JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens: 'We are not in crisis' - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens: 'We are not in crisis'

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JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens (WDRB News file photo) JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens (WDRB News file photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens says the state's largest school district is "not in crisis" despite media reports of "individual behavioral incidents" at several schools.

"I know it is difficult to hear about individual behavioral incidents and to keep the big picture in mind and in a context," Hargens told the community during her report at Monday night's school board meeting, which was held at Ramsey Middle School. "The data does not support that we are in a crisis ... but there definitely is a perception problem."

Hargens said JCPS monitors data daily on student academics and behavior and "in general, we don't see dramatic differences in the data." She added that students "can't learn if they are not in a classroom" and that they "can't learn if they are disrupted" while in class. She also acknowledged that students "need to see the consequences" of their behavior.

"We will always be transparent with how our students are doing academically and behaviorally," she said. "We are not in crisis...we do not hide that we have challenges. We all need to withhold judgment about a particular situation if we don't know all the facts."

Hargens said the district has protocols in place for expressing concerns. She said parents should first start with their child's teacher, then the principal and "if they are still concerned, call the area assistant superintendent."

"Let's continue to talk about importance of what we are doing," she said. "We are working collaboratively to face our challenges."

Hargens said only 15 percent of the district's 101,000 students have been issued at least one discipline referral this year. Of that number, 5 percent have been referred for disruptive behavior, she said.

Parent Gay Adelmann said the district's data "doesn't diminish the fact that some people are experiencing problems and those problems may be worsening."

Adelmann and Erin Korbylo -- co-founders of Dear JCPS, a community advocacy group -- gave each board member a binder filled will about 50 letters from concerned teachers, staff members, parents and students.

"These are our children and every time they set foot on a JCPS bus or set foot in a JCPS school, we are entrusting their care to you," said Erin Korbylo, the other co-founder of Dear JCPS, who also has a son in the district. "These students are not just data. They are our sons and daughters."

Following the meeting, JCPS school board member Linda Duncan said she thinks Hargens' comments only "recounted the issues we are facing."

"The issues are not going away," Duncan said. "It's your actions that solve problems, not your words. One problem is huge if it's your child."

JC Campbell, a pastor at Trinity Baptist Church, addressed the board and Hargens, telling them that "even though we don't see a crisis now, one can happen overnight."

Campbell offered his help and support to the district.

"The talking is over, let's get some work done," he said.

Since August, WDRB has spoken with hundreds of JCPS teachers, parents, students and other staff members who say they are frustrated with the disruptive behavior and what they consider to be a lax response from district officials.

The ongoing issues have caused some teachers and other staff members to resign

From the start of the 2015-16 school year through Oct. 30, 72 JCPS teachers had resigned their positions, up from 62 during the same time period (July-October) of last year. Both of those figures are down from the 92 teachers who resigned during the same time period in 2013-14.

Earlier this year, a survey by the Jefferson County Teachers Association also found a growing concern among teachers about student behavior.

Hargens has previously told WDRB that JCPS doesn’t keep a record of why teachers resign before their contracts expire. She says the district’s “big picture” data shows that the majority of its 6,000 teachers feel safe and supported.

“We do a comprehensive survey every year, and it provides us with important feedback,” she said. Ninety-two percent of JCPS certified staff told us they feel safe and secure at their workplace. We rely on teachers to respond to those surveys so that we can make decisions based on their feedback.”

WDRB has also reported about several incidents at Minor Daniels Academy that have occurred since the beginning of the year. One of those involved a student locking a teacher in a closet, another in which a teacher had her car stolen.

Fights on buses have soared this school year, according to a WDRB News review of JCPS data. Through the first 70 days of this school year, there have been 306 student fights on buses – a 31 percent increase from the 234 student fights on buses last year.

In a letter sent to JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens last month, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad outlined LMPD’s responsibilities to JCPS when it comes to student safety.

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Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2015 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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