LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Jefferson County Board of Education met for more than three hours in executive session following its regular meeting Tuesday night to discuss the performance and evaluation of Superintendent Donna Hargens.

Hargens, who came to Louisville in 2011 from the Wake County school district in North Carolina, is under contract through 2019.

At the conclusion of the school board's regular meeting at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night, school board chairman David Jones, Jr. asked for motion for the board to recess and reconvene in executive session for the purpose of discussing the summative evaluation of the superintendent and for a discussion relating to proposed or pending litigation.

As of 12:45 a.m. Wednesday, the board was still meeting in closed session to discuss Hargens' performance and evaluation, which will be made public at the June 28 school board meeting. 

The board emerged from the private conference room around 12:50 a.m., came back into regular session, and then adjourned with no action taken.

None of the seven board members offered a comment, other than to say that Hargens' evaluation will be released in two weeks.

Hargens has faced a lot of scrutiny since her last evaluation was conducted in June 2015.

Turmoil over the district’s flirtation with relaxing student discipline policies and freezing salaries for most employees, including teachers, came to a head last month, when more than a thousand teachers, students and parents all-but shut down Newburg Road outside Jefferson County Public Schools headquarters in advance of the May 10 board meeting.

As WDRB has reported, the recent turmoil appears to have eroded at least some of her support on the school board.

“I am questioning the superintendent's leadership...it's unclear to me what direction we are going,” said board member Stephanie Horne said during the May 10 meeting, prompting loud applause from the huge crowd gathered in the auditorium of the Van Hoose Education Center.

Following the four-hour meeting on May 10, board members met privately with Hargens for 90 minutes to discuss her performance.

At the time, board member Chuck Haddaway said the upcoming evaluation “will be crucial for her and for the district.”

The recent turmoil started at the end of April with proposed changes to the student code of conduct that would reduce punishments for some offenses for which thousands of students are typically removed from class each year.

The code of conduct committee -- a group of people selected by the district to revise conduct and discipline procedures every two years -- met from January through March and brought those recommendations to the school board during a work session on April 26.

Student behavior and discipline has been a hot topic this year, with some teachers quitting mid-year due to behavioral problems and what they say is a lack of support from district officials.

The upheaval continued following the long-awaited release of a comprehensive salary review at a separate school board work session on April 26. 

The salary study found that JCPS pays premium salaries to its teachers, which provides a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining quality instructors, but that more than 7,353 positions in JCPS pay at or above the maximum of the market pay range.

JCPS Chief Business Officer Tom Hudson told the board as part of the district’s “next steps,” officials would bring two recommendations to the school board on May 10.

Those recommendations, which Hudson and Hargens both said came from a “Community Advisory Team” comprised of school administrators and community members, included no “step” or cost of living increases in 2016-17 for all employees earning more than $14 an hour. 

Hudson was also planning on asking the school board for permission to negotiate a percentage increase in 2016-17 for only those employees earning less than $14 an hour.

Last year, Hargens received a positive evaluation, but was told to focus on "internal initiatives" so she can deepen her success.

They gave her four objectives:

  • Continuing to improve student learning, with a focus on closing the achievement gap
  • Developing an internal culture that is structured around high-performing teams that values collaboration and fosters an atmosphere of trust
  • Promoting and expanding the capacity of JCPS toward a standard of excellence 
  • Effectively develop and implement a means of improved focus in human resources and on the leadership selection criteria, leadership development, professional development and effective support 

Earlier Tuesday night, Hargens presented her overview of the 2015-16 year, in which she highlighted the work she and district staff have done to improve academic achievement and district performance and to meet goals established by school board.

"The 2015-16 school year began on August 12, 2015, and concluded on May 26, 2016, as 6,220 students crossed the graduation stage -- the true measure of our success," she said.

Hargens told the board she felt the "real hallmark of this year is the collaborative development of Vision 2020."

"I am confident that it will provide us a roadmap to improve JCPS, a JCPS where students are challenged and engaged in authentic learning in a caring and supportive environment—a JCPS where each employee is growing—a JCPS where the infrastructure (both human and technical) supports the work of helping students," she said.

She concluded her presentation by saying she has two priorities in the coming weeks: reducing the district's assessment system to allow room for authentic assessments and designing a proactive behavior support system to be ready for the start of the next school year.

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Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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