Two former, high-ranking Jefferson County Public Schools administrators have emailed the state’s top education official to support a state takeover of the district, citing problems including implicit racial discrimination.
Former Chief Business Officer Tom Hudson told Interim Education Commissioner Wayne Lewis that the district’s teacher assignment plan is perpetuating institutional racism.
“The implicit racial discrimination that exists within JCPS, as a result of the teacher assignment process, is inexcusable and corrosive,” Hudson wrote in a 10-page email with six attachments he sent Monday and shared with Insider.
Former Chief Academic Officer Dewey Hensley wrote that he questioned whether the district, under the leadership of Superintendent Marty Pollio, was making measurable improvements.
“Marty keeps talking about how much better the district is … I would ask, by what measure? Adult convenience? Better relationship between the board members and the superintendent and union?” Hensley wrote April 25 in an email obtained by Insider.
Hudson and Hensley worked under former superintendent Donna Hargens, who resigned under pressure last July. Hudson left in May 2017, when his contract wasn’t renewed after 18 months with the district. Hensley resigned in October 2015, with a scathing letter, in which he criticized Hargens’ administration.
In his email to Lewis, Hudson wrote that seniority allows teachers to transfer from so-called priority schools to higher-performing schools, which tend to have fewer student behavior problems. That process leaves priority schools with predominantly nonwhite students, with the least-experienced teachers and the highest level of teacher turnover. This “ ‘perfect storm’ of consequences” represents institutional racism, he wrote.
According to data from JCPS, the average retention rate at priority schools in the last five years was 81.9 percent, seven percentage points lower than in nonpriority schools. JCPS emphasized that turnover rates at priority schools might be artificially inflated by turnaround efforts that resulted in half the school staff changing.
Hudson said the system is designed to support teachers instead of the students. He recommended that the district adopt a formula that would require principals to employ teachers with a balance of experience and salaries, he said.
However, Brent McKim, president of the teachers union, said the organization has long shared that goal and has suggesteded ways to achieve it.
“We need to explore all sorts of strategies for attracting and keeping teachers at challenging schools,” he said, “but it is naive to think we can force a teacher into any school against her or his will and trap the teacher there.”
“This reminds me of the saying that ‘for every complex problem there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong,’” McKim wrote in an three-page email with four attachments he sent to Lewis on Monday in response to Hudson’s message. The email was shared with community leaders and some members of the Kentucky Board of Education, which ultimately will make the decision on whether the state takes over JCPS.
He also wrote that the district and the union have invited a Rutgers University expert to share some strategies to build a “labor-management collaborative climate and culture” to further reduce turnover of teachers in challenging schools.
McKim also wondered why Hudson did not raise some of the matters when he was with JCPS, in charge of negotiating the union contract.
“Much of Mr. Hudson’s harsh criticism of JCPS leaders, the school board, and JCTA is simply specious,” he wrote.
The JCTA’s current labor contract runs out June 30, and Hudson asked Lewis to make sure that “JCPS personnel not negotiate the next contract and a and a professional be retained to handle that task.”
Hudson also stated his support for a state takeover, saying the district needs “forceful and courageous leadership” from the state, he said, adding that JCPS has “nothing to lose.”
JCPS’ success is about the betterment of the community, Hudson told Insider. A poor education can lead students to crime, typically referred to as the school-to-prison pipeline, he said, and employers can’t find the talent they need when people don’t have the correct education.
Hensley, the other former official, in his email to Lewis, criticized the district’s principals the morning after 150 JCPS principals stood at a Jefferson County Board of Education meeting to support Pollio.
“In JCPS you can not give principals anything that makes them happy,” Hensley wrote. “You can only make them happy by taking away accountability for achievement.”
Hensley said that he felt “compelled” to write to Lewis “at the risk of being perceived as that “‘disgruntled’ former employee.”
Hensley did not respond to Insider’s request for comment. JCPS could not be immediately reached.
Hensley also criticized Pollio’s idea of success, saying “a happy culture does not equal success” and that measurable results in learning are the only judgment of success.
“It is not a better district until kids can read,” Hensley wrote.