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School Board Likely To Consult Fischer On Superintendent Search

by Graham Shelby

The Jefferson County School Board will likely call on Mayor-elect Greg Fischer for advice as it searches for a new superintendent for Jefferson County Public Schools.

In a meeting this week, the board gave its approval to ask search consultants to submit proposals to help the board with the selection process.

School board president Debbie Wesslund says the board will seek input from multiple sources, including teachers and parents, and the public. The board will also consult closely with the incoming mayor.

“As he well knows, education is the most important thing for the progress of our community,” says Wesslund. “We certainly would like to hear the mayor’s advice on what he would like to see in a new leader and the kind of progress he’d like to see the school system make.”

Fischer takes office January 3rd. The board will make a decision about hiring a consultant February 2nd. Outgoing Superintendent Sheldon Berman’s contract expires in June. No timetable has been set for hiring the new superintendent

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Abramson, Fischer Pledge To Stay Out Of Superintendent Search

Neither Mayor Jerry Abramson nor Mayor-elect Greg Fischer has any plans to try to influence the Jefferson County Board of Education’s search for a new superintendent of public schools.

Fischer and Abramson say they will respect the elected board’s autonomy. The mayor’s office has no power over the school board. But when reports of long bus rides and underperforming schools surfaced in the last few months, education became a larger issue in the mayor’s race. But Fischer says he will not try to control the board’s decision on a new superintendent. Abramson says he was surprised that the board decided not to renew Superintendent Sheldon Berman’s contract, but it’s not the mayor’s place to get involved in those decisions.

“You know, I believe in local elected officials making decisions locally. Half of the school board was just re-elected. They have a feel for the importance of school scores being moved up the ladder,” says Abramson. “I think it’s time for the community now to step up and support and assist in selecting the next school superintendent and work with the school board for the future.”

The board’s search for a new superintendent will begin next month. Berman’s contract expires at the end of June.

Berman issued the following statement Tuesday:

“Last night, the Jefferson County Board of Education decided to seek new leadership for the school district, effective July 1, 2011. While I am greatly disappointed by this action, I am now planning what steps I can take to most effectively serve our students and schools during the next seven months.

“Looking back, I am confident that we have accomplished a great deal in the past three and a half years, and we have made significant progress in many areas—including quality curriculum, school culture, and instructional innovations. We have moved the district in directions that are good for kids. My only regret is that I will not be part of the Jefferson County Public Schools in future years to carry these important initiatives to completion and to see the benefits they produce.

“I want to express to the community my sincere appreciation for the support you have extended for our many district initiatives. I urge you to continue playing an active role in helping students from every corner of Jefferson County become knowledgeable, empathetic, and productive citizens.”

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School Board Discusses Delaying Assignment Plans

The Jefferson County Board of Education has delayed a vote on when to implement the new middle and high school student assignment plan.

The board met Wednesday to discuss the plan, which had already been delayed by a year while officials cleared up transportation issues with the new elementary assignment plan. Superintendent Sheldon Berman says the elementary school problems will not be an issue with older students.

“The high school and middle school transportation is nowhere near the complex system that the elementary is,” says Berman. “As [transportation director] Rick Caple said, we were able to be very efficient about middle schools and high schools this year and we’ll do that if we implement either or both.”

The board will vote on the delay on the 13th. Berman has offered a compromise. He suggested the board implement the middle school plan next year, but delay the high school assignment plan another year.

“One of the problems with postponement is that it has the appearance that we may delay and we’re not going to move forward and I think this actually gives us the opportunity to move forward,” said Berman.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the JCPS desegregation plan was unconstitutional. A new elementary assignment plan was implemented last year.

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JCPS Board Approves Higher Tax, Discusses Transportation Issues

The Jefferson County Board of Education Monday night approved its third consecutive property tax increase to help fund public schools. The money will go toward textbooks, employee raises and new construction.

The increase adds about three cents to the tax rate. Property owners will now pay just under 68 cents for every 100 dollars of assessed value. The higher levy will generate about 28 million dollars for JCPS.

