by Claire Thompson, Opinions Editor
After long hours of student, teachers, parents, and community members three minute testimonies totaling nearly 50 speeches recommending to the state board of education to keep the Little Rock School District (LRSD) and administration in tact and work together as a community to solve problems, the board made the decision to take over our well-loved district, with the tie-breaking vote cast by Board Chairman Sam Ledbetter.
The decision to takeover has left us speechless. Throughout the day, the board “listened to” over three hours of testimonies opposing a state takeover, in favor of saving the LRSD or allowing them to work together to solve problems, while this group listened to approximately nine minutes of people in favor of the takeover.
For hours at the beginning of the meeting we were given a false sense of hope. It seemed like everyone who had a voice was in favor of the takeover. But by the end, we realized that, in a sense, no one’s voice mattered.
As we saw hints of sympathy glimmer in state board members’ eyes and heard the last heartfelt student testimony, we were sure that there might be a sliver of humanity left in this corrupt dictatorial board, and that for sure they would hear our pleas and make the right decision.
We have never been more wrong.
Following the impassioned speeches, the board members passed each other typed copies of their proposal. Typed copies. This showed us that they had made their decision before they even arrived, and therefore, before they had even heard anyone’s opinions.
With this decision, came the realization to the students in attendance was that our voices don’t matter; that at the end of the day, money and power win. And, at the end of the day, we’re still just a bunch of numbers. We’re points on a graph.
The very point that people have tried so hard to stray from has been brought back. We aren’t more than a number. These numbers- test scores, racial makeup, per student expenditures, family income- DO define us.
Senior student body president Dean Patterson was among the several influential LRSD students to share his opinions at the board meeting.
“I’m concerned about a future where we strip down the teacher-student relationships because a board has never taught me a class and a business interest has never taken the ACTAAP,” Dean said.
This whole problem started because six LRSD schools are in “academic distress,” as fewer than half of the students at these school scored proficient on achievement tests. Six of forty-eight LRSD schools are at academically distressed. Meanwhile, the Pulaski County School District, which is currently under control of the state, has three schools in a state of academic distress.
If the state can take control of a district solely for the purpose of solving problems and getting all schools to a higher proficiency level, then we should see advancing achievement in all schools the board currently has control of before they take on more schools to help.
But it doesn’t even seem like they have a plan yet or any idea how to tackle the situations at hand, whereas the former LRSD superintendent and school board had several possibilities and even a proposed plan.
This whole situation is a bureaucratic nightmare.
Diane Zook, a board member helping make the decision, is the wife of Randy Zook who is head of the Chamber of Commerce. In addition, Gary Newton is her nephew. Gary Newton is former executive-vice president of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, an early supporter of Quest charter schools, assumes managing roles for the “Arkansans for Education Reform Foundation,” and is the first president and CEO of Arkansas Learns. The Walton family initially funded Arkansas Learns; so, the Zook family are also huge Walton supporters. The Walton Family Foundation is a supporter for privatizing public schools.
Diane Zook isn’t the only board member with possible ulterior motives. Vicki Saviers, the member who purposed the final motion, is also a board member on for the Arkansans for Education Reform, a pro-charter group, and a lobby that is supported by the Walton family.
At this point, is it even about our education anymore? If they really cared about making sure we improved our schools, they’d give the LRSD a chance and maybe look at things more than test scores.
The current LRSD board had only been in place for around 18 months. That’s not enough time to see any huge changes.
In an analogy used by a current Hall student, we wouldn’t expect a basketball team to get a new coach and automatically win every game and the Conference championships overnight, so why do we get a new board and expect our schools to be flawless overnight?
We need to give the people we elected time. We also need to listen to the people and keep a system in place with people we voted on.
In addition, we need to be measuring schools and students by more than just two test grades. The state takeover has convinced us now more than ever that we are just a number.
One of the tests used to determine a school’s achievement is a literacy test. This seems simple enough, but in schools like Hall, it is unfair to use a literacy test to determine progress. Hall has a huge Latino population. For many students, English is, at best, their second language. Hall has done so much for them, but it doesn’t show because we expect them to take a test in an unfamiliar language and expect them to do as well as students who have been speaking English their whole lives. This would be like us giving all of Central’s Spanish III students a literacy exam in full Spanish, and then claiming that we have a distressed school when half of them don’t score proficiently.
In addition, one of the changes students will begin to see is a tighter curriculum and more testing. Not only does this put pressure on teachers and students, but it also costs money. The testing industry has become a huge business and industry.
Although the results weren’t what we had hoped, the whole situation wasn’t a total let down. This is the first time in a long time that all students and teachers in the LRSD have come together for a common cause. A fire has been lit under our community that has created a passion like no other. Now more than ever, we have been inspired and motivated to work as one group to work towards a common goal: bettering the education and working towards a better education for our future.
In the words of Senator Joyce Eliot, the situation has “lit a fire under this community… and that’s a good thing, something we need to sustain.”