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Michael Poore Seeks Local Control for LRSD

4 min read

Little Rock School District Superintendent Michael Poore said he was hired to work collaboratively to return the LRSD to local control as quickly as possible, and he urged parents, local businesses and other stakeholders to stay engaged with students’ education.

Poore, in his second day as leader of an embattled school district that’s been under state control since last year, spoke to more than 200 people Tuesday at the Clinton School of Public Service.

He said the LRSD would develop a career education center by next year, should strive to be more innovative, cited the benefits of early childhood education and stated his aim to bring the district’s graduation rate to 90 percent. 

But he also warned more budget cuts could affect district staffing, and said the district must do a better job at the middle-school level to keep students from leaving.

Poore was hired in June to lead the LRSD and came from the Bentonville School District, where he’d served as superintendent since 2011. He replaced Baker Kurrus, who led the LRSD after the state took over the district early last year.

Kurrus had criticized the growth of charter schools in district territory. On Tuesday, Poore said public schools should remove obstacles to learning by seeking the same waivers that charter schools receive. He cited school day length requirements that can be cumbersome to career education students.

Poore began his talk noting that students who attend preschool achieve more in first grade than those who don’t, and he declared his intention to focus on offering “wrap-around services.” He said the district would partner with Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance to help underprivileged students and that the overall well-being of students should be a priority.

Poore then called middle school the “roller coaster years” for students, their parents and those who seek to educate them. 

“This is one of the sorest spots we have in Little Rock schools,” he said. “This is where we lose students” to private and charter schools.

The superintendent emphasized that middle school students need “project-based learning” and urged local companies to collaborate on projects for students. He said local companies must stick around, “continue to be a face” in front of students.

On increasing the district’s graduation rate, Poore said the district’s staff, the community and parents should — instead of backing off when kids go to high school because the kids are at a higher learning level — dive deeper to ensure they’re receiving the best education.

Throughout his first policy speech, the superintendent said he wanted his words to serve as a “call to action.”

At the end of the talk, Poore was asked about the future of innovative programs at magnet schools that were funded by some of the $35 million in desegregation money from the district’s budget, how the district could better measure success and to go into more detail on the career center plans.

“Tech is the lowest-hanging fruit” when it comes to building students’ skills, Poore said. He suggested that the district partner with Pulaski Technical College and local businesses in providing those types of learning opportunities.

He said magnet school programs have done what they were supposed to do, and that he believes there are components of them that should be in every school. 

“There needs to be a place where there is some of those things that allow parents a choice,” he said. “The challenge there is transportation.”

He also said, “A student is more than a test score,” and there are other ways to measure success, but tests are useful as a measuring stick and, in order to get the district back under local control, it must raise scores. He deferred to the state Board of Education the issue of how to better use those metrics.

In response to another question, the superintendent said there had been reductions in the district’s central office staff, necessitated by the loss of the desegregation money. He warned that another round of cuts might be in the pipeline, but said he wouldn’t lose sight of what’s best for students in making those decisions.

Poore begins work at the district after the public and some legislators protested state Education Commissioner Johnny Key’s decision not to renew Kurrus’ contract. 

Critics claimed the change was motivated by Kurrus speaking out against charter schools expansion. Key has said that Kurrus was “the right person to lead LRSD during a critical time of uncertainty,” and that Poore “is the right person to lead LRSD in the next steps toward achieving academic excellence throughout the district.”

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