Straight Talk by Baker Kurrus, June 26, 2015

I just left a meeting of the eight incoming principals who were recently appointed.  I told them that they were an outstanding group, and they are.  Six of the new principals will work in elementary schools or early childhood centers.   One thing the principals and I discussed was the transition of their students to middle school.   I have spent some time examining the readiness of our sixth-graders for middle school.  Far too many are not prepared.  We have one middle school where less than 49.5% of the students are proficient or advanced in math and literacy.  At another middle school, 46% percent of the students entering sixth grade last year were not proficient in literacy.  Sixty percent were not proficient in math.  We need to eradicate these problems, root and branch, both in the early grades and thereafter.  We will do all we can in every grade, but we simply must kill these problems at the root.    

We are seeking pre-K4 enrollees for our early childhood programs for next fall. Please help us spread the word.  We have 300 new pre-K seats for our Arkansas Better Chance kids.   We need to fill every seat.  We are going to get our kids ready for kindergarten, and then walk them up the ladder.  We are not going to give up on any of the older ones either.  I am asking a lot of questions about the best practices for later systemic solutions.    If we know that a ninth grader who reads at a fifth grade level almost never graduates, would it make sense to have intense reading academies in the summer before ninth grade for such students?  This wouldn’t be a program.  It would be the system.  If it worked, we would keep doing it.  If it didn’t, we would change to something else until we got it right. 

 If you really want to drill down and get a sense of where I think we are as a school district, we have posted on our website a lengthy report I prepared for the Civic Advisory Committee.  You can find it by clicking on “Civic Advisory Committee” and then on the report.  I know I sound like a broken record, but there is a way.  Some folks are beginning to see that we can actually have the sort of school district our kids deserve, but we must be the change agents.  Organizational change is really personal change, and it occurs in people one at a time.  I see it in some.  Not so much in others, but we will be persistent. 

I spoke to the Political Animals Club on Tuesday.  It was a privilege.  One of my heroes, Annie Abrams, said she was going to make an investment in our school district.  She then asked, “When will I start receiving dividends?”  It is a great question.  I told her that progress would take time, but that we would see positive changes almost immediately.  I am seeing them now.  The positive steps are small at this time, but slow and steady incremental change will, over time, make for a transformation.

On Wednesday I sat in a circle on the floor with a group of elementary students who are participating in the summer program at Bale Elementary.  It is a four hour program where kids receive breakfast, lunch, a snack and about three hours of instruction in math and reading.  It is a fun program, but the students will also be assessed, and we are looking for growth in important skills. 

One of the kids at Bale asked me what I did as superintendent.  I was caught a bit off guard, but I said my main job was to be sure that the teachers and the students had what they needed to be successful.  I then asked all of them to do their very best every day.  They all cheerfully agreed.

Made my day.


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