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The state of Arkansas disbanded our school board and took over the Little Rock School District in January. The official reason was because six of 48 of our schools are in academic distress. The real reason was to end decades of dysfunction between the LRSD and the Little Rock School Board. The state of Arkansas thought it could do a better job.
Three months into the takeover, it appears the state has no plan and things are getting worse. The amount of rumors are increasing, negatively impacting the morale of everyone in the district as a result. LRSD is not providing effective communication and is not seeking input from those impacted most. There does not appear to be a distinct vision currently in place.
Rockefeller Early Childhood Center first received knowledge through the Arkansas Blog that our principal was being reassigned. Unfortunately, he also learned about it from the same blog. We immediately expressed concerns to the LRSD and requested a public meeting, but were snubbed.
A few weeks later we learned through the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the LRSD wanted to expand early childhood education. The idea of expanding is great. However, the proposal also included eliminating the award-winning infant and toddler program at Rockefeller. This only gave parents and staff six weeks' notice that the program would close. The proposal also included closing Rockefeller Elementary School with only a three months' notice and no outside input for those impacted by this.
We are thankful that LRSD reversed course on some items. The infant and toddler program will now continue at least through the summer. We are hoping for a more long-term decision for the program soon. An advisory group is forming to assist with keeping families and the community informed with the most current information available. However, there's ongoing uncertainty about whether Rockefeller Elementary families will be included for input.
This is not how you correct a dysfunctional school district. This is not how you treat families and communities who've entrusted you with their children. This is not how you treat the parents and staff who are the foundation of success in the district.
Rockefeller parents love our early childhood program. There's no better childcare option within the city, at any price. Many parents jostled to get on Rockefeller's waiting list long before their babies were born. Rockefeller's remarkable program for newborns through 3-year-olds is one of the most effective ways to improve academic opportunities. We also agree that expanding the early childhood program is a fantastic proposal, but the voice of Rockefeller early childhood and elementary families should be included in decision-making.
A large percentage of us in Little Rock love and support our schools. We want to make every school and the entire district function better. However, someone needs to value and ask for our input.
We need to know and understand how the LRSD and the state Education Department will make decisions that impact everyone. We need a reliable process that is transparent so we can all see how decisions are made. We need a process that is inclusive so faculty, staff, students, parents and the community can provide meaningful input. Different parts of our society have different self-interests and concerns. Those differences make us stronger and can't be overlooked.
We need a process that recognizes the importance of success in all of the district. We need to value our parents, our students, our staff and our community as incredible assets. We do not want to continue having a negative image that we are obstacles to positive change.
We need to identify what we can build on and get the job done. The LRSD has many success stories. We need to rely on proven strategies to improve and maintain the success of our schools. We cannot let ideology dictate our future. We need a process that avoids arbitrary decisions announced via media leak.
We will continue to descend into dysfunction until the LRSD and ADE jointly create a fair and transparent process that we can all believe in.
Kiffanie Walker is vice-president of Little Rock School District's Rockefeller Early Childhood Center PTA.
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