Read this article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette | Published June 2016
As a proud graduate of Little Rock Central High School, my hope has always been (and continues to be) that the Little Rock School District would be an incubator for school innovation, so that parents and students would have access to the kinds of traditional and non-traditional public school choices that are being implemented nationwide.
The introduction of charter schools has been one of the more encouraging market reforms within the district over the past few decades. However, what has been most distressing is the number of students and schools that are performing at unbelievably low levels. Clearly, something is broken as it relates to existing curricula, programs, systems, and methods.
Like many fellow LRSD alums, I am saddened by the decline in student academic achievement and the academic stature of the school system which I have boasted about for so many years. It’s unconscionable how a school district that had been so respectable for decades is now in a state of academic distress.
Large-scale systemic, organizational, or institutional failures almost unanimously reveal a lack of leadership, the absence of vision, and poor implementation. And what we’ve witnessed over the last three decades within LRSD is nothing short of comprehensive failure on many levels.
Frankly, the Little Rock School District has proven to be a case study for gaining insight into why some school systems become dysfunctional – power struggles, politics, ideology, job security, access, and influence – to name a few reasons. The recent governance, strategic, structural, and personnel changes within and pertaining to the district are a long time coming.
The train left the station a long time ago, with respect to the degree and nature of reform needed to elevate public schools in our native city. There is a whole lot of catching up to do, and not a lot of time to get it done, in order to deliver high quality education for the young people who are dependent on the adults to prepare them academically for a changed world.
The students, parents, and community deserve better vision, stronger leadership, more commitment, and increased innovation from their local school system. It was imperative that the new education leadership break up the existing cartel and complacency which have plagued LRSD for too long. Without forthright and aggressive changes, the adults in the room would likely have continued with business as usual.
Having spent almost three decades living in some of our nation’s largest cities – Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Atlanta – I have seen firsthand how failed governance, ineffective leadership, and a lack of vision and innovation in public education become a strong impediment to student academic success.
The cities that have embraced creativity and innovation in their public school systems are experiencing higher academic achievement at the student and school levels. Conversely, those municipalities which get distracted by infighting and protecting the status quo are plagued by poor student achievement and school failures at alarming rates.
When the focus is placed squarely on student issues, the results speak for themselves. When adult issues take precedence over student academic needs, the effects on student learning are indisputable.
Young people deserve to know that we won’t use them as scapegoats to gain personal equity or job security, without first providing them with the academic equity and security which we owe them. And although we as adults may not agree on what path should be taken regarding school reform, we should all be honest enough to admit that real and substantive change in the LRSD has been a long time coming.