LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Some expressed relief that their children’s schools appeared to be on the right track.
"Congratulations! We already knew this," a parent whose name was redacted wrote to Waggener Principal Sarah Hitchings on April 26.
For others, the shock and dismay that their kids’ principals were deemed unfit to lead their schools were on full display.
"It is unfortunate that standards set under these reviews are set without considering the myriad of factors that are necessary to do what you do daily," wrote another parent, whose name was also redacted, to Olmsted Academy South Principal Angela Allen on April 25. "I’m not saying they don’t know what they are doing; I’m saying there’s just so much more that’s not considered relevant."
Staffers also emailed their bosses to offer praise or befuddled encouragement.
"This is a huge blow to the Shelby community that has been inspired by your thoughtful and wise leadership," Christine Zickel, a kindergarten instructional assistant, wrote to Shelby Traditional Academy Principal Kim Goff on April 8. "I just can't do anything but shake my head."
Emails obtained by WDRB News, coupled with the Kentucky Department of Education’s diagnostic reviews of 21 schools targeted for comprehensive support and improvement within Jefferson County Public Schools, paint a complicated picture at the intersection of reassurance and uncertainty within some of the lowest performing schools in Kentucky’s largest district.
The state’s diagnostic reviews determined that four principals were unfit to lead at their schools at JCPS: Allen, Goff, Malinda Dutkowski at Johnsontown Road Elementary, and Jeffrey Gossett, the interim principal at Valley High School.
Seventeen other CSI schools in JCPS – Waggener, Academy @ Shawnee, Cochran Elementary, Foster Traditional Academy, Olmsted Academy North, Iroquois High, Knight Middle, Marion C. Moore’s middle school, Maupin Elementary, McFerran Preparatory Academy, Price Elementary, Semple Elementary, Slaughter Academy, Stuart Academy, Thomas Jefferson Middle, Wellington Elementary and Western High – fared better in their state evaluations.
What happens next with the four principals remains to be seen, and the decision is wholly a local one. KDE cannot force a principal’s removal or reassignment based on its diagnostic reviews.
“KDE has no recourse should the district not comply,” Jessica Fletcher, communications director for KDE, said in an email to WDRB News. “The local school board and/or the superintendent must make the decisions.”
If JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio decides to remove any of the principals in question, he’ll be the one to pick their replacements.
Although a new state law getting ready to take effect later this month gives him authority to hire principals regardless of a school-based decision-making council’s selection, Pollio already had broader authority in handling the leaders of the lowest performing schools in JCPS.
Under state law and regulation, SBDMs at CSI schools have their powers suspended and transferred to the district’s superintendent, who can then remove or reassign principals at such schools and hire their replacements after consulting with schools’ turnaround teams, parents and staff.
JCPS Communications Director Renee Murphy said there’s no update on whether any personnel action will be taken with the principals identified as unfit to lead their schools’ turnaround efforts in the state’s diagnostic reviews.
The CSI schools at JCPS received that designation, reserved for schools that need the most help, were identified among the bottom 5% of schools based on indicators like student proficiency, academic growth and transition readiness. Two – Iroquois and Shawnee – also qualified for that designation for having graduation rates below 80%.
Most of the principals recommended for removal – four of seven in the state – were in JCPS, according to Fletcher. The other CSI schools where principals were found unfit to lead turnaround efforts were West Point Elementary in West Point, Silver Grove Elementary in Silver Grove and R.A. Jones Middle in Florence.
“All schools and districts have complied with creating a turnaround plan and are working with KDE on implementing them,” Fletcher said. “Reactions have been mixed, but it’s important to note that the first step toward improvement is acknowledgment of the fact that there are some areas of growth.”
One JCPS principal included in the more than 400 pages of responsive emails addressed the uncertainty surrounding her position at her school.
In response to an email from a parent thanking her for helping her daughter’s development as a middle schooler at Olmsted South, Allen said the state’s determination of her lack of fitness as the school’s principal “was all totally unexpected.”
“I simply do not understand the basis for their decision,” Allen wrote in an April 26 email. “Our girls are growing and flourishing in their heads and hearts, as well as developing academically! I just console myself with the fact that there are no secrets with God. He has the last word and in my life He has always used trials to strengthen me and move me to the next blessing in my life.”
In another email the same day, Allen told another parent that she had “sincerely enjoyed my tenure at OAS and truly feel that the OAS community has created a learning environment that prepares young women for high school, college and life!”
“Every new door brings challenges but great opportunity,” she wrote.
Another principal, Dutkowski, called the state’s determination that she doesn’t have the capacity to lead Johnsontown Road Elementary’s turnaround efforts “a real shock.”
“The thing is our scores are higher than many other schools,” she wrote to a parent April 9.
On the other side of the fence, others shared their relief that the state’s diagnostic reviews of their schools were wrapped up and did not include recommendations to remove or reassign their principals.
“I didn’t realize you were at risk,” Rosalyn Bertles, an ESL English and language arts teacher at Iroquois wrote to Principal Clay Holbrook April 9. “As I take my teacher leadership courses, I see time and time again that the things you do are the things good principals are supposed to be doing. Thanks for your leadership and direction and hard work at Iroquois. We notice and appreciate it.”
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