Those of us at the Bluegrass Institute are still reeling from the shocking announcement yesterday that Dr. Dewey Hensley, one of the real educational stars in Kentucky, is quitting his post as the chief academic officer at the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS).
For sure, Hensley’s resignation letter makes it very clear: he isn’t leaving on happy terms. He fumes about “indecision” plus “marginalized voices, eroded credibility and a great deal of time devoted less to developing quality schools for children and more about managing perceptions for adults” that he sees in the obviously troubled JCPS. Hensley bristles about the “pseudo-innovation” going on in Kentucky’s largest school district and the fact that he feels set up to be the scapegoat for continued failure when he clearly has not had the ability to make real change.
Hensley certainly had a positive track record with the challenge of a seriously under-performing, inner city school. As the principal of the J.B. Atkinson Elementary School in the heart of Louisville, he produced dramatic improvements despite his school’s way above poverty and minority enrollment. He did that at a time when most educators seemed clueless about what works for these children.
Without question, Hensley was highly regarded by many.
He received a number of key awards, such as the Dr. Johnnie Grissom Award, for his performance at Atkinson, and for good reasons. He was a fan of innovative techniques like digital learning. He was willing to take Jefferson County to task for questionable school staffing decisions and was not afraid to challenge “the culture of can’t.”
In fact, when he ran Atkinson Elementary, it was far more than just a rapidly improving elementary school. It was a place that brought everyone, staff members, union leaders, and even college professors and students together to learn what worked for kids and how to carry that message out to a wider audience.
But, the JCPS can be a grinding, disheartening place to work. When the district hired Hensley away from the Kentucky Department of Education in 2012 to become its chief academic officer, I expressed concern that Hensley might not survive the do-nothing politics that seems to infect the district’s central office, writing at that time:
“It remains to be seen if the Hargens/Hensley team can overcome strongly entrenched adult interests in Jefferson County to effect real change for the system’s students.”
Sadly, it looks like those entrenched adult interests have won, again. And, the latest victim of the continuing academic genocide there is one of the few adults who showed some promise as a way to end the mess.
Of course the real losers in all of this are the students in Jefferson County. Their interests are being subordinated to the selfish concerns of adults in their school system – adults that Hensley clearly feels are more interested in the status quo and looking good than in actually doing good things for kids.
If ever there was a great argument for parents to have more school choices in Louisville, this has to be it.