NOTE: A more detailed, and better, story about David’s talk is at Insider Louisville.
David Jones Jr. began his talk at the Breakfast of Champions event by harkening back to his first job — as a schoolteacher in China.
From there he proceeded to inform an audience of about 60 at the University Club about the crisis that is our education system and the urgent need for change.
Jones is smart. He went to Yale, and was chairman of Humana. He is the force behind our city’s most important venture capital firm, which among other things is backing a company that is making state health exchange web sites work. So why did he run to be on the Jefferson Count Public Schools board?
Jones’ answer is that the quality of everything in our community is dependent on having a successful school system. He pointed to a chart showing that schools aren’t getting students prepared for life. They’re not ready for military service, they’re not graduating from high school. No one, he said, is asking the big, important questions, like the issue of funding..The state’s threats to take over the system is real, and we just have to do better, because other school districts are.
“We need a plan, and finance should be on the agenda. Our current strategy is that we hope it gets better,” he said. One of the issues the board faces, he said, is that it doesn’t get to focus on the big picture because it still must approve items like field trips and expenditures of a few thousand dollars as part of overseeing a $1.2 billion budget.
In fact, he said the twice-monthly Board meetings last five hours, and to prepare board members are expected to go through 500-800 pages of documents.
The JCPS Pre-Kindergarten programs are turning out kids less prepared for 1st grade than kids who don’t go.
Among the things he doesn’t yet understand is a JCPS employee culture. “The culture is worse than I thought it would be. The problem is fear. People are afraid to speak their minds. Change leadership is a challenge.
But this wasn’t all about doom and gloom. Jones said that in 10 months he’s learned that the system’s ability to handle data is at a high level. JCPS hit its goal on state exams, and has moved up in its ranking among Kentucky school systems. There are positives to point out.
Ten months in, Jones acknowledges that we’re not where we need to be, that the Board must modernize and it must call out the big issues. It must change.
NOTE: THIS WEEK’S RUSTY SATELLITE SHOW, AVAILABLE NOV. 14, FEATURES AN INTERVIEW WITH JONES. TUNE IN THEN.