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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Little Rock School District headquarters are shown in this 2019 file photo. - Photo by Gavin Lesnick

The Little Rock School District's Community Advisory Board reacted Thursday to teachers' ideas for the district's future operations with questions about employee incentives at academically struggling schools, methods for identifying best teachers for those schools and how to afford any and all proposed innovations.

Meeting on the eve of today's Arkansas Board of Education's hastily called 9 a.m. special meeting to consider a draft framework for reconstituting the Little Rock district, the advisory board -- missing four of its seven members -- took no action on any plans or ideas regarding the state-controlled district's future.

The Education Board meeting, which will be held at the Arch Ford Education Building, 4 Capitol Mall in Little Rock, was announced in midafternoon Thursday but the nine-item agenda was not released until about 5 p.m. Most of the items deal with proposed rules for carrying out state laws passed by the Legislature earlier this year. But the final item is "consideration and approval" of a draft framework "to serve as a starting point for ongoing planning for the future of LRSD."

The proposed framework was not attached to the agenda. Education Board Chairman Diane Zook said in the late afternoon she did not have a copy yet as state agency staff members were still "word-smithing" it.

Jeff Wood, chairman of the state-appointed Little Rock board that serves as an advisory organization to state Education Secretary Johnny Key, said Thursday night -- after listening to teacher organization President Teresa Knapp Gordon and Superintendent Mike Poore -- that he is reserving most of his comments about the future of the district until there are more concrete proposals from the state Education Board.

"Hopefully we will hear that tomorrow," Wood said, "but I do hope that as this discussion intensifies over the next few months leading into January that everyone ... in this town will commit to themselves that this is about success of students in our district, not about control, not about decision-making power or authority or who is signing whose paychecks. It is about getting the [thousands] of students in this city who are not reading on grade level to reading on grade level and giving them hope for the future."

Wood said local control of the district "did not work in this city for a really long time" and he hopes people will keep an open mind about the future operation of the system.

"If what comes out of the state board meeting doesn't look like what you might have drafted in your perfect world, the question needs to be 'Can students succeed under the model?' and if they can, let's give it a try," he said.

The discussion at the Community Advisory Board meeting as well as recent state Board of Education work sessions and public forums on state control all come in advance of a January 2020 deadline for the district to correct its student-achievement deficiencies and to exit state control.

The state board voted 5-4 in January 2015 to take control of the district -- dismissing the School Board and putting the superintendent under state supervision -- when six of 48 schools at the time had chronically low math and English/language arts results on state exams.

Current state law and accompanying rules call for a district under state authority to either meet state-set exit criteria for regaining a locally elected school board or face the permanent "consolidation" or "annexation" of the district to one or more other districts, or be "reconstituted."

"Reconstituted" is not defined in state law. That resulted in state Education Board members calling in recent weeks for ideas on how the 23,000-student district might be reconstituted in the event the district or its eight schools that have state-issued F letter grades do not meet all of the exit criteria.

The exit criteria -- announced earlier this year -- center largely but not entirely on ACT Aspire student test results. It will be as late as Oct. 15 before a determination is made on whether the district has met the exit criteria.

The state Education Board on Sept. 11 directed Key and his staff to draft a framework plan for the district that is based on common themes heard from the state board members and the public.

Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association employee union, on Thursday recapped for the district's advisory board the recommendations made by employees for raising student achievement in a district that is governed by a locally elected board.

The association's multipoint plan -- the product of brainstorming by 75 employees and refined by a committee of a half-dozen -- calls in part for principals at academically struggling schools for three or more years to be removed if the school has not moved up a letter grade.

The proposal also calls for after-school student enrichment programs, funding for increased staffing to meet the specific needs of a school, staffing struggling schools with the best experienced teachers and guaranteeing state employment law protections at the struggling schools. Still other provisions call for smaller student class sizes -- limiting kindergarten classrooms at the struggling schools to 14 children and other classes to 20 students. The cap on students per classroom will close the achievement gap between students and improve behavior, Gordon said.

Still other provisions call for the district to employ area assistant superintendents to oversee school feeder patterns of elementary, middle schools and high schools in an area to ensure parents can build relationships with school leaders to benefit their children. The area assistant superintendents would replace the existing grade-level executive directors for elementary and secondary education.

Metro on 09/20/2019

Print Headline: State board meets today on Little Rock schools


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