Editor’s note: Kerri Jackson Case is a freelance journalist who lives in Little Rock. Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.
Tuesday at noon, the Arkansas Education Commissioner staged a little play in Little Rock. You may have seen it. It was carried live on some local stations. It very much mirrored the long-running Off-Broadway musical, “I love you. You’re perfect. Now change.”
Commissioner Johnny Key sang the praises of Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus. In fact, he said last year (May), when he tapped Kurrus for the job, it was because he was singularly qualified to take on the management of the troubled district. He said Kurrus had done the job (that no one else could do) incredibly well. He’d been able to unite a fractured community, bring multiple stakeholders to the table, begin to right the financial troubles of the district and boldly lead the district in the direction it needs to go. And that is why there was no other choice than to not renew his contract.
If you’re confused, you can join the ranks of many in the capitol city.
Key will replace Kurrus with Michael Poore, superintendent of Bentonville Schools. I don’t know Poore. Friends in Northwest Arkansas report he is a perfectly lovely fellow. I have every reason to believe them.
But here’s the thing. In case you haven’t been following this saga or simply got lost in the soap opera along the way, Little Rock does not have an elected school board. Last year, the State Board of Education voted to take over the district because it said it was in academic distress. We have a superintendent, who reports to Key, who reports to the Governor. That’s it.
It’s unclear who reports to the parents, teachers and students in the district or the people of Little Rock who pay the taxes without a vote on what happens in their schools.
Kurrus has spent his few months on the job visiting every school in the district, talking to the very people he leads. He has made himself available to civic groups and chambers. He has been accessible, reasonable and professional. He has won over all but the most stubborn of holdouts.
In fact, for the first time, he made public school a real possibility for our family. After a series of conversations with Kurrus, we were seriously considering moving our son to public school. He makes a compelling argument. It’s not just salesmanship, though he is very good at that.
The latest test scores came out last week. Things are looking good. Certainly not perfect, but good.
Key said he made the decision. He said in the press conference that Hutchinson was on board. The two men who made this decision only moved to Little Rock in the past couple of years when their government jobs brought them here. They’ve decided to take the closest thing to a consensus leader we could hope for right now and replace him with a stranger without explanation.
For the foreseeable future, my family (and many other professional families like us) won’t make the move to public schools. Mostly because we have no idea who the leadership will be from one year to the next.
These aren’t the only outsiders who want to dictate to the fine people of Little Rock what’s best for us. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department is doing a bang up job of that as well.
Another in a string of community meetings has been scheduled by the Highway Department for later this month to try and convince us that stretching 10 lanes of Interstate across downtown Little Rock is a good idea. So far, no one seems to be buying what they’re selling. This scheme will absolutely ruin what business and community leaders have spent decades building in the heart of the city.
There is no study available to show it will improve our traffic problems in that area. In fact, multiple studies show it will make them worse. Scott Bennett, the director of the Highway Department, lives in Bryant. His public comments don’t show he is overly concerned about downtown Little Rock residents and businesses.
I think people should live where they want to. We have friends all over the state. They are very happy in their respective locations. There are certainly selling points to any number of communities in Arkansas.
My husband and I moved to Little Rock 16 years ago. We’ve made it our home. We’re raising our son here. We like living here. We have an amazing set of friends, church and community.
We are really tired of being told how terrible our town is by people who don’t live here, and how they think they can “fix” it. There are absolutely areas where we can improve. Nothing is ever perfect. If you don’t want to live here, don’t. But just so you know, crime is down. Home sales are up. School test scores are improving. Downtown is flourishing.
And there’s some really good theater available. Fortunately, not all of it happens in press conferences.