'Not a disaster': JCPS teachers invite Gov. Matt Bevin to visit - WDRB 41 Louisville News

'Not a disaster': JCPS teachers invite Gov. Matt Bevin to visit their classrooms

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Travis Burden teaches a social studies class at Fairdale High School on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2016 (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News) Travis Burden teaches a social studies class at Fairdale High School on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2016 (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB News)
Gov. Matt Bevin gives his "State of the Commonwealth" speech on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2017. (WDRB file photo) Gov. Matt Bevin gives his "State of the Commonwealth" speech on Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2017. (WDRB file photo)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A day after Gov. Matt Bevin called Jefferson County Public Schools "an absolute, unmitigated mess," dozens of teachers and principals flooded social media with classroom photos and invited him to visit.

"Open invitation to see Fairdale HS in action before throwing stones," the school's principal, Brandy Corbin, wrote in a tweet on Wednesday night. "Love our school, our staff, our families and our community."

Corbin's invitation came after reading about Bevin's comments about the state's largest public school district in a radio interview with conservative talk show host Leland Conway on WHAS radio earlier in the day, in which he called JCPS a "disaster in terms of the educational results."

"They have more failing schools than the entire rest of the state combined," he said. "It is an absolute, unmitigated mess, in terms of the way in which it has been getting operated."

Bevin said the district has "some gems ... arguably some of the finest schools in the state," but that others have "failed generation after generation."

His comments sparked a lot of conversation across the state and particularly among teachers, students and parents in Louisville, since he has not visited a JCPS school since becoming governor in December 2015.

"I just felt like he deserved an invitation to see the great things that are happening in our school," Corbin told WDRB News on Thursday. "We have some really great things going on...it seems that maybe other people don't know much about them."

She wasn't alone. By the end of the day, #NOTADISASTER was trending on social media, with JCPS educators posting pictures of their classrooms, describing what they do each day and asking Bevin to visit their schools.

Fairdale High teachers Travis Burden and Jay Gravette were among them. 

Gravette tweeted Wednesday evening, then followed up Thursday with live video he posted of his classroom.

Burden, who teaches a few doors down in Room 228, offered a similar invitation. On Thursday, he told WDRB News he sees "a lot of home runs being hit every day in these hallways."

"When you say disaster, if I felt I worked in a disastrous environment, I wouldn't work in it," Burden said. "And I have no plans on going anywhere else anytime soon."

It's unclear which schools Bevin was referring to in his comments. Several messages left for him on Wednesday and Thursday through his spokespeople, and through social media, were not returned.

JCPS has seen its share of struggles over the years. Recent test scores show that more than half of the district’s students are still not performing on grade level in reading and math. In addition, 21 schools -- including Fairdale High -- have been placed in “priority” status for chronically low test scores.

But five years after being named one of the state's lowest-performing schools, Fairdale High has made great strides in its efforts to turn around student achievement.  

"In 2011, we were in the bottom 3 percent of the schools in Kentucky," Corbin told WDRB News. "Since then, we've gone to well over 50 percent and we are now considered proficient and progressing."

The school boasts career pathways in human services, offering students hands-on lessons in the fire, police and EMT fields, as well as in heavy equipment science. It also has an international studies and education magnet programs.

In addition, Fairdale will soon have its first graduate heading to an Ivy League school.

Senior Shan’Taya Cowan was accepted and will attend Harvard University this fall. She was raised by a single mother in the Shawnee neighborhood and has said she was encouraged to apply to one of the country's most prestigious schools by Corbin and her teachers.

"I think everybody would say that they struggle somewhere, regardless of what field you are in," Corbin said. "We have to be cognizant of that, we know there are going to be struggles along the way. But we are doing everything we can to overcome them and to teach our kids to overcome them forever so they aren't stuck in that cycle."

Superintendent Donna Hargens told WDRB on Wednesday night that the district works with a "diverse group of students" is "aware of its challenges" and also extended Bevin an invitation to visit.

"We want to be partners with the governor," she said.

Tammy Crowder, an ESL teacher at Hartstern Elementary School, said she thinks too many teachers took Bevin's words personally.

"What part of what he said implied that teachers are not doing a great job?" she asked. "He singled out the administration, the board and busing. I think at some point every teacher, or affiliate with education has seen that JCPS has some great areas but there are gaps that are not improving."

Burden said while some teachers may have taken Bevin's comments personally, he did not.

"I saw the trending hashtag...looked at the story and saw the comment he made," Burden said. "My first thought was to ask him to come visit. I would love to show him what we do every day."

"I teach social studies and U.S. History, I think my students would be pumped up to see the chief executive of the state," he said. "As a public school teacher, I invite anyone to come in and see what we do."

WDRB asked Bevin's spokewoman, Amanda Stamper, if he would be accepting one of the more than two dozen invitations from JCPS teachers to visit their classroom or if he was planning a visit to the district. 

As of 4 p.m. Thursday, those messages had not been returned.

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

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