by Max Brantley
The Little Rock School District will have a strategic planning committee Tuesday, part of process that might or might not lead to some new ways to target underachieving students.
School Board member Baker Kurrus sounds skeptical, however, about the administration's readiness to meaningfully change the status quo. A note he sent to other board members:
I will not be in Little Rock until late Tuesday, so I will miss the strategic planning meeting. I have to attend a business meeting that involves a number of other participants.
We still have not come up with a schedule to set some achievable goals, with rewards and consequences.
We don't have our own plan for dealing with all of these failing schools. We are reacting to the state sanctions and requirements of NCLB, but we don't have our own plan for hiring, training, retaining and rewarding some people who can be difference-makers. Putting in an aerospace class for sixth graders, along with pictures of the space shuttle, won't do it. The state doesn't test aerospace proficiency. The state classification system, and the hierarchy of interventions, will not be productive for our situation. We need fundamental change, not enhanced programatic interventions engrafted on failing schools.
We don't have a plan for hiring better teachers, and hiring them sooner. We don't have a plan for offering a competitive starting salary (78th statewide), although we do have very high salaries for tenured teachers (5th, after 15 years of experience). This is not working to bring us the sort of talent we need to improve. This system brings us people who are willing to accept a low starting salary, and it rewards them for staying a long time. The professional development merry-go-round does not seem to be accomplishing much with our current work force.
We don't have an independent plan for turning around the middle schools that will be going over the cliff if we don't make some big changes.
We don't have a plan for handling our financial situation, especially if we lose desegregation funding sooner than we might hope. We don't have a settlement, and there is a real chance that the funding will simply stop at some point in the near future. We ought to plan for the worst, or hurry up and settle.
We are in a position of needing great things from ourselves, our employees, our students and our patrons. When can we get started?