The board heard from about a dozen parents and protesters who oppose the higher rate. Among them was former congressional candidate Marilyn Parker, who said the district should change how it spends its current revenues.

“Neighborhood schools, charter schools, smaller classrooms, male mentors for at-risk kids and school vouchers,” she said. “We should be cutting teachers’ benefits, not increasing them.”

Board member Larry Hujo said he understands that times are hard, but the district needs the money to operate.

“You cannot run public education like a business,” he said. “You can’t do it. You can’t say, ‘Well, times are tough let’s lay off 50 teachers or 500 teachers, because you tell me what kids go home with those teachers.”

The board says the recession has led to stagnant tax revenues for the district. JCPS has about a one billion dollar budget.

Earlier in the meeting, board members apologized for transportation problems on the first day of school.

Last Tuesday afternoon, problems with student information at three elementary schools led to hundreds of elementary students arriving home hours after dismissal, some as late as 9 pm.

The school board heard from many angry parents about the problems. Rob Mattheu said he didn’t think Superintendent Sheldon Berman and the board took appropriate responsibility for the bus system.

“Do Dr. Berman and the Board of Education really thing two and a half hours to get home is something to pat yourself on the back about?” he asked. “Do you really think a 99 or 99% success rate is good enough when you’re dealing with young children, many of whom are attending school for the first time?”

Berman and several board members apologized for the delays. Two principals were suspended for three days for not properly preparing their students for bus rides on the first day.

Many of the parents who took the floor said the situation was made worse because the district could not tell them where their children were. Transportation Director Rick Caple says that issue could be solved by better radios in buses, which the district is currently considering purchasing.

“It’s very frustrating to us because we can’t get back with parents,” he said. “Sometimes we don’t know who’s on a particular bus. Especially when we have to recover from some incident that happens.”

Caple was part of a panel of officials who discussed transportation issues with the board. A JCPS spokesperson says by the end of last week, all students were delivered home by 6:15 pm.

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Suspended Principals Will Return To Work With Reprimands

The principals of two Jefferson County Public Schools will return to work Monday with reprimands on their permanent records.

The principals of King and Lincoln elementary have been suspended since Wednesday due to problems with bus rides on the first day of classes. The principals were supposed to print tags for students that identified which buses they were to ride to and from school. JCPS spokesperson Lauren Roberts says the tags were either not printed on time or were incorrect, causing several hundred students to arrive home hours late. Roberts says the principals had no excuse for the problems.

“There were 17 communications since March to the principals, there were two mandatory trainings and there was an extra help session that was provided to principals,” she says. “They were provided with the guidelines, they were provided with the procedures, and in addition, we did deploy staff out to schools that needed assistance preparing their lanyards.”
Roberts says the principals have been reprimanded, and will likely be fired if there are further problems. There were also problems with the tags at Chancy Elementary but Roberts says the principal quickly corrected those mistakes. She adds that delays on bus rides after school have been reduced, and most children are now returned home before 6 pm.

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Two Principals Suspended Following JCPS Bus Problems

Two Jefferson County Public Schools principals have been suspended following transportation problems on the first day of classes Tuesday. District officials say the principals at King and Lincoln elementary did not properly prepare tags for their students.

Audio MP3

This is the first year for the tags, which display bus numbers and school names and were to be given to all bus-riding elementary students. But Superintendent Sheldon Berman says tags were either incorrect or printed late for students at King and Lincoln. That caused confusion and delays. About 400 students arrived home hours after they were supposed to, and the last students were dropped off around 9 pm.

Tana Johnson’s daughter was among them.

“The concern is not even the timeframe, the concern is that nobody could give me information on where [my daughter] Brandy was, as far as I know,” says Johnson. “She’s a kindergartener, she could’ve gotten off the bus at the wrong place, been standing on the corner. It’s all the ‘What-ifs’ that provide the issue.”

Berman says the problems should not be blamed on the student assignment plan.

