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jermall wright was named superintendent of the Little Rock School District in May. Previously, he served as the Director of Studies and Accountability for the Birmingham City School District in Alabama since 2017. He began his career in 1997 as a fifth grade and middle school social studies teacher in Jacksonville, Alabama. Florida.
He moved into administrative roles in 2001, first as deputy principal of Alachua County Public Schools in Gainesville, Florida, then spent a decade as principal of Potter’s House Christian Academy and schools. in Duval County, Jacksonville and the District of Columbia. Public schools in Washington. From 2013 to 2017, he worked for Denver Public Schools as an instructional superintendent.
Wright earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of North Florida, a specialist education specialist degree from the University of Florida, and a doctorate in education from the University of Colorado at Denver.
Wright is also a college and university instructor, having taught in teacher preparation and instructional leadership programs in Florida, Washington, and Denver.
What is your strategy for improving student test scores?
Educational outcomes for students in the Little Rock School District will improve as we shift the focus of our district to align with our core business: teaching and learning. Our entire system, which includes every department and every individual, regardless of position, must be united in our collective understanding that we are all responsible for ensuring that we remain focused on students and their needs, in addition to the needs of our teachers and the school. leaders who are in front of the children every day.
For students, we need to ensure that their social and emotional needs are catered for while ensuring that they have access to daily educational experiences that are both relevant and aligned with grades/standards and educational experiences that correct and accelerate the academic content mastered by students in the fastest way possible.
There is no magic shortcut or strategy we can apply to sustainably and authentically improve student learning outcomes. The strategy is to ensure that all LRSD students receive a high quality education every day that meets their needs. It may seem simple, but executing this strategy is extremely complex and involves many different moving parts of our school system.
Should your teachers be paid more? How do you plan to move the needle there?
Of course, our teachers should be paid more. Teaching is one of the most important professions in our society, and when you combine all the responsibilities that teachers are expected to carry, it is also a very demanding and challenging profession. Teachers should be paid according to the importance of their profession, and I think most would agree that a starting salary between $30,000 and $30,000 [range] is far from being a salary that denotes the importance of the work. At LRSD, we are working to implement a three-year salary proposal for teachers.
We have already implemented the first phase, which increased entry-level teacher salaries from $36,000 to $43,000 with additional increases for all teachers based on years of experience. We are now preparing to implement phase two, which will increase entry-level teacher salaries from $43,000 to $45,000 with additional step increases for teachers of all experience levels. The final phase will increase entry-level teacher salaries from $45,000 to $48,000, placing LRSD in the top five districts in the state with the highest starting salaries for teachers.
What are the main funding needs and challenges for LRSD?
We have many aging and aging school buildings in LRSD. I believe our biggest fundraising challenge will be in ensuring equity in school facilities among all schools in the district. We have already begun to consolidate schools into aging buildings and move students into larger, brand new, state-of-the-art facilities. An example is Little Rock Southwest High School. We are currently building the new Dr. Marian G. Lacey K-8 School, which is another example. However, we have many more aging buildings throughout the neighborhood that we will also need to find solutions to address. Funding to do this will be a major need and challenge.
How will you work to restore confidence in the public schools of Little Rock after their long period of state management?
Trust and confidence are earned over time, through experiences and actions. One of the main ways I intend to gain the trust of a wide variety of internal and external stakeholders is to involve and include them in district operations, problem solving and decision making. decision. I have a number of advisory councils established for students, teachers, classified employees, parents and community groups that I will meet monthly. I believe these interactions and experiences will increase confidence and belief that the administration of LRSD is serious about partnership and is open to new ideas and ways of operating that will benefit our students and staff.
I think transparency will also help restore trust in LRSD. I spent countless hours meeting with individual members of the community, faith and civic groups, the business community, and a host of district employees before officially beginning the role of superintendent.
Two things are clear from all of these conversations. LRSD has so much to celebrate and be proud of (#1), and LRSD also has several challenges that we must face and overcome. For the most part, people know what we do well and what we don’t do well. It’s not a secret. Why not be open and educate the public about our challenges and also include them in finding the best and most effective way to improve? In other places where I have led, this approach has helped people to have faith and trust in leadership even if they did not always agree with every decision made. My hunch is that this strategy can yield the same results here in Little Rock.
Finally, I will just say that when people see us act on long-standing issues and when they see how well the board and the superintendent work with the governance and operation of the district, I think the public will know that.
What changes do you plan to make to ensure that LRSD produces college- or career-ready people?
I would start by replicating my answer to question #1 and digging a little deeper into the actions/changes that need to take place in order to ensure that we provide an educational experience that effectively meets the needs of our entire student body.
When you think of LRSD and our “end users” (our students) and the product we provide (an educational experience), you don’t immediately think of things like staff recruitment and retention. However, if we as a district do not do our best to attract, recruit and retain the best talent in our district, our ability to deliver a great product is significantly reduced. This is just one example among many that I could give to illustrate this point.
Another example could be our physical facilities. If we have school buildings that do not provide the optimal or desired learning environment for students, their ability and/or motivation to learn may be hindered.
To help me and other members of the LRSD administration understand fully and in detail how each part of the system currently operates, we plan to partner with an external entity to perform reviews and audits at the district-wide during my first year as superintendent. The insights gained from these reviews will help inform and sequence the systemic changes we need to make.
There are some things, however, we know need to change now and we don’t necessarily need to wait for an audit. An example of this is the changes already made to our administrative structure and the creation of an academic division within LRSD. We have moved all departments and functions of LRSD that provide direct support and services to students, teachers and school leaders into a single division headed by our Director of Studies. The goal here is to break down departmental and operational silos so that our support to schools and principals is better aligned and communication between the district and schools improves.
What role, if any, do you see local industry playing in the education of LRSD students?
Local industry has played and will continue to play an important (perhaps more important) role in the education of LRSD students. We embarked on a multi-year journey with the Little Rock Regional Chamber/Academies of Central Arkansas and implementing the Ford NGL Academy Framework in all of our high schools. …As we continue to develop and expand career academies at our high schools, we will be intentional to partner with other local businesses and industries to help us prepare our students for life after graduation from secondary studies. This partnership and framework will also be key to changing the way we deliver educational experiences in secondary schools to better align them with student interests, which will aid in student engagement, secondary school completion and college and/or career preparation.
Why did you decide to move to Arkansas for this position? what attracted you to the state?
There was a plethora of attractions that drew me to Little Rock and LRSD in particular. Each state’s capital will always provide you with better quality of life and activity options than you might find in other cities in the state. This was a huge draw for me – everything from the restaurant scene (I love to eat) to all the outdoor activities, markets, festivals etc. Little Rock has a lot more to offer than most realize.
By studying the neighborhood and the neighborhood profile developed by the research firm, it was clear that there was an ecosystem of resources available to LRSD and support from various segments of the city that all have a vested interest in the success of LRSD. There is a tangible focus in the city on economic development, and having an excellent public school system is part of that goal. The support and partnership of the City of Little Rock – evidenced by its investment in our Community Schools model which has now expanded to six schools – is testament to how invested this community is in the success of LRSD. These are all factors that motivated me to place Little Rock at the top of my list. I am thrilled at the opportunity to serve as Superintendent of the Little Rock School District and equally excited for what we will accomplish together as a community.