'Unprecedented' management audit of JCPS begins, state will visi - WDRB 41 Louisville News

'Unprecedented' management audit of JCPS begins, state will visit schools next week

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- State officials will begin on-site interviews and visits to Jefferson County Public Schools next week as part of an "unprecedented" management audit ordered by the state's top education chief in February.

According to documents obtained by WDRB News, state officials will be meeting with school board members, administrators, principals, teachers and staff members. There will also be interviews with parents and students and visits to dozens of schools.

Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt told WDRB in an interview that the extensive management audit began about two weeks ago and that the visits and interviews scheduled for April 18-26 are "part of the overall process."

Results of the wide-ranging management audit could lead to a state takeover of JCPS.

"This is a big deal," Pruitt said in a recent interview. "We have about 80 people we are sending in. We are going to make sure it's fair and everybody is very clear about the process."

In a letter to JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens released on Feb. 14, Kentucky Education Commissioner Stephen Pruitt said the state’s largest school district suffers from “critically ineffective and inefficient management.” His assessment outlined 32 findings from a management review he ordered in July amid concerns about student safety, data integrity issues, questions about culture and poor communication in JCPS.

Pruitt has said he would like to have the results by the end of the school year.

Nancy Rodriguez, a spokeswoman with the Kentucky Department of Education, confirmed that KDE is "in the process of conducting a comprehensive management audit of Jefferson County Public Schools."

"As part of that work, KDE staff and representatives will be visiting the district in the coming weeks to review data, conduct interviews and collect information," she said. "KDE’s focus is ensuring every child receives a quality education and are given the tools to reach his or her fullest potential. In order to maintain this all-important focus and ensure the integrity of the audit process, KDE will not be commenting on specifics of the audit while it is ongoing.”

In his letter to Hargens, Pruitt said the decision to further scrutinize JCPS "is not about the leadership of one person." Instead, it's designed to "take a comprehensive look at the entire school district to find any systems and processes that are dysfunctional or broken."

"I understand that this type of action can be demoralizing to staff and students," Pruitt wrote. "On the other hand, this effort can reap many positive results if we work together to build upon the positives of JCPS while creating a plan on how to correct the deficiencies so that all children can be successful."

Pruitt told WDRB that there are some "incredible schools" and "incredible educators" in Jefferson County and added that he didn't want this audit to come across as a "witch hunt."

"This has to be about kids, it can’t be about adults," he said. "There are systemic issues preventing every student from getting the education they deserve."

Schools scheduled to be visited over the next two weeks include: Coral Ridge, Stonestreet, Mill Creek, Frayser, Chancey, Stopher, Lincoln, Foster, Middletown, Eisenhower, Cochran, Atkinson, Alex Kennedy, Hawthorne, Tully, Farmer, Luhr, Price, Breckinridge Franklin, Wheatley, Shelby and Carter elementary schools; Brown, Lassiter, Olmsted South, Johnson, Crosby, Meyzeek, Kammerer, Conway, Newburg, Noe, Ramsey, Thomas Jefferson and Westport middle schools and Central, Pleasure Ridge Park, duPont Manual, Jeffersontown, Liberty, Atherton, Butler, Ballard, Eastern and Moore high schools.

In addition, the district's two alternative schools -- such as Minor Daniels Academy and Breckinridge Metro -- and special needs schools -- Waller Williams and the Binet School -- will also be visited.

Pruitt has said the audit will be "open-ended," meaning that more interviews and visits may take place that are not currently on the schedule.

According to Pruitt's letter, some of the findings that lead to the audit include:

  • JCPS only recently ceased operation of a separate data system redundant to the required state student information system, Infinite Campus, resulting in the gross under-reporting of incidents of physical restraints and seclusion of students, and the continued use of an internal “data dashboard” that undermines accurate data reporting in this area
  • For the period between July 1 and Dec. 31 (after JCPS was made aware of the problem), 213 incidents of physical restraint and seclusion were reported incorrectly in Infinite Campus by JCPS
  • JCPS at times did not respond or delayed responding to questions and requests from KDE staff
  • Data provided by JCPS indicating that at the end of the 2015-16 school year, only 49 of the district's 172 school buildings had the required five core team members trained per JCPS policy to administer student restraint. In August 2016, JCPS staff indicated that the majority of schools in JCPS would still not have enough staff trained.
  • When asked by KDE staff if there was a plan to rectify the issue, a JCPS staff person responded by saying “I don’t know. I’ve told the powers that be and they just say ‘we hear you.’ I send Area Superintendents monthly notices to say, ‘hey you need to train your staff.’ I have never got [sic] a response."
  • Data provided by JCPS indicating that at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, there were 32 JCPS school facilities with no appropriately trained core team members as required by state law.
  • Media reports over the past six months regarding allegations of student-on-student bullying, assault, and sexual assault on buses
  • Media reports and personnel actions over the past six months regarding allegations of JCPS personnel engaged in assault, kicking, shoving and other inappropriate interactions with students, including the issue of whether bus monitors are sufficiently dispersed among JCPS bus routes.
  • A recent majority ruling of a JCPS teacher tribunal surrounding a teacher’s termination, but with larger implications regarding JCPS culture, personnel administration and governance.
  • Preliminary data regarding findings of significant disproportionate punishments in the special education student population between white and black students
  • Lack of evidences of district evaluations and processes to ensure that, over time, the student assignment plan and resulting transportation plan is providing opportunity, equity and access to all students.

This story will be updated.

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

Copyright 2017 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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