“King and Lincoln are district-wide magnet schools,” he says. “Once you have magnet schools you open up a whole different transportation system. So we’re not talking about student assignment at all. This is not a student assignment issue.”

The principals of King and Lincoln have been suspended with pay pending investigation.

“We have tried to do as much as we can to prepare principals well and to say, ‘This is critical,'” says Berman. “I actually met with them at the start of school and basically said, ‘Thank you for all your effort. This is the most critical first day we have had.”

District staff members have been brought in to address the problems. Chancey Elementary also experienced some problems, but Berman says the principal corrected them.

The full press conference with Superintendent Sheldon Berman:

Audio MP3
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Berman Says First Day Of Classes Has Gone Well

Aside from a few problems, Jefferson County Public Schools officials say the first day of classes is going smoothly.

Some students reportedly were not picked up along some bus routes in the morning, and there were expected delays as drivers adjusted to their routes. Superintendent Sheldon Berman says there have not been any major complications, and the smaller issues with buses will likely be resolved this week.

“We’re going to take things more slowly just so parents know,” he says. “We always take more time on the first day, both getting in and getting back just making sure we don’t miss any stops and miss anyone.”

Berman says the number of parents requesting transfers under the student assignment plan was relatively low today, compared to earlier this summer. Many area Catholic schools open tomorrow (Wednesday).

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JCPS Officials Preparing To Modify Bus Routes

The first day of classes at Jefferson County Public Schools is Tuesday. District officials will be watching for any potential inefficiencies on school bus routes.

The new elementary student assignment plan has many parents worried that their children will be on buses for too long. Superintendent Sheldon Berman has tasked transportation director Rick Caple with making sure the trips are no longer than an hour.

More than two dozen buses have been added to the fleet and several routes have been redesigned. Caple says rides will be shorter, but it will take about two weeks to smooth out the details.

“We may add some,” he says. “We may remove some based on projections. Again, we don’t know who’s going to ride the first day, so we may be making adjustments after the first two weeks of school. Hopefully we can reduce some of those routes based on who rides and who does not ride.”

Currently, Caple expects to use about 900 buses to transport more than 63 thousand students.

Many area Catholic schools resume classes Wednesday.

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Board Approves Superintendent Berman's Evaluation

After meeting twice this week behind closed doors, the Jefferson County Board of Education released its evaluation of Superintendent Sheldon Berman.

A new state law that went into effect Thursday allowed the board to conduct most of its review in private. After several hours of meetings, the board voted 6-0, with one abstention, to approve the evaluation. The report praises Berman for improving upon areas that were cited in previous evaluations, but asks him to focus more on improving chronically low-performing schools.

Board member Carol Ann Haddad says she think the report could say more about improving academics in general.

“While I agree with most of it, there are some issues I feel more strongly about,” she says. “Student achievement is really our focus, our test scores have gone down for three years in reading and this year in high school math. This is very disappointing.”

Berman says we will take the board’s advice, though he’s working on improving performance across the district, especially in the underperforming schools.

“The school improvement grants are going to be critical for us in moving those forward,” he says. “The leadership and the changes in leadership, the re-staffing we’ve done is going to be critical. These are no simple problems. The student assignment plan will help, the restructuring we’ve put in place will help, but there are no quick fixes.”

To see the full evaluation, click here (PDF).

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Berman Touts JCPS Accomplishments In Rotary Speech

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Sheldon Berman updated the Rotary Club of Louisville Thursday on the state of the school district.

Berman talked curriculum retructuring, the court-ordered revamping of the JCPS student assignment plan, and the “Care for Kids” initiative that teaches young people social responsibilities.

He also said he’d like to extend his stay in Louisville.

“I can’t help but say I’d love to have my contract renewed and that will be up next year, so we’ll see where that goes. I have a sense of confidence that the board respects the work that we’re doing and respects the work that I’ve done. I’ve gotten a good deal of support from them,” he said.

Berman came to Louisville in mid-2007 from Massachusetts.