JCPS deal is good for kids, parents and our community

Published 12:12 pm Thursday, August 30, 2018

The deal that the Jefferson County school board struck with Kentucky interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis is good for kids, parents and the community.

The state Board of Education should accept it, and we should begin the hard work of making Kentucky’s largest school district the best in the nation.

The settlement avoids a state takeover of JCPS, keeping the school board that Jefferson County voters elected in charge of the district. But it also gives JCPS much-needed help and oversight in areas where it has had serious problems, including special education, physical restraint or seclusion of students and early childhood education.

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The district has failed kids in these areas. Now Lewis will have the final say on any related policy changes.

That’s fair.

It’s fair because a state audit released in April found disturbing problems, including mistreatment of some of the district’s youngest and most vulnerable kids; persistently low achievement; and failure to adequately address achievement gaps between black and white students.

Superintendent Marty Pollio and the school board are working to address the issues, and they have made progress, but the district has allowed many of these problems to persist for far too long. It needs an intervention.

Fighting for complete control could have gone on for years and would have taken the district’s eyes off the main thing – educating its 100,000 children.

The settlement – which both sides deserve credit for reaching – is fair.

It leaves Pollio and our elected school board in charge of how students are assigned to schools. That’s important because JCPS’ student-assignment plan has been recognized nationally for increasing racial and socioeconomic integration while giving parents a choice of where to send their children to school. Diversity and choice must continue to be top priorities as the district works to improve its assignment system.

As part of the settlement, the district agreed to work with the state to develop plans to improve 58 areas that a state audit identified as deficient. If they can’t agree on a solution, Lewis will decide.

Given the magnitude of the problems and what’s at stake, working together with the state is better than working alone.

Pollio will give Lewis a monthly progress report under the settlement, and the district will be audited again in 2020, when it could face a takeover recommendation again if it isn’t progressing.

That’s unsettling, but necessary. Our school system must make progress. It’s unacceptable to see so many children who aren’t succeeding.

Other parts of the deal also make sense, like creating a cabinet-level position to monitor special education, creating and staffing an independent office to investigate complaints against the district, allowing the state to observe how its central office and schools function, and requiring training for any employee the state finds to be deficient in any area.

There is much work to do if we are going “to make JCPS one of the best urban public school districts in the nation,” as Lewis wrote in a statement.

That work must be done by all of us – parents, the community, JCPS and the state.

Let’s set aside our differences and put our children first.

The Courier Journal