For those wanting a “plan” before leading in/collaborating between the Little Rock and Pulaski County Special School Districts south of the river, here’s a simple, elegant, easily understood start, which doesn’t have to wait on PCSSD unitary status. Call it…a Baker’s Dozen:
- Compel PCSSD to participate in School Choice, which would open flow, choice of students among all four districts in Pulaski County. LRSD, NLRSD, JNPSD are among 215 districts in Arkansas which fully participate in/benefit from choice. While PCSSD has been declared unitary in regard to student assignment, Dr. Guess unilaterally chooses to deny entry to and/or exit from his district. School Choice Application deadline is May 1, 2016.
- Implement NWEA MAP formative testing for the 2016 school year, to a) assess individual student performance, b) immediately address needs, and c) measure growth. Utilized by all open-enrollment charters in the county, NWEA MAP would also provide an apples-to-apples comparison of student performance/growth locally, statewide and nationally.
- Collaborate, partner with PCSSD to convert Robinson Middle and High Schools to all High School. Collaborate on new Mills High and Fuller Middle. Inter-district collaboration, partnership need not wait on PCSSD unitary status.
- Fast track conversion of new West Little Rock Middle School, construction of new SWLR High School. Once opened, convert or convey McClellan and Fair.
- Consolidate, close, convert, construct existing schools proximate to current/projected population
- Abolish all middle, high school attendance zones. Instead use elementary feeders as Mr. Kurrus has proposed with new WLR Middle.
- Collaborate with Rock Region Metro to make every secondary school efficiently accessible and provide student passes to all secondary school students so they may attend any school of choice with capacity. LRSD currently spends $17,000,000 annually on 5,000,000 transportation miles.
- Constantly collaborate with open-enrollment public charters, using advantage of scale to be a paid provider of services and infrastructure. Implement a unified enrollment system for all public schools and create a portfolio approach to education in Little Rock.
- Bring true career-ready tech education, with national certifications and concurrent credit, to each high school, constantly aligning offerings with needs of industry, which will lead in hiring instructors, evaluating performance.
- Guarantee that all children, not encumbered by intellectual disability, will read at grade level by end of third grade, utilizing early identification, maximized classroom resources, longer school days and longer school year. No child will be promoted if not at/above level. Administer triage to older students not reading at level and administer required intervention to catch them up. If you don’t learn to read, you can’t read to learn.
- Retain, return, recruit best available talent, and remove/retire all others, constantly matching talent needs with priorities of organization. Create building-level autonomy in management, including finance and hiring/firing. Create constant succession plans, including superintendent.
- Offer merit pay for all employees based on individual/collective student growth.
- Seek, receive all waivers granted to open-enrollment public charters, so there are no excuses for lack of performance.
The unanimously approved State Board of Education Pulaski County Boundaries Report called for one district south of the river and up to four north, once PCCSD achieves unitary status and Maumelle and Sherwood create districts of their own. The reason for the unitary status stipulation is that PCSSD and Intervening Attorney John Walker got it added to the latest Desegregation Settlement Agreement as a condition of Settlement. However, inter-district collaboration and partnership need not wait on unitary status.
As with economic development regionalism, the County Judge, Regional Chamber, Metroplan, Rock Region Metro and other big picture groups and individuals must lead on this and be truly collaborative, instead of deferring to whoever is in the respective superintendents’ offices. Districts, like cities, will always be narrowly focused unless pulled into the region’s holistic and complementary public education portfolio.