. Was he really paying that close attention to JCPS during those years? How deep is his knowledge of the current school system? And what are his plans? Looking at his website, Mr. Hollenbach's only real plan seems to be a "Third Grade Reading" guarantee, which states the following:
Despite a current pledge in Jefferson County that “every student will read at grade level by the end of the third grade,” in the 2014-2015 school year half of third grade students were not proficient in reading.
Without a dramatic reversal of this situation we are cementing educational failure for the next generation.
If we as a community are serious about promoting social mobility, increasing economic growth, and achieving greater equity, then Fritz Hollenbach proposes that we make that pledge a guarantee.
Children who fall behind in reading tend to stay behind. Study after study links proficiency in reading with success in school. While concerns about retaining youth are understandable, when children are passed on until they reach high school unable to read, where’s the fairness in that?
Other states have recognized the critical need for literacy accountability in elementary schools and have ended social promotion to grade four without a basic capacity to read. Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana are leading the way to highlight how the reading guarantee holds all stakeholders accountable. These states foster an environment of high expectations for children, their parents, and their schools.
Louisville has its own Cradle to Career Initiative, created by Mayor Fischer to serve as a catalyst for lifelong learning in Louisville. The four pillars are supported by local organizations: Kindergarten Readiness (Metro United Way); K-12 Success (JCPS); Post Secondary Transition and Completion (55,000 Degrees & 15,000 Degrees); and 21st Century Workforce and Talent (Kentuckiana Works).
This proposal to change the 3rd grade reading pledge to the 3rd Grade Reading Guarantee will be focused on the K-12 component of the initiative.
Let’s work together to ensure our students are prepared with the skills they need for success through grade 12 and beyond. Support Fritz Hollenbach for School Board.
Mr. Hollenbach points to Ohio, Tennessee, Florida, and Indiana "leading the way". Is it a coincidence all are charter states?
More importantly, have I missed the place on Mr. Hollenbach's website that provides his analysis of WHY third grade students aren't meeting the pledge? Has he looked deeply enough at the problem to understand exactly why some third graders are reading and some aren't? He says he wants to hold "all stakeholders accountable". How does he define who the stakeholders are, and how does he know who to hold accountable? And how exactly will they be held accountable given the complex network of support our kids have that can often mean the difference between success and failure in education.
Given how little information Hollenbach has provided showing current experience or interest in JCPS, and any real understanding of the issues that face JCPS or how to address them, I think it is important to question why the Bluegrass Fund is putting so much money into his candidacy, especially when the highly qualified and experienced Chris Brady is running as an incumbent. What is their ultimate goal in supporting Hollenbach and what, if any agenda will he be entering office with?
I know Chris Brady. Chris Brady's kids attend JCPS. Chris Brady has spent the last four years working hard as an INDEPENDENT voice to understand and improve JCPS. Yes, Chris Brady has the endorsement of the JCTA, but as a parent, I have nothing but respect for the teachers of JCPS, and I KNOW what their interests are. What are the interests of the Bluegrass Fund?
It is foolish to change course in the 7th district and go with an untested and unknown candidate with minimal personal interest or experience in the district. Clearly Chris Brady is the rational and qualified choice for School Board in the 7th district.
UPDATE (10/23/16): David Henderman is listed as the Treasurer for Fritz Hollenbach's campaign. The Kentucky Election Finance database lists several separate contributions from a David Henderman CPA to Charter School Supporter, Hal Heiner's various campaigns throughout the years.