Little Rock School District Superintendent Michael Poore says the ongoing movement for local control of the district shouldn’t overshadow students’ needs.
Speaking at a meeting of the Political Animals’ Club Wednesday, Poore said there should be a greater focus on growing academics in the city’s schools. He discussed his outings into the community where he speaks to children and parents in the LRSD.
"Our parents, our kids, they don't care one thing about control. They want a better school. They want their kids taken care of," Poore said. "They want to have a place that can be their own and that we just continuously find ways to improve."
Poore also spoke about people on "both sides of the issue" who offer opinions on how to run the district.
"It's interesting that most of those extreme voices...they have not gone out to the community and walked into those schools in and out," Poore said.
During the Q&A section of the meeting, LRSD parent Ali Noland said ongoing activism, including a one-day strike by Little Rock teachers and students, are positive efforts designed at ensuring quality education for all kids in the district.
"The people... that have been pushing for a return to local control I think would unanimously say we're doing it because we care about what is best for children,” Noland said.
The state took over the Little Rock School District in 2015 due to a number of low-performing schools. The district is set to be run by a locally-elected school board beginning in 2021, but will still have significant state oversight until certain achievement criteria are met. During the meeting, Poore said he believes LRSD could get out of Level 5 intensive support, which the highest level of state control, in a year. However, in order to achieve that, he says they need to focus on providing education to students.
"Everytime we go into a disruption, it takes a little chink out of the armor. It slows us down a little bit. And I know that's not an easy one just to sit on and say 'Wow, I don't know. I don't know how I feel about that.' But that's okay. Maybe that is something for all of us to resonate with right now because the disruptions are hurting our flow," Poore said.
Teresa Knapp Gordon, president of the Little Rock Education Association, says local control is necessary to improve education outcomes.
"The district has made a lot of progress, but I think it's in spite of the state board's control," Gordon said. "The credit should go to the superintendent and his team as well as the teachers and educators of the Little Rock School District working together collaboratively to do what’s best for kids.”
When asked about Poore's comments on LRSD leaving Level 5, Gordon says the state could change that designation any time they want.
"The state board makes the rules of what that means. They could reclassify us tomorrow if they wanted to...so it's an arbitrary designation and the state board could remove it anytime they wanted," Gordon said.
In October, the state Board of Education voted to no longer recognize Gordon’s union as the sole collective bargaining entity for the district’s employees.
Elections for a new local school board will take place next November.