Suggs relents on changes at Rockefeller Early Childhood program | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Suggs relents on changes at Rockefeller Early Childhood program

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2015 at 12:41 PM

Bill Kopsky, president of the PTA of the Rockefeller Early Childhood Center, reports a positive outcome of a meeting the group sought this morning with Dexter Suggs, interim superintendent of the Little Rock School District. Suggs has made some key changes in plans for a reorganization of the school that, along with a reorganization of Baseline Elementary, became known to parents and staff at the schools from newspaper accounts.

Key developments:

* The Early Childhood Center will remain open this summer. Suggs originally had said it would close as part of a change of the school to strictly an early childhood center, without elementary classes.

* Children in the current infant and toddler program — originally said to be scrapped — will be able to "age out" in the progam. And Suggs, Kopsky said, indicated it was not given that the pioneering program will die. It's a legacy of early childhood education pioneer Bettye Caldwell, who established it a half-century ago at Kramer School and moved it to Rockefeller when that school was built. The program serves 40 to 50 families, has been a powerful lure to a diverse student body at the elementary school and is a proven tool for education.

Kopsky reports sympathetic remarks relative to comments about the poor communication with parents at Rockefeller and Baseline about reorganization and he said Suggs committed to improvements in the process.

A meeting with all Rockefeller parents is set for 5:30 p.m. today.

Kopsky's full statement on the meeting follows:

Members of the Rockefeller Early Childhood Center PTA were very pleased with the outcome of a meeting with Dr. Suggs this morning.

We look forward to continuing the conversation with the broader Rockefeller community this evening at 5:30 and hope all concerned parties attend for an important conversation.

Most importantly this morning, the Superintendent of Little Rock schools said his proposal for restricting Rockefeller and Baseline schools were were draft and still very fluid. He said his thinking is evolving on how best to move the district forward and he made several commitments about the restructuring Rockefeller that addressed many of our concerns:

The Rockefeller Early Childhood Center will remain open this summer and not close for the summer as originally proposed.

The Rockefeller Early Childhood Center will allow children currently in the infant and toddler program to age out of the program and the program will not be terminated while they are enrolled.

The Administration will consider all options for preserving and expanding on the infant and toddler program at Rockefeller. It is not a foregone conclusion that the infant and toddler program, one of the best in the State, will be terminated. Dr. Suggs acknowledged the power of the infant and toddler program and that there is a long wait list to get into the program.

The LRSD will create an advisory committee for early childhood education with representation from across the district that will be consulted on future decisions.

The Superintendent acknowledged the turmoil caused by the way the reorganization proposal was made and committed to improving the process for how District decisions are made and communicated.

The Superintendent committed to having more open meetings with parents across the district and asked for all stakeholders to play a role in making those meetings succesful.

We are very appreciative that the Superintendent listened to the concerns that parents and staff in the PTA raised and addressed them.

We reminded the Superintendent that early childhood parents like those in our PTA are going to be involved in the Little Rock School District for the next 17 or 18 years and that no one was more committed to it's success than we are. We want Dr. Suggs to be successful at improving the Little Rock School District and addressing its challenges. We offered many suggestions on how the District might go about that. We also pledged our support of a constructive process for improving our district.

We expressed concerns about the overall process the LRSD is using to make changes across the district. We asked the Superintendent to be far more clear about the process the District is using to make decisions, how the public can be involved, what the timeline is and what the expected outcomes are for the process. The Superintendent acknowledged our concerns and said he would make every effort to improve the District's effort in this regard.

We also expressed concerns for the families and staff at Rockefeller Elementary and Baseline Elementary who received insufficient notice and input on their schools' closure or transformation. They should be involved in that decision. We suggested that it would be more fair to all parties to phase those changes in more slowly and allow families to go through the next open enrollment period before implementing some of the more drastic changes. Superintendent Suggs understood our concerns and pledged to consider them as the plan evolves.

Finally we expressed our deep appreciation for the staff at Rockefeller Early Childhood Center who are the reason for the program's excellence. We said that those staff deserved a better process than the way this proposal came to light. The staff's morale and ongoing commitment to the program is of the utmost importance to us. That includes Mr. Richard Mills, the Director of the Early Childhood Program at Rockefeller who was given notice a few weeks ago that his contract would not be renewed. We asked Dr. Suggs to consider keeping Mr. Mills at Rockefeller to provide some continuity and leadership as the program goes through this transition. Dr. Suggs appreciated our comments and said he would consider them as well.

Success for everyone in the Little Rock School District is our biggest goal. It is going to take a better decision making process and more transparency from the School District. It is also going to require the ongoing participation of parents, staff, students and all other stakeholders in the District. Our frustrations can not get in the way of moving our education system forward. We deeply appreciated Dr. Suggs responding to our concerns and his commitment to a more inclusive and transparent process moving forward.  

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