Q&A | Newly elected JCPS school board member Chris Kolb: 'Time f - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Q&A | Newly elected JCPS school board member Chris Kolb: 'Time for new leadership'

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Chris Kolb on Nov. 9, 2016 (WDRB News photo) Chris Kolb on Nov. 9, 2016 (WDRB News photo)
This election was really a referendum on the current direction of our schools," says Chris Kolb, who defeated JCPS school board chairman David Jones Jr. in Tuesday's election. This election was really a referendum on the current direction of our schools," says Chris Kolb, who defeated JCPS school board chairman David Jones Jr. in Tuesday's election.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A day after pulling off an upset win over the chairman of the Jefferson County Board of Education, Chris Kolb said Wednesday that his first priority will be to restore public confidence in the school system and help find new leadership.

"Lots of teachers, lots of families have lost faith in the current administration and I think this election was really a referendum on the current direction of our schools," Kolb told WDRB News in an interview. "It's really difficult for me at this moment to imagine Dr. (Donna) Hargens continuing as our superintendent for much longer.

"That’s for a lot of reasons, but the most important one is when we went door to door, people told me that we’ve got to get a new superintendent," Kolb said. "Often times, all I had to say is that I think we need new leadership and they said, 'Well, you have my vote.'"

David Jones Jr.  has served on the school board since 2012 and has served as chairman since 2015, but last month he announced a medical leave of absence from the board until January. It was unclear Wednesday if he will return sooner. He did not return calls seeking comment beyond the statement a local public relations firm released on his behalf Tuesday night:

"Congratulations to Chris Kolb," Jones said in the statement. "It is an important job and I wish him the best. As education is my passion, I will continue to work on behalf of JCPS’ improvement through philanthropy and other channels."

The future of Hargens' tenure in Louisville was a hot topic during the election and could be in jeopardy. Both Kolb and Ben Gies -- the candidate who won the District 4 seat in southwestern Jefferson County being vacated by Chuck Haddaway -- have said they think it's time for a new leader.

And Hargens' support among remaining board members has dwindled over the past year.

At the last school board meeting on Oct. 25, school board member Stephanie Horne asked for an executive session to discuss the 2016-17 evaluation of Hargens, even though that discussion would not have typically taken place until January. Board members emerged after an hour and a half and took no official action on Hargens.

Kolb, 41, won Tuesday's election with 44 percent of the vote, while Jones received 39 percent and a third challenger, James Fletcher captured 16 percent. 

Kolb is a professor at Spalding University and is married with two children, ages 6 and 12. His youngest is in kindergarten at Lincoln Elementary School, while his oldest had attended JCPS until the fourth grade.

"Our 12-year-old attended JCPS at Coleridge-Taylor Montessori for grades K-4," Kolb wrote in a candidate interview form with the 15th District PTA. "We did have to transfer him to a private school after fourth grade. We are hopeful he will return to JCPS for high school."

Kolb sat down with WDRB on Wednesday morning to talk about his campaign and what his priorities will be.

QUESTION: Did you expect to win the election?

ANSWER:  "You never know what outcome will be when you go up against very well-funded candidates. We worked really hard, we had a good feeling. We knocked on over 13,000 doors. When we were at people’s doors, we knew people agreed with us in that JCPS needs a fundamental change. This election was really a referendum on the current direction of our schools."

Q: What are some of your top concerns right now as a new board member who will be coming in?

A: "First and foremost is doing everything we can to restore public confidence in our public school system. Lots of teachers, families have lost faith in current administration. We have to do everything we can to build bridges with teacher and families who are really the backbone of our system."

Q: Why do you think that is? What do you think has caused the loss of confidence?

A: "I think it was an accumulation of a lot of little things. The administration has never really addressed any problem in a straight-forward way. It’s a constant state of PR spin that we get from the administration and that’s just not acceptable when families are entrusting their children with us. We need real answers, honest answers. We need to take a cold hard look at what we are not doing right and make a commitment to do everything it takes to get better?."

Q: What's first up for you to once you take over this position on the board?

A: "My overall philosophy of this campaign has been built on returning kids in the classroom with teachers to the center of what we do at JCPS. We’ve gotten away from that, we’ve gotten too invested in corporate experiments in education that just have not worked anywhere else. What I am really determined to do, put the classroom back at the center of what we do."

Q: What are your current views about academics and discipline in JCPS?

A: "One of the big crisis that we have now is safety, student and teacher safety, related to discipline issues. If kids and teachers don’t feel safe in school, they won’t be in position to teacher and learn. It’s a real fundamental issue that we have to address. We have to make our schools safe spaces again."

Q: Have you spoken to Mr. Jones?

A: "I have not, I know David is ill and I wish him the best. I understand, maybe he wasn’t in a position to make a call to me last night. I hope he gets better and wish him nothing but the best."

Q: What are you expecting in January, are you going to jump right in?

A: "Absolutely, I will jump right in. I think it’s going to be a great dynamic on the board going forward. I think we are going to work really well together. I think you are going to see a really fundamental shift in how we operate. We are going to be much more open and transparent to the community and value community input much more. And if I have anything to do about it, we are going to be much more straight-forward with people about what we are doing right, what we are not doing right."

Q: People are saying this race was an upset….was your race an upset? Do you see that?

A: "I think any time you are outspent 10 or 15 to one, anytime the mayor comes out against you…I think that yeah that qualifies as an upset. But it was not an upset to us because we had a game plan, we stuck to that game plan and we worked really hard. We felt we had a really good chance at winning."

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

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