The following is a statement from Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, on the decision by state officials not to renew the contract of Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus:
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families (AACF) believes this week’s decision by state officials not to renew the contract of the LRSD Superintendent Baker Kurrus could have major statewide implications for future efforts to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for all students, especially our most disadvantaged children.
AACF believes the process state leaders used to make the decision to replace Kurrus was fundamentally flawed. It certainly appears that he was ousted because of his advocacy on behalf of low-income students remaining in the district’s traditional public schools. State leaders then made a unilateral decision to replace Kurrus without getting community input from low-income parents, teachers, public school advocates, or other local leaders. This type of decision-making process runs counter to what most experts feel is essential to turning around lower performing schools–one that solicits local input and promotes community involvement and support.
The decision by state leaders to replace Mr. Kurrus also seems to suggest that privatization and charter schools will be the state’s predominant strategy, at least in more urban areas, for turning around poor performing schools and improving outcomes for low-income students. The existing research, and the experiences of other large metropolitan areas such as New Orleans, does not justify such a narrow focus. Research tells us that any long-term strategy to improve educational opportunities and outcomes for our most disadvantaged students must include, among other things, strategies such as high-quality pre-K, high-quality after-school and summer programs, community schools, etc. Many of these strategies are embodied in ForwARd Arkansas, a bold, comprehensive vision for improving public education in Arkansas that has received much positive attention over the past year.
Finally, AACF believes this week’s decision provides further evidence that the Little Rock School District, and more generally the State of Arkansas, needs a comprehensive vision and a plan, supported by data and research, for improving educational outcomes for all children, including our most economically disadvantaged children. It also means that our state leaders must place a higher priority on a decision-making process that values real community input and collaboration, make decisions based on data and research rather than ideology, and make smarter political decisions to help build the public consensus Arkansas needs to get the things done that need to get done so that all of our students can thrive in the classroom.