2019 School Board Candidates Respond to FOR Issues Questionnaire

The Aim Higher subcommittee of FOR is continuing to expand its advocacy work in the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS). As part of that work, we have asked the eight school board candidates in the contested school district 4 race (to fill a vacated seat in southwest Jefferson County) to respond to 13 questions in six different issue areas—equitable academic outcomes; benefitting from diversity; proactive behavior management; student privacy; equitable college/readiness; and funding priorities.  Despite busy schedules, four have responded by our publishing deadline. 

Because of space limitations in FORsooth, we are printing responses for only two of questions—1) how to reduce learning gaps and 2) whether to create more diverse schools.  They highlight the candidates’ differences in approaches.  The complete questionnaire/background document itself, the complete answers from all the candidates responding, and their bios, pictures and campaign websites can be found at the FOR website, louisvillefor.org .

We developed this survey as–in part–an educational exercise.  On the website, each question is preceded by background information and research data that we suspect many candidates, and most readers, might not know.  Please look at that before you read all the responses and make your decisions on candidates. 

You can find your school district number by going to: https://www.jefferson.kyschools.us/about/leadership-and-organization/board-education/board-member-district-map   and entering your street address.  Only District 4 residents can vote in this school board election.  We think the background and questions, though, are useful and important to all the county’s residents.  Let your board member know what you want for our students and community!

Aim Higher question background:  Equity in academic outcomes

For our city and society to prosper, JCPS must help develop in its students the skills and commitment to create a just and peaceful community, one with dignity and opportunity for every human being—regardless of race, gender, economic status, ability, etc.

The current five-year plan adopted by the Board—Vision2020—explicitly calls for equity, i.e. that “all students receive an education that gives them what they need to thrive in school through differentiated supports focused on removing social factors as a predictor of success”. However, average reading and math scores for students of color and all students from low-income households continue to lag significantly behind more privileged students on state and national achievement tests.  In some groups, the combined math and reading % proficiency scores are half or less of those from more advantaged groups.

There are answers for this, if the community will is there.

Research demonstrates, for example, that early interventions–such as PreK-3rd grade literacy programs and intensive pre-school cognitive and socio-emotional learning–help eliminate learning gaps before they are entrenched. Smaller class sizes allow more personalized help for underperforming students.  JCPS has such programs, but they are being piloted in a fraction of the schools or target populations.

There are other initiatives being piloted in JCPS schools around math skills, literacy and other content issues.  Magnet programs and the new high school Academies approach also increase engagement and passion for learning in students—both of which are critical to their academic growth.  Providing family resource supports also helps many students to be able to come to school emotionally and physically more ready to concentrate on learning.

Vision 2020 also places a great deal of JCPS’ hopes for a major overall improvement as well as a reduction in outcome gaps on the student-centered “deep learning” approach. It focuses on combining the teaching and assessment of skills and dispositions for complex problem-solving tasks in a way tailored to an individual student’s culture and learning modes. 

These and other proven interventions can help students while saving JCPS and other government/college budget dollars in future years.

The 2019 JCPS Board candidate responses:

Q.  What programs and/or other changes would you champion to close the persistent inter-group achievement/learning gaps?  How would you measure progress of those programs in a way that individual students who struggle are the focus of authentic remedial help, not just prepping for and re-taking high-stakes testing? 

JOE GOODIN:  Funneling JCPS’s socioeconomic student population into a comprehensive plan or strategy finds academic achievement by our most disadvantaged students persistently below standard. Magnet and traditional programs, once thought to help alleviate performance shortcomings, succeed in widening the achievement gap; limiting enrollments in these exclusive schools will extremely unpopular as will suggesting opening enrollment to include local, neighborhood students. JCPS may be on the verge of something that will positively impact low performance metrics with the “schools of color” concept. The majority of stakeholders may mistrust them but I strongly believe they will work. We’re responsible for doing what’s right to save our disadvantaged kids in the system, not just our individual district, and that calls for a worldview that mirrors who we are today. Afro-centric schools and curriculum would be “magnet schools” like we have in place—and do we not accept them? Should we embrace new approaches and unconventional means to an end, testing and measurement is archaic. The failure of corporate boards when problems arise is they don’t listen to their stakeholders. Southwest Jefferson County isn’t being heard because it hasn’t had representation that demands the board to listen.

JOE MARSHALL:  If we are going to begin to reverse the disenfranchisement of our students that has been done over the course of decades, it is going to take a bold approach to meet both short-term and long-term educational needs. I support a short-term plan focused on directing funding to Accelerated Learning Schools that increases support staff and classroom teachers through a message of autonomy, to meet the high demand of one-on-one instruction. With more qualified staff in a building, this will decrease the student to teacher ratio and provide for more intentional deeper learning instruction. By providing autonomy for these teachers and educators we will work together with them as we develop innovative ways to increase instruction for our most vulnerable populations. The long-term solution will be to continue to utilize our diverse population as an asset, screen children early for medical and social service needs, and grow the culture and climate of our central office to be more engaging and family friendly.

