Meet the new boss: Baker Kurrus' reflections on LRSD board experience, five years ago | Arkansas Blog

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Meet the new boss: Baker Kurrus' reflections on LRSD board experience, five years ago

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2015 at 1:49 PM

BAKER KURRUS: Five years ago, he wrote a story for the Times about his experience on the LRSD board. - BENJI HARDY
  • BENJI HARDY
  • BAKER KURRUS: Five years ago, he wrote a story for the Times about his experience on the LRSD board.

First things first. Newly appointed Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus does not have a mohawk,as suggested by the picture on yesterday's blog item. I'll leave it up to readers to decide whether that unfortunate photo composition was some sort of inscrutable Dadaist commentary on the events of the day, or the result of a criminally inexpert photographer working with an off-brand camera phone.

While we digest news of Kurrus' hiring and collect reactions from the community, a good place to begin is with the piece that Kurrus himself wrote for the Arkansas Times in November 2010, shortly after he ended a 12-year run on the LRSD board. 

Kurrus spoke highly of much about the LRSD in his essay, but his overall tone was bluntly critical:

After everything the Little Rock School District has been through — all of the blood, sweat, tears, time, money, energy, litigation — we have too many kids that don't learn. We have many who soar to unbelievable achievement, but I am haunted by the failure of too many of our city's kids. ...  For many kids, including my own, LRSD was an unbelievably satisfying and successful experience. Many, many parents and students succeed, and we all celebrate the wonderful teachers and administrators who make this possible. But should we be satisfied by the successes and accomplishments of some, when many are failing?

At the time, he said the district's inequalities had become less about racial discrimination and more about other entrenched privileges, the causes of which he left somewhat vague:

No matter your skin color, if you can wheedle your child into a good school, whether public, private or charter, you will get what you need. If a child is born to a situation without a strong advocate, that child will indiscriminately be educated in an environment that is designed to employ adults and meet their needs, rather than meet the needs of the child. It is morally wrong and awful, as Dr. King said from the Birmingham jail.

In 2010, Roy Brooks had just departed the superintendent position. Kurrus wrote unhappily of the contentious way in which Brooks' contract was bought out by the board, including the rejection of a compromise measure forwarded by Kurrus that would have retained Brooks while searching for a replacement:

In retrospect, LRSD was the biggest loser. These actions vaulted charter schools to the forefront, drove parents and students out, and eroded community support. The hiring of a replacement was perfunctory and preordained. This has not worked so far, and it won't work in the future. We must work together.

One thing that's changed in a big way since 2010: The district's financial outlook. At the time, Kurrus wrote that the "LRSD is awash in money, thanks to a high millage rate and extra money from the desegregation case and the federal stimulus funding. Money is not the problem. We have the resources, if we have the will."

Now, the state deseg money is set to dry up in a year's time. Implementing a facilities plan approved by the former LRSD board would require a millage increase, as improbable as such a vote sounds in the current climate of community distrust.

In 2010, Kurrus took a reflective tone as he looked back on his time with the board. He began his essay like this:

Twelve years on a school board takes a toll. Maybe the most difficult part was walking away, knowing that much hard work remains to be done. The greatest challenge was trying to remain positive and optimistic when so many people were not. The greatest thrill was handing my three children their high school diplomas. The greatest disappointments were the lack of outrage at a school system in disarray, and the acceptance by school employees of things that were appalling. The greatest challenge, which is still completely unmet, was and is to find a school district administration committed to deep and meaningful reform, even if that means that some good people lose their jobs. Most inspiring was the dedication and effort of thousands of teachers, administrators, parents, students and volunteers who worked tirelessly to make life better for kids. Most baffling is the lack of any consequence for failure. It was good, bad, ugly and beautiful, and now it is over.

Not quite. Five years later, it's just beginning.

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