Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, July 10, 2015

I have been on the job for two months now.  We have made some progress, but we really need to work hard during the next thirty days so that the 2015-2016 school year is different and better.  I apologize in advance about the dull nature of this Straight Talk, but it is very important.  Sometimes the basic execution of a fundamental plan is a bit on the boring side, but likewise the results of the work can be very exciting.  Imagine the excitement of enhanced student achievement, even if it results from execution of a rather dull plan!  If you can imagine this, you will be one of the first persons in LRSD history to do so.  In the past, we have imagined phenomenal results emanating from more complex and creative programs.  The plans and programs were exciting, but the results were not. 

As I said in the first Straight Talk, Little Rock School District needs to work more effectively across departmental lines.  I have seen a lack of consistent communication in a couple of key areas, but I think we are making some progress.  Four key areas have not been coordinated well:  school supervision (associate superintendent); school administration (principal); academic oversight (curriculum and instruction); and academic interventions (school improvement specialists and academic facilitators).  

The lines of communication, authority, responsibility and accountability were crossed and confused in many respects.  Without getting too far into the details, I have cleared up a few things administratively.  I will not be confusing principals with directives from me that are outside of the normal lines of communication.  I will also not be making personnel appointments into schools that are surprising to associate superintendents and principals.  I will be involved, and I will provide guidance and counsel with respect to these things, but I will respect the lines of authority so that we do not lose accountability. 

To understand the rest of the work we have undertaken, it is helpful to ask a simple question:  Who is the most important person in a school building?  “Most” is an absolute term, of course, so indulge me a little when I say that the most important person is each student.  In his or her own way, each and every single student is “most important” because each has a different story, and a different path, and a set of different needs.  If we ever overlook one, we begin to overlook all, and failure is right around the corner. 

Every other person in a school becomes a resource for each student.  Teachers directly impact students. Teachers are therefore the first and primary direct resource for students.  The rest of the LRSD support team (and I will talk about parental/guardian support another day) exists to enhance the educational experience that occurs in the classroom.  Instructional specialists, school improvement specialists, assistant principals, principals, curriculum and instruction administrators, associate superintendents and I become resources and support for the essential classroom experience.  In essence, I want to turn the district upside down, so that we do not forget why we are here, and who is the focus of our work. 

I intend to funnel our efforts to each student very intensively.  I am meeting separately with each associate superintendent and each principal of the urgent schools.  I have outlined the roles of the curriculum and instruction personnel, and I have assigned some very specific tasks to them.  I have also determined that school improvement specialists have not been successfully deployed in many cases.  These persons will be more effectively used in the future, with more clearly defined roles. 

Every school will routinely employ interim assessments of each student’s academic progress, and the support personnel will be employed systemically to assist students promptly when problems arise.  This will become the norm, rather than the exception, and principals will be accountable.  If the support personnel are not employed properly and effectively, principals will be able to obtain support and assistance from curriculum and instructional personnel.  Associate superintendents will be monitoring and assisting as needed.   All of this will be driven by teachers from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.  If problems arise, the principal will see them early, and the classroom teacher will call upon the support mechanisms and resources.  Each team member will have specific goals, authority and responsibility.  Everyone will have a clear and vested interest in the outcomes.

We are going to work very hard to improve performance in the six schools which are now distressed.  We must also vastly improve the percentages of students who are proficient and advanced in elementary schools which are not now designated as distressed.  Therein lies the key to the performance of the rest of the schools in our district.  We are going to focus on each student in every school, and we are going to accomplish the following:

1.  Align curriculum to the applicable standards.

2.  Teach the curriculum at a rigorous level.

3.  Assess student progress frequently, and adjust teaching as necessary.

4.  Provide assistance to teachers who need it through the use of instructional facilitators.

5. Provide assistance to students who are not progressing.

6.  Monitor progress and adjust as necessary. 

7.  Focus every day on supporting our teachers.

8.  Focus every day on teaching our students.

It looks plain and simple when you outline it, but it is hard work.  This will take a team effort.  Although the plan might not always be exciting, the results might be exhilarating.  We can do it together.



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