More major problems are brewing for the already beleaguered Jefferson County school system.
On April 21, 2017, an online service connected to the Birmingham News newspaper reported that Lisa Herring, the current Chief Academic Officer (CAO) at the Jefferson County Public School District (JCPS), is a finalist to become Birmingham, Alabama’s new school superintendent.
So, it appears Herring, who has been on the job less than a year in Louisville, isn’t exactly in love with her current position in JCPS.
This is no surprise. In fact, the CAO position at JCPS had a highly troubled history even before Herring arrived, and recent events point to a lot more heat headed in the CAO’s way.
The entire JCPS management team is currently going under a microscope. Recent major problems in the school district – including gross under-reporting of incidents of restraint and seclusion of students coupled with major concerns about lagging academic performance, achievement gaps and problems in other areas – led Kentucky Commissioner of Education Stephen Pruitt to launch a very extensive investigation into management practices at JCPS.
Certainly, the CAO’s activities will be included in that investigation, especially so now that there has been a complete and total failure of a very high profile “Waldorf School” type academic program in Jefferson County’s Maupin Elementary School.
Problems at Maupin are well documented in a formal Kentucky Department of Education “School Diagnostic Review.” Among other things, the report shows the staff at Maupin itself is bitterly split about whether to continue with the Waldorf approach, a serious staff division important enough to be mentioned again last night during a meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education.
In 2016 Maupin also posted the very worst KPREP test results of any elementary school in Kentucky.
The situation is so obvious that JCPS officials even admitted mistakes were made.
So, last night the Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously voted to remove the Waldorf School based academic program from Maupin.
This is a major crash of one of the school district’s first two “Schools of Innovation,” and academic issues are clearly involved. This raises serious new questions about senior JCPS management that clearly include academic areas.
To be sure, the CAO position’s history is also at issue. Herring’s predecessor in the post was Dr. Dewey Hensley, a nationally acknowledged school turn-around star that we have written about at BIPPS in numerous posts over the years, such as here and here, to cite just two examples. Despite his excellent background and proven track record, Hensley resigned from the JCPS Chief Academic Officer in a rather spectacular way when he didn’t get the support he needed to do what needed to be done.
Hensley realized that he was being set up to be a scape goat, and his resignation letter is laced with serious charges.
Hensley said of his time at JCPS:
“It has been a time of 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.”
He continued, saying:
“I have rarely left any leadership meeting without a boulder-sized sense of frustration regarding our lack of focus, our emphasis on perception above reality, and the lacking sense of urgency around achievement.”
Now, after less than a year in the same position, it looks like Herring would like to get out, too. Perhaps, like Hensley, she senses she is also being set up as a scape goat and never had the authority to make things better for students.
I would be surprised if the Kentucky Department of Education’s management audit team that is currently looking into JCPS activities isn’t paying attention to all of this. But, that KDE team better interview Herring quickly, because like Hensley, she may soon be gone, too.
A few closing thoughts: It would be hard to imagine a charter school messing up the Waldorf attempt as badly as JCPS has done. At the very least, in a charter school if staff members are not on board with a program, the principal has the authority to make changes.
In sharp contrast, the traditional public school system in Jefferson County manacles principals to a staff that might not want to go along with the school mission and vision. In fact, the principal’s ability to select staff members is also hampered by red tape that seems to pay more attention to union-based rules than the best needs of the school and its students. So, while I have technical reasons for believing the Waldorf model was a poor choice for a high-poverty, high-minority school like Maupin, the fact that a supportive staff couldn’t even be assembled to man the school made it almost certain that this program would have major problems, and so it did. And, things would not have happened this way if Maupin had been a charter school.
Thus, in the end, Kentucky’s students ultimately pay the price for adult failings, again.