Report: Jefferson County schools fail to improve


Associated Press

Posted on February 11, 2013 at 10:01 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky's education commissioner warned that the state may have to intercede because nearly all of Jefferson County's persistently low-achieving public schools are failing to improve.

A new analysis by the Kentucky Department of Education found that 16 of 18 Jefferson County schools that underwent overhauls in the past three years to improve academics showed little or no progress despite receiving millions of resources to improve performance.

State officials say several schools failed to follow improvement plans that were part of the overhaul and Jefferson County Public Schools officials didn't exercise the oversight to make sure the plans were being followed.

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday told The Courier-Journal ( ) that the state may need to take direct oversight of efforts to improve these schools, as the department has done in other district.

"This is going to take much more than a school district effort; this is a communitywide problem," Holliday said in a phone interview with the newspaper on Friday. "This is about poverty, this is about kids who are not coming to school, this is about lack of parental engagement and, frankly, it's academic genocide. What hope do these children have?"

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens, who took over in July 2011, said her administration accepts responsibility and has a plan to turn around its failing schools.

"We have made significant changes within the district and at these schools," Hargens said. "We've reorganized, we moved resources and central office staff back into the schools, we've reallocated funding and have implemented very specific kind of strategies we believe will work."

Holliday indicated that the district's previous administration under former Superintendent Sheldon Berman that was more resistant to the state's plan for improvement.

Susan Allred, associate commissioner for the education department, said recovery specialists were supposed to be supporting teachers to improve instruction, but that was not happening at all schools. Other schools were not following 30-60-90-day improvement plans, she said.

Over the past three years, 41 public schools in Kentucky were overhauled because of chronically low academic scores. Eighteen of those schools were in Jefferson County.

The state is leading the turnaround effort in seven of those 41 schools, because the assessments determined that the districts lacked the ability to direct the changes, Holliday said. Several principals in Jefferson County were reassigned, but Holliday questions whether the district has the leadership ability to improve these failing schools.

"It's an appropriate question to ask — if the district has the capacity to lead as deemed by the state leadership audits, why are these schools not progressing?" he asked.

Fixing schools that have been struggling academically for decades is a slow and difficult task, Hargens said.

"This all takes a disciplined effort over time," Hargens said. "This is not easy work, this is hard work. And it's going to take everyone working together — the district, the state and this community — to turn them around."