MEETING THE PRESS: Johnny Key and Baker Kurrus.
From the Johnny Key-Baker Kurrus
Education Commissioner Key opened with praise of Kurrus' work as Little Rock school superintendent. He said the district has "turned the corner." But he said it is now time to "make a turn on the academic side and have an academic leader who has a track record to turn around a large urban district." Michael Poore
had a "stellar career" in Colorado in doing just that, he said. He said Poore, who's been working in virtually all-white Bentonville, had experience with minorities in Colorado Springs (its black population is about 13 percent, where the Little Rock School District is majority black, both in actual population and overwhelmingly in school population.)
He said Kurrus was not fired. It was "the end of the contract" and time to move to a "true, strong academic leader."
Key said, notably, the state wouldn't move back on a new high school in Southwest Little Rock. He said he wanted work to continue on academically distressed schools.
Kurrus said he didn't have a statement. "Life marches on," he said. He touted some recent scholarships won by Little Rock students. "I work here, I live here, " he said. "I'll be here."
Q & A:
* Key said he'd cleared the decision with the governor. "I work for him,"
* Key acknowledged the revolving door of leadership. He said district had a "specific need" to move beyond organizational issues. "He didn't do anything wrong," Key said. "He did everything right. He set the stage for the next direction of leadership."
* Key said Poore would be deeply involved in the community.
* Kurrus made it clear it was Key's decision that he not continue. He first inquired about his future April 1. Key later told him he would not be renewed. He said they hadn't had discussions about the reason.
* Key said charter schools were not an element in the decision. But he said charter school presence in Little Rock of course would affect the future development of the district.
* Key said Poore hoped Little Rock would become a long-time assignment. He said he was prepared to give him four years.
In short: No good explanation for the abrupt change. Key's statement that charter schools had nothing to do with it is not believable. Kurrus said very little, beyond making it clear in a low-key way that he loved his job and it wasn't his idea to leave. Kurrus also emphasized that test scores are improving and efforts to produce academic results are bearing fruit.
"I don't think we'll be in academic distress for five years," Kurrus said. "Compare Little Rock to its peer group right now and I think there's a good question about the relative distress."