JCPS Begins Year With New Expectations, Standards

by Devin Katayama on August 17, 2011

In a short years-time the Jefferson County school district has seen numerous changes that will affect this school year. Some are simple, like changes to the lunch menu. Others are major and will be new to students, teachers and administrators, and will affect the county, state and nation.

One of the most notable changes is the new Superintendent, Donna Hargens. Hargens was hired in July amid changing standards and high expectations. Last week, she released a 90-Day Plan that she said will help keep her and the school board on track.

Hargens’s plan focuses on themes and goals that respond to how she expects to handle a school district that still faces unanswered questions and controversial issues.

“What we did is we took the board’s transition plan and then combined it with the things that I was going to be working on and the cabinet would be working on,” said Hargens. “I think it’s really important that we all work together off of a common plan.”

Anyone can follow the goals online, which are both broad and specific, and documents will be uploaded to the web as initiatives are met. This answers some questions regarding how Hargens plans to be more transparent and the 90-Day Plan will help hold her and the board accountable for meeting their marks.

As part of the plan, Hargens will spend time throughout the county with schools, principals and community groups. She has reached out to the NAACP, which was against the hiring of both superintendent finalists in July.

President of the Louisville NAACP Raoul Cunningham said Hargens seems more compatible with the school board than former Superintendent Sheldon Berman. The district will have to wait to see if that’s a good thing, said Cunningham. But there are still key issues, like the new JCPS student assignment plan, that await a response, he said. JCPS elementary schools implemented the new plan last year, middle schools will do so this year and high schools will follow next year. But Cunningham said it’s taking too long.

“I don’t think we’ve been able, the school board’s been able to focus the necessary attention to achievement gaps and other educational issues,” he said.

The NAACP plans on meeting with Hargens in late August, said Cunningham.

Hargens dealt with student assignment in her previous job with the Wake County Public School system. According to her new plan, discussions with the board regarding assessment of student assignment are expected to begin within the next 30 days, pending recommendations for Dr. Gary Orfield.

Hargens said the plan also includes educating the board on the Common Core State Standards, which begin this year. This is also scheduled within the 30 days.

“And what’s referenced in there is how prepared are we to deliver the common core and do we have the support systems in place to make sure that our schools and our students are successful,” said Hargens. “And in that was referenced that the board would get training from the school board association regarding their role in the common core. And that’s in the plan and it’s already scheduled.”

Other goals in the 90-Day Plan will be ongoing, like establishing relationships with stakeholders, schools and state policy makers. Once the 90 days are up, Hargens said the board should be able to create a strategic goal for student achievement.

Brent McKim is president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association. He’s concerned that enough important decisions about education aren’t being made in the right areas.

“More and more decisions are begin made further and further from classrooms, further and further from the students and their parents and their classrooms where the learning takes place,” said McKim.

If Hargens and the school board want to create a strong plan, it will be important to communicate with teachers, students and parents, said McKim.

Hargens’s 90-Day Plan includes this.

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