Wednesday, September 16, 2015

LRSD 'wake' protests state takeover of district on anniversary of last school board election

Posted By on Wed, Sep 16, 2015 at 11:16 PM

click to enlarge STILL FIGHTING: Some Little Rock residents insist the schools must be returned to local control immediately. - BENJI HARDY
  • STILL FIGHTING: Some Little Rock residents insist the schools must be returned to local control immediately.

About 75 people turned out at the central offices of the Little Rock School District this afternoon to hold a "wake for democracy." The event, sponsored by a group calling itself Reclaim our Little Rock Public Schools, commemorated the anniversary of the 2014 local school board election.

The results of that election were essentially invalidated by the state Board of Education on Jan. 28 when it narrowly voted to seize control of the district and dissolve the local board. The state board did so based on the fact that six out of the 48 schools in the LRSD were in "academic distress," meaning fewer than half of the schools'  students were scoring Proficient on standardized benchmark tests in math and English.

Speakers included former Zone 1 board member Joy Springer, who now sits on the Civic Advisory Committee, a panel created to provide input on the direction of the district while it remains in state receivership. Anika Whitfield, another outspoken opponent of takeover who sits on the CAC, also called for the state to return the district to local control immediately. The CAC has no actual decision-making authority, but LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus — who was appointed to run the district in May — hopes to engage the group in soliciting community input about decisions facing the LRSD in the months ahead. He'll need to convince dedicated opponents of state control such as Springer and Whitfield to work with him if he's to obtain consensus buy-in from the CAC (which meets this coming Thursday).

But Springer and Whitfield seem to believe no progress is possible in the district unless the takeover is reversed. 

The takeover remains contested in court. Since there's little chance that the state board will return the district to local control on its own — especially now that one of the board's "no" votes on takeover has been replaced by an appointee of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who supported seizing the district — judicial action remains the only option. The case is currently before the Arkansas Supreme Court, which will hear oral arguments on Oct. 8.

Incidentally, testing data for the last school year should be released sometime in the coming weeks by the Arkansas Department of Education, which adds a major wrinkle to the task of determining Little Rock school performance moving forward. The academic distress designations on which the takeover was based were derived from the previous three years of student data (the academic years concluding in 2012, 2013 and 2014) on the old state Benchmark test. But in 2014-15 the state's schools shifted to a new standardized test, PARCC — and this summer, following some arm-twisting from Gov. Hutchinson, the state ditched PARCC after a single year and moved to yet a third test, the ACT Aspire. This all means the question of whether the state was within its bounds to take over LRSD based on academic performance will likely only get murkier.

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