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Opinion: Debating education ideas is fine, but personal attacks don’t lead to progress

By JIM BROOKS
Nelson County Gazette

Thursday, May 20, 2021 — The statistics some of the parents cited at last Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Nelson County Board of Education have had some people shaking their heads and asking, “Can that be right?”

Some of the figures quoted during the public comment period to the board of education were used as weapons to attack the leadership of Superintendent Wes Bradley.

Superintendent Wes Bradley speaks at Tuesday’s meeting of the Nelson County Board of Education.

Over the course of the this past month’s community meetings, some of the rhetoric — both in-person and on social media — has turned unnecessarily mean and ugly. And at Tuesday night’s school board meeting, there were several community members who called on the superintendent to resign or for the board to refuse to renew his contract.

As former board member Rebecca McGuire-Dye told the crowd, we all know change is scary, and the proposed Community Campus plan IS a big change. And while some may question Bradley’s leadership, it is exactly his willingness to challenge the status quo that made him the right choice to serve as superintendent.

Some of the opponents of the Community Campus proposal have resorted to using numbers, facts and figures as weapons — not just against the plan to bring middle school students to the two high school campuses, but as clubs, slings and arrows directed at Superintendent Bradley and board members.

After hearing the statistics used Tuesday night, I decided to find those figures myself. The place to locate and confirm the statistics mentioned at the board meeting is the Kentucky Department of Education School Report Card website. The website provides extensive statistics on school districts and individual schools. And I found that the statistics parent quoted are indeed correct — however, those numbers are provided without context of exactly what they indicate. As is the case in most things, the devil is in the details.

TEACHER TURNOVER. I confirmed that the website shows the teacher turnover rate at the Nelson County Schools for 2020 was 31.3 percent. Ninety-five teachers left their jobs, but like most statistics, it really isn’t meaningful until you provide context of what those numbers actually mean.

If you read the small print, you’ll learn that KDE counts not only teachers who left the district’s employment, but that number also includes teachers who retired last year, or were promoted to administrative positions.

Given the impact COVID-19 had on schools and teachers, I know that many older teachers made the decision to retire last year.

Statewide figures for teacher turnover was 18.2 percent.

But in this year of COVID-19, and all of the fear of infecction that left many of us over the age of 50 afraid of being in any public setting, can we put the entire blame for the turnover rate on the superintendent? And are there other factors at play in that statistic?

WHAT’S REALLY MOST IMPORTANT? The real question that parents and the board must continue to keep in the forefront is pretty basic: What possible action by the school board is in the best interest of the district’s kids — particularly when it comes to offering equal academic and leadership opportunities to middle school students.

Is it to move the middle schoolers to the high school campuses? Or is there another way to gain the advantages of grouping middle schoolers together in another fashion? What is needed right now is creative ideas and solutions, not slings and arrows.

THE BOARD KNOWS. The board of education’s job is to watch the metrics; they oversee the policies that shape how schools are operated, and I think it goes without saying that the board members are well aware of the challenges the district has faced over the years and continues to face moving forward.

Thankfully, the Nelson County Schools have been blessed with responsive board members who have the balls to make tough decisions when they needed to, and — despite social media criticism — continue to strive to improve our children’s welfare and educational opportunties.

FEEDBACK. OK, well I’ve had my say — now its your turn. Send your letters by email to the editor to news@nelsoncountygazette.com.

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