Just a year ago, our community was reeling from the loss of the Little Rock School Board and then the forced resignation of the superintendent. Tensions were high, and the smart move by the state was to make the untraditional hire of Baker Kurrus, a longtime Little Rock businessman and a former member of the Little Rock School District's board. Hiring him proved to be the salve this community and this school district needed.
Therefore, state Education Commissioner Johnny Key's abrupt, unilateral decision to not renew Baker Kurrus' contract as superintendent strikes us as shortsighted, misguided and detrimental to the education of our children and the health of our community.
If Kurrus' leadership had caused the people of Little Rock to lose faith in our schools, nonrenewal might be acceptable or even advisable. However, hope for Little Rock schools is higher now than it has been in years. But that hope has been dashed.
As Kurrus said at a press conference at the Arkansas Department of Education on Tuesday — and it's something he's said repeatedly since he became the LRSD superintendent — where education occurs is in the classroom between a dedicated teacher and his or her student.
Yet the environment that allows that important interaction to occur is largely determined by the quality and stability of a school system and its leadership.
No one — not even Arkansas Department of Education leaders — doubts that Kurrus has provided strong and transformational leadership for the LRSD for all of 10 months now. In fact, many agree that Kurrus took on a challenge that few others would have the guts to do.
When he did, he did so passionately and employed his skillful leadership style to empower his employees, build relationships with and gain support from diverse groups within the community, and initiate large and needed changes in system organization and physical facilities.
Kurrus is admired by teachers, administrators, parents and community members alike for his compassion, his visibility in every school in the district, his analytical use of data to plan for change and his vision for a school district that not only makes Little Rock proud, but serves each and every LRSD student.
Anyone who's listened to him talk about his plans and visions knows Kurrus looked forward to continuing his work in the district.
Commissioner Key said at Tuesday's press conference that Kurrus has served his usefulness. So he unilaterally decided to hire a new superintendent (which by law he's allowed to do, but which in the spirit of doing what's best for Little Rock is highly questionable). He said he made the decision and Gov. Hutchinson approved.
Unfortunately, this action by the commissioner — with approval from the governor — harms any trust the state had earned by its appointment of Kurrus less than a year ago.
Therefore, we ask: Why now? Why institute a change in leadership at this precarious point in time? Our state leaders need to hear from all of us in hopes that we can continue the impressive progress we have made with Kurrus.
We are joined by Greg Adams, John Adams, Rebecca Finney, Eugene Levy, Debra Milam and Vince Miller in submitting this opinion.