Thursday, March 26, 2009

Superintendents Thumb Noses at Help from Department of Education

Union County Schools superintendent Josh Powell is nothing if not courageous. Installed in this faltering school system for only a few months, he was summoned to Frankfort on February 10, 2009 to tell the Kentucky Board of Education what he was going to do to fix Union County’s very poor rating under No Child Left Behind.

Board members and state educators began holding their breath as Powell made it perfectly clear that his plans didn’t include any “help” from the Kentucky Department of Education’s ASSIST Team “experts.” Powell was quite confident that he knew what to do. He asserted his district would make things better for its students without help from Frankfort, thank you very much.

By the time Powell was done, some of Frankfort’s worthies were near asphyxiation.

Now, the Herald-Leader has a follow-up on what is happening in this small school district. It looks like others are starting to believe Powell really is on to something.

According to the newspaper, the Kentucky Association of School Councils says Union students are “far more engaged than they were before.” Union teachers now demand more of the students, and kids are not sleeping through class any more.

As far as I can tell, the school councils association has no reason – beyond wanting to improve education – to back an upstart district against the powers in Frankfort.

Other’s are taking note, as well. It looks like the Herald-Leader’s article was triggered when the superintendent of the Frankfort Independent Schools recently didn’t head down the street to the Kentucky Department of Education to get help in boosting his kids’ performance. Bypassing his in-town neighbor educators all together, the Frankfort school’s leader headed way out to Western Kentucky to see what’s going on in Union.

It’s really too soon to tell if the Union transformation will be successful, but the early signs are hopeful. Union reports scores from its own longitudinal testing program (a testing model the Bluegrass Institute has pushed for years) show very heartening progress.

Powell is claiming that his schools will do dramatically better when the state’s assessments are given later this year. We’ll be keeping an eye on that, and I guarantee a lot of other people will, too. After all, some in the state’s education establishment still haven’t got their breath back after Powell’s February presentation.

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