Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, September 1, 2015

I got up early last Saturday morning and went to the farm.  I worked outside all day.  Being outside by myself helps me sort things out.  Over the last few days, I have been troubled by a number of issues and problems.  Negative attitudes of just a few can threaten the positive direction our district is heading.  The answer is simple, I think.   Focus on student achievement.   If we all work with focus on this singular goal, almost everything will be resolved in our favor. 

Now, to the more than 3,000 LRSD employees who made school opening generally smooth and special, thank you.   I want to brag on the hundreds and hundreds of people who worked so tirelessly getting classrooms ready for our students.  I had a great time with many of these people, and I learned so much about our district by being in our buildings.   We have some of the best of the best, and we can achieve many great things this year. I have seen our teams cooperating and pulling together in the most fantastic ways.  I saw inviting classrooms all over this school district that were waiting for students to step in and get started on learning adventures.  I saw libraries filled with exciting books.   I saw great leadership, and great teamwork.    I think we are a much better organization than we were four months ago.  We can make crisp decisions, and we are much more nimble.  We are working much harder, with confidence and a renewed sense of purpose. 

 We have improved communications, improved lines of authority, clear delineations of job responsibilities, and improved accountability.  We can implement directives and changes much more quickly now, and we are working together.  Many of our colleagues are excited about their work, and they are enjoying their work.   We have room to improve as a customer-oriented service organization, but we are getting better.  If we put the needs of students first, above all else, we will be viewed as a service organization with a heart for students.

I have employees ask me every day if we should be worried about the future.  I was asked at a public meeting last week if I was going to terminate everyone in the school district before May 1, 2016.  I have never had such a thought.   I have said that we sink or swim together.  That has been the case for the last fifty years.  When we succeed, our enrollment is stable, and we need teachers and support staff.   If students fail to enroll in our district, we will lose employees.  In the past, enrollment was not critical because of the extra funding LRSD received.  The safety net is gone.  Now our funding will be much more dependent on enrollment.  Now we must staff for our enrollment and operate generally within state standards.   This is not something to fear, but it is something to take into account.  If we grow, we have more opportunity for our personnel.  We grow when we do a good job, and parents tell their friends.

I had some questions last week about our negotiations with the Little Rock Education Association.   We have been working on a new agreement.    We are doing this calmly, and respectfully.  We are making progress.  We are inexorably linked and bound together with a common purpose.  If we keep that in mind, I believe our discussions will bear fruit.

Job security comes in the form of a successful school.  Successful schools have waiting lists.  Let’s buckle down, work hard, and succeed together.  Let’s focus our energies on ending up where we want to be.  If we focus on student achievement, almost everything else will take care of itself.

I spoke to a senior class at one high school.  For most of them, the year will be a good one, with happy memories and opportunities after graduation.  I asked them to make this school year a memorable and wonderful year.  Later I sat on the floor with a class of pre-kindergarten students. Some were talkative and energetic.  Others were shy.  Two were holding back tears.   As I sat on the floor with the Class of 2030, I wondered what our school district would look like on their graduation day. 

So to the Class of 2030, may your community support you, and be unified in its efforts to ensure your success.  May we never lose sight of the fact that we are here for you, and not the other way around.

May LRSD open doors of opportunity for you, so that you can be everything you dream to be.

The work continues tomorrow.  As Ted Kennedy said, “The work goes on.  The cause endures.  The hope still lives and the dream shall never die.”



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