SHAMEKA PARRISH-WRIGHT:  Closing the achievement gap needs to first be a district priority. I believe mentors and resources are critical to the success of students. I would be an advocate for early screening measures to identify students who are at risk, or who are already falling behind. I would want to equip our FRSKY officers with the tools to be able to provide families with wrap-around support and connect them with social service agencies in the community. Teachers would need to participate in enhanced cultural competency professional developments and we would need to look at how we assess our students as it should not be a one-size-fits-all standard.

CASSANDRA RYAN: My suggestion for this is to continue to hire minority Teachers and adequately train the Teachers already in the school system How ALL children do not learn the same way. As a Mom of four African American boys I would say they are all different but one thing they have in common is they are visual. The STEM/STEAM must be a true part of the school curriculum daily and not just one day a week as a special area. The Arts program needs to be used to bring out our children’s gifts and make it appealing in sounds and styles for all races. Lastly, have true after-school tutoring to assist our children’s reading levels. We must make sure ALL schools welcome families in the school. Unfortunately, my experience had been the opposite and our kiddos need to know we are working together for their success.  I would measure by their attendance, parental involvement with the programs, the collaboration between the schools and the families. Lastly, I would give them the test and see even the slightest improvement as a WIN!

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Aim Higher question background:  Experiencing and benefiting from diversity

U.S. Census projections indicate that today’s JCPS students will live and work for most of their careers in an America where no ethnic group or race holds a majority. Current housing patterns and zoning restrictions, however, lead to most neighborhoods in Jefferson County being segregated by race and household income. We are by some estimates the fourth most segregated city in the country.

JCPS’ student mix is already a “majority of minorities” (or, “Global Majority”). This diversity is actually an advantage for all JCPS students.  FOR believes that preparing students—regardless of their race– for a successful and fulfilling life in a more diverse society requires providing deeply integrated classrooms, with more integrated social and learning experiences to provide better understanding of different cultures.

Magnet, traditional and Academy of Louisville programs were instituted to provide opportunities to attract and engage students in focused career and academic areas. They are, along with school or cluster boundaries too great to walk, ~95% of the reason for the extensive transportation program of JCPS. However, they also were intended in part to help increase diversity in the school system.  Their entrance and exit requirements, though, often result in segregation within an individual school on a classroom-by-classroom basis.

National and JCPS research data show that—all other factors being equal—learning and test scores suffer for low-income students when a school’s low-income (identified by free/reduced lunch—FRL– status) student population starts to exceed about 40% of the school’s total demographic.  More than 10% of our JCPS schools are over 90% FRL.  Our entire district student population is about two thirds FRL.

The 2019 JCPS Board candidate responses:

Q.        To address this specific, well-researched learning impact, would you support revising the assignment plan criteria, boundaries, magnet locations and entrance requirements, etc.  to keep from having any extreme high-poverty (e.g., >90% FRL) schools?

JOE GOODIN:           No one in their right mind would oppose this; question is how are you going to get it done? I have alluded to how exceptions to the assignment plan empower parents and students to avoid schools with higher concentrations of poverty…quite common in District 4. So long as our high-performers are siphoned off to perceptually “better schools” outside the district, demanding the school raise the bar on academic achievement is to insist it be done without the fallback enrollment resources the best academic programs take great pride in having. Unless we stem the flow of our best students leaving the district, does anyone honestly believe we’ll excel with a majority of Apprentice-level performers? It’s time to tighten up and it won’t be popular.

JOE MARSHALL:     I believe the main issue for low income test achievement is built around bias accountability test in which low income students struggle to identify with. If a math question talks about taking a plane ride to California, and the only other state you’ve been to is Indiana in a car, you don’t have the reference to put this question into context. Tests and exams aren’t made for or by those who identify with the experiences of low socioeconomic families. I worked in a high FRL school, our students knew content, and when placed in the correct context, they achieved. I don’t believe that a higher or lower number of students in poverty will make a difference. What will make a difference is when we acknowledge their struggle and utilize their experience in the way we teach and assess their achievement.

SHAMEKA PARRISH-WRIGHT:    My short answer to this question is yes. I would work to achieve at least 50/50 free lunch and non free lunch at all JCPS schools. The youth would benefit a great deal.  This also means all of our schools will need the resources to make this a reality. There should be no lack of quality, diversity or visual difference when you walk into any JCPS site. Zip codes should not determine if a child receives top of the line education. Parents and families of all backgrounds should want to send their kids to schools in the west end of Louisville as well as the east end.

CASSANDRA RYAN:          If we change the boundaries of the schools then I feel we are just moving people and numbers. If the idea is to make sure ALL kids no matter their race, family income and learning issues are going to be the same but in a different. The root of the problem is not fixed because no matter where the kids are sent the struggles are still there but in a different location. My answer is No.