Merely saying “it’s been a busy year at the Kentucky Department of Education” would be an understatement. After the Kentucky Board of Education (KBE) named Wayne D. Lewis Jr. interim commissioner on April 17, 2018, the former middle school special education teacher turned education policy expert embarked upon a whirlwind year of action aimed at raising the bar for student learning and achievement and closing longstanding and even widening gaps between groups of Kentucky students.
This is the first of a six-part series detailing the work and achievements of the Kentucky Department of Education during the past year. To see the whole report, view this pdf.
WORK WITH DISTRICTS FACING CHALLENGES
Work for Lewis began immediately with a focus on the state’s largest district – Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS). The district had undergone a management review and a management audit in 2017 following an investigation into student safety and the improper use of restraint and seclusion for students with disabilities.
While the audit had been substantially completed by the fall of 2017, the previous commissioner had not yet released the findings of the audit or made a recommendation on next steps for the district as required by Kentucky law.
After reviewing the audit findings and personally visiting the district to interview district leaders and local school board members, Lewis recommended that JCPS become a state-managed district two weeks after becoming interim commissioner. This recommendation was based on more than 30 deficiencies identified in the audit, including but not limited to, significant deficiencies in the areas of early childhood education, seclusion and restraint of students, and special education.
After negotiation between the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) and the JCPS board, parties settled upon an agreement that includes a collaboratively developed and KDE-approved corrective action plan addressing the areas of deficiency identified in the audit, and ongoing monitoring and support from KDE.
Additionally, the unprecedented agreement gives the commissioner the opportunity to provide feedback on any board policy or administrative procedure that could impact the corrective action plan in the areas of special education, restraint and seclusion of students, early childhood education, career and technical education and facilities. The agreement also grants the commissioner the opportunity to approve or disapprove board policy and administrative procedure in those areas.
Menifee County Public Schools, which had been under state management for a number of years, has progressed significantly. The commissioner recently hired a new superintendent for the district, Tim Spencer, who is the first superintendent since the district went into state management. Based on the findings of the district’s most recent audit, Lewis recommended and the board approved moving the district from state management to state assistance – restoring the authority of the local board and the district superintendent.
Following recent district audits conducted by the Office of Continuous Support and Improvement, Lewis also has recommended to the KBE that Breathitt County public schools move from state management to state assistance, and that West Point Independent become a state-managed district.