Ed. Commissioner Key regrets 'timing' of Kurrus firing, but no change of course | Arkansas Blog

Friday, April 22, 2016

Ed. Commissioner Key regrets 'timing' of Kurrus firing, but no change of course

Posted By on Fri, Apr 22, 2016 at 5:24 PM

click to enlarge BAD TIMING: Education Commissioner Johnny Key (left) and LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus at a Tuesday press conference. - BRIAN CHILSON
  • BRIAN CHILSON
  • BAD TIMING: Education Commissioner Johnny Key (left) and LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus at a Tuesday press conference.

State Education Commissioner Johnny Key has issued a statement on the dismissal of LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus that is intended to mollify Little Rock residents upset about Key's plans to replace the leader of the district after just one year on the job. Key's statement also makes it clear that the decision to replace Kurrus with Bentonville Superintendent Michael Poore still stands. 

"Timing and expectations are critical, as I have been reminded over the last few days. I deeply regret my poor implementation of a transition in Little Rock School District leadership and the timing in which it occurred," the commissioner's statement said. "That this announcement was not handled consistent with the community’s expectations is my mistake, and as commissioner, I take responsibility."

However, Key continued, "it is important to understand that timing and implementation were my primary errors, not the content and context with which this decision was made."

By the way, there's a rally tomorrow at noon at the Capitol for those Little Rock residents who may take issue with the "content and context" of Key's decision, along with its timing.

It would be interesting to hear what specifically Key would have changed about the timetable of his announcement to unilaterally dismiss the popular superintendent. Should it have came earlier — perhaps before the March 31 public hearing in which Baker Kurrus spoke out about two charter school expansions that threaten to damage the LRSD and its students? Or should it have occurred later in the school year — closer to June 30, the last day of Kurrus' contract? 

Maybe Key just means he regrets that news of the firing of Little Rock's superintendent broke the same day that his boss, Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed off on the decision, met with Little Rock Democrats from the Legislative Black Caucus to urge them to support his plan to save Medicaid expansion with a procedural maneuver that required their votes. Several were outraged when the Kurrus firing was made public.

As during his press conference on Tuesday, Key praised Kurrus while giving no clear reason for his ouster. The superintendent's leadership "has led to significant improvements within the Little Rock School District," Key said, including "successfully steer[ing] the district through the most tumultuous year in decades." Kurrus is "a selfless public servant ... and an invaluable leader for our community."

The commissioner can laud Kurrus all he wants, but it seems to me that only makes his decision all the more incomprehensible. (The stated reason for Kurrus' dismissal is that Michael Poore will do a better job turning around academics in the district. Which is odd, because the entire point of the state takeover of LRSD was to turn around academics in the district. If Key felt Kurrus wasn't getting that job accomplished, why wasn't he fired earlier? And why does he now abruptly feel that Kurrus is not up to the task? We may have an answer for you.)

Key also offered this: "In my efforts to be more responsive to the community’s expectations for public input, I am expediting the appointment of the Community Advisory Board."

This is exactly what it sounds like — a body with no decision-making power that's appointed to "advise" on the direction of school districts that have been placed under state control. I'm not sure how this will dovetail with the existing Civic Advisory Committee that the state Board of Education established when it took over the LRSD and which occupies a similar mandate, but I do know that neither one will have any actual authority over policy within the district. That will remain in the Education Commissioner's hands until the LRSD is returned to local control.

Here's Key's full statement:

Statement from Arkansas Department of Education Commissioner Johnny Key Regarding Little Rock School District

LITTLE ROCK — Timing and expectations are critical, as I have been reminded over the last few days. I deeply regret my poor implementation of a transition in Little Rock School District leadership and the timing in which it occurred.

The quality of our children’s education is deeply personal – every bit as personal as health care or other issues that dominate the headlines. That this announcement was not handled consistent with the community’s expectations is my mistake, and as commissioner, I take responsibility.

It is important to understand that timing and implementation were my primary errors, not the content and context with which this decision was made.

A state takeover of any local school district is never ideal and was a decision of last resort for the State Board of Education. While many had their doubts it would work, state control has proven to be a productive temporary tool that, to date, has led to significant improvements within the Little Rock School District. The credit should be given to Baker Kurrus and the dedicated educators and students throughout the district.

Mr. Kurrus is a selfless public servant, and his contribution to our city and our children is laudable. His appointment was extraordinary, as he is an outside-the-box superintendent and an invaluable leader for our community.

It should be noted that the original decision to move the Little Rock School District toward state supervision was a result of academic distress. Mr. Kurrus successfully steered the district through the most tumultuous year in decades and prepared the district for the next stage of improvement.

It is my position that Michael Poore can best move the district forward and maximize the academic progress that is needed to return the Little Rock School District to local control. Mr. Kurrus is on a previously scheduled vacation and upon his return will meet with Mr. Poore. I am confident that together they will determine the best role for Mr. Kurrus to support the district’s continued progress.

In my efforts to be more responsive to the community’s expectations for public input, I am expediting the appointment of the Community Advisory Board, an important step toward returning the district to local control. The Community Advisory Board will play a key role in the district’s success.

Michael Poore has a proven track record of improving schools in academic distress. I have no doubt that under Poore’s leadership, combined with the support of the community and the Little Rock School District educators, success awaits us here in Little Rock. 

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