On Jan. 28, Sam Ledbetter, chairman of the Arkansas Board of Education, cast the tie-breaking vote allowing the state to take control of the Little Rock School District. “At some point, you have to go in a different direction,” he stated. Never have truer words been spoken.The board’s decision to intervene was based largely on the fact that six of the district’s 48 schools are deemed to be under academic distress. The takeover was a giant step in the right direction. It was also the easy part. The real work has only just begun.
Former state senator Johnny Key, recently installed as commissioner of the state Department of Education, is leading the mission to get the district back on track. I’ve known Key for 20 years and have watched him operate as a public official for much of that time. I’m among those who believe he’s exactly the right person to lead this effort.
But if the mission is to be successful, it’ll be less about Key and more about responsible adults deciding that politics should take a back seat to providing quality education to all children of Little Rock.
The district’s past is replete with board members putting their own agendas ahead of the best interest of the students. Too many have done nothing more than lead the digging of the large hole in which the district now finds itself.
Fortunately, the state’s takeover of the district immediately dissolved the school board. But one day there will be another board, and the people of Little Rock must become more engaged in the process of selecting the district’s leaders. The consequences of continuing to elect the wrong people is painfully evident.
I know there are also positive things going on in our public schools. My son is wrapping up his third year at a district school and our experience has been positive. He’s had firm and caring teachers who take seriously their charge to prepare young people for their futures.
My wife and many other parents spend much of their discretionary time at the school. Their energy and involvement enhance the work being done by teachers and staff, and they make the school a better place for young people to begin their academic careers.
While this formula is being replicated at other district schools, it doesn’t cure every problem. But clearly some things in the district are being done right.
There are few matters more important than the education of our young people. Simply put, the district can’t afford to remain static and insolent in its rejection of new ideas, perspectives, and tactics. It must evolve.
Today’s students and parents have a wider range of educational choices than ever before. The district can’t afford to continue letting those who would prefer to attend public schools decide not to. The district must compete.
If the Little Rock School District doesn’t evolve and if it doesn’t compete, it’ll only be digging deeper into the hole it has been digging for decades.
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