Big Shots on Schools

It may be an important step in improving the quality of the public schools to have open, public discussions, so I applaud Business First for hosting its “What’s Brewing” event the other day with some smart guys, including David Jones of Chrysalis Ventures andVic Staffieri of LG&E.

Some other big shots showed up — like JPCS superintendent Sheldon Berman, JCPS board members Debbie Wesslund, Diane Porter and Carol Haddad.  Even Hal Heiner was three, though someone should tell the newspaper that Heiner’s not on the Metro Council any longer.

The panel included Staffieri, Jones, Helton and publisher Tom Monahan. Photo by Business First.

Our own Barbara Day was there as well — and gave me some highlights from the program. Here are some excerpts from her:

The first topic was dealing with the poor education achievements that have occurred in Jefferson County over the past 10 years. Education is at the top of the issues for successful business employee recruitment as well as Louisville recruitment of new businesses and revenue for our city.

David Jones said Louisville is in the “midst of an education crisis. Half the kids who go through JCPS are NOT prepared for college. 25-30 percent are NOT graduating from high school. There is a 50 percent failure rate. 50,000 of the kids in JCPS get a poor education.” Fortunately, Jones indicated Louisville has a safety net with more than 30,000 children who attend parochial or private schools. He  explained his own children attended public schools — including Manual High School, which is the BEST high school in the school system.

The Courier-Journal reported 23 of the lowest achieving 50 schools in the state are in JCPS. In fact, JCPS high schools have a 71 percent graduation rate, among the lowest in Kentucky.   2010.

Helton agreed there is a “challenge to educators because of the problems in the pipeline” and suggested a merit pay system for teachers, though it would have to be carefully crafted.

Jones suggested that “merit pay is a fad and not a magic bullet.” He said JCPS has some “good ideas but poor execution.”

Jones indicated “governance is a HUGE issue.” Jones said the “superintendent needs to be able to appoint principals.” He casually mentioned the Student Assignment Plan and the Neighborhood Format and whether it affects achievement. But he reminded us that “educational outcomes are the most important.”  He said he was not clear on why the current superintendent needed to be replaced. But, he was interested to know what type of person the School Board was looking for to change the dynamics of the poor educational system at JCPS.

When asked what the business community can do, Melton suggested businesses can provide “human capitol to schools. Get involved rather than complain.” He said Louisville needs to award 55,000 post-secondary degrees by 2020 to get Louisville on the same playing field as other cities of the same size in the region.

Jones suggested “putting teachers where they can do the most good.”  Staffieri suggested “instead of assigning blame, assign responsibility.”

After the panel discussion, I spoke briefly to Sheldon Berman.  I asked him about how teachers can possibly teach if you have students who are inattentive and disruptive in the class and not interested in learning. Even if the teacher has excellent teacher skills, I wondered how difficult it would be to stay on topic in a disruptive situation. He said teachers are taught how to deal with that type of behavior.

I also asked Dr. Berman about the obesity issue and if he thought it could be connected to lengthy bus rides to and from school. He suggested most students are on the bus no longer in Jefferson County than 30 minutes each way.

8 Comments on "Big Shots on Schools"

  1. Jackie Bentley | January 27, 2011 at 11:41 am | Reply

    Um…really Berman? No longer than 30 minutes, each way? My daughter (a Kindergartener) catches the bus at 7:45 a.m. Let’s see…school starts at 9:05. Okay. There’s that math. Then school lets out at 3:45 p.m. She gets home anywhere between 4:45 and 5 o’clock. Wow. Sad thing is, I can’t drive her to and from because my older two boys are in the traditional school program. They get home earlier, thankfully, but the logistics of being home when they’re getting off the bus and picking her up are impossible.
    I guess you can count my daughter OUT of the “most” category. I’m fairly certain there are more situations like hers in Jefferson County.

    • Berman’s reply to negative comments like that is always to change the subject and say how everything is really working just fine. It’s not for a lot of people. Which is probably why the Board is (maybe) getting rid of him. Latest WHAS-TV poll shows 82% in favor of neighborhood schools, which is not surprising. And i think that if there were fewer kids traveling on buses, it would be less necessary to have so many damn snow days

  2. I wonder how much money the school system would save on fuel if we switched over to neighborhood schools. (Not to mention the positive effect on the environment.) And, what would happen if a large portion of the money that was saved was re-invested in the schools that need the most help. Something to think about.

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