Criticism continues of state takeover of Little Rock schools | Arkansas Blog

Criticism continues of state takeover of Little Rock schools


SUGGS AFTER TAKEOVER: Change coming, but "not sure' what they'll look like. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • SUGGS AFTER TAKEOVER: Change coming, but "not sure' what they'll look like.

Criticism continues of the Little Rock School District takeover by the state Board of Education, particularly for the decision to declare an entire school district a failure but to retain the person in charge — Superintendent Dexter Suggs.

Jim Ross, one of the ousted School Board members, writes about the decision on a Facebook page that had been dedicated to preserving and improving the district.

Suggs has been described by takeover advocates ranging from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette editorial page to chamber of commerce leaders as the solution to the Little Rock district's problems if only the School Board could be removed.

But …..

Suggs has failed to reduce the district's administrative overload.

Suggs picked the principals for the six academically distressed schools.

Suggs has yet to develop a plan for the end of state desegregation money in 2017.

At a Thursday news conference, the man with the plan had a news conference. Writes Ross:

He stated that change was coming but then continued by saying, “What the change will look like, at this particular time, I’m not sure.” He promised “good to great teachers in every classroom.” He also stated that reform had to come from the inside and that the district would continue to negotiate with teachers and their representatives. Then he moved to a few specifics, saying that it was a “possibility” that the six schools will be reconstituted. He added that plans to improve facilities and build a middle school in west Little Rock and a high school in southwest Little Rock would move forward. He reiterated that plans to redesign the academic program at Hall High School would continue and that the welcome center there would remain.

This was benign news conference to follow a coup. The above plans are EXACTLY what the new democratically elected school board was doing. These are things that we approved. So why was the elected board removed?

Good question. It was not answered when state Board member Vicki Saviers moved to throw out the school board but mandated retention of Dexter Suggs. Indeed, the state has no plan either, except for comments of its employees that — if the district's plan for remediation had flaws — it was trying to do too much.

Ross' extended post with very specific ideas about improvement is worth a read to the admittedly small number of people who are interested in the Little Rock school situation. The Board DID have a plan, even if the person Vicki Saviers wanted to keep in charge doesn't. At least not yet. Shortly, however, the Walton Family Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation and Boston Consulting Group will give him some ideas.

Last night, I also received a statement from Hannah Burdette, a Parkview High student and one of the sparkling student witnesses at the hearing that ended in the state takeover. It says a union of students had been formed to be sure their voices are heard — both in continuing opposition to dissolution of the school district and in discussions about the future. They plan a march Thursday night.

Her statement follows:

On February 1st, students from the Little Rock School District (LRSD) met to organize the foundations of the Little Rock School District Student Association (LRSDSA). The team of students, working throughout Sunday afternoon, represented three of the five high schools in the district (Hall High School, Little Rock Central High School, and Parkview Art/Science Magnet High School). The students capitalized on momentum generated by the Arkansas State Board of Education’s recent takeover of the LRSD– and subsequent dissolution of the district school board– to create a groundbreaking camaraderie between students.

The LRSDSA plans to provide representation for the students of the district in the political bodies that dictate the future of education. The working mission statement of the LRSDSA was drafted during the meeting and reads, “The LRSDSA is an association of students united to amplify our voices and dedicated to empowering students to speak out in their classrooms, schools, and community in order to create continual implementation of reform in our district.” The students of the LRSDSA are students who stand, “dedicated to ensuring our voice and our vote in our education.”

The students founding the new association feel that their collective voices have gone unheard by the Arkansas State Department of Education. Over the past several weeks, these students spoke at out at LRSD Board of Directors meetings, community forums, and a special meeting of the State Board of Education to plead for the continuation of the LRSD Board of Directors. The LRSDSA believes that those in charge of a school district must possess an intimate knowledge of the communities surrounding struggling schools and be willing to recognize student voices as equal to those of administrators and teachers. This intimate connection is easily lost in bureaucracy, as demonstrated by the decision of five members of State Board of Education to vote for a State takeover, thereby disregarding the voices of students who spoke out and implored the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to allow students from each high school to work with the LRSD Board of Directors, community members, teachers, and administrators to to improve education across the district.

The Little Rock School District Board of Directors was a democratically elected body and provided a seat for a student ex officio at every meeting. Several students engaged in forming the LRSDSA worked on the campaigns of school board members, and many students formed personal connections with the board. The Arkansas State Board of Education currently allows for no official student representative at their meetings and often schedules these meetings during school hours, making it impossible for students to attend meetings concerning their education. The LRSDSA seeks to change that.

Additionally, the LRSDSA plans to make known to the Arkansas State Board of Education and to the public that they are displeased with both the dissolution of the LRSD Board of Directors and the silencing of student voices through a peaceful demonstration on Thursday, February 5th, 2015. At 5pm, students will march from the Arkansas State Board of Education at 4 Capitol Mall to the LRSD Central Office– the location of LRSD Board of Directors meetings– located at 810 West Markham. The organizing students emphasize that this demonstration will be done peacefully and encourage any community supporters to join them.

Written by Hannah Burdette, founding member of the LRSDSA, on behalf of her constituents. 

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