JCPS superintendent finalists have dealt with tough issues

LOUSIVILLE, KY (WAVE) - The two finalists to be the next superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools are very familiar with some of the issues plaguing JCPS.

The Board of Education announced Wednesday Doctors Donna Hargens and Christine Johns are the two final candidates to take over for Dr. Sheldon Berman.

Hargens is currently the Chief Academic Officer for Wake County Schools in Raleigh, North Carolina.

She was the interim superintendent until the beginning of this year after her former boss, Del Burns, resigned in a very public dust-up with the school board in Raleigh last year. That's when the newly-elected school board announced its plans to end busing and go back to neighborhood schools. Burns felt that would mean a return to segregated schools.

Hargens took over and led the Wake County Public SchoolS through some turbulent times, including a school board meeting where 19 people were arrested because of discussion on the racial tensions.

"We kept the focus on the most important thing, which is to increase student achievement and the other is important but it's not as important as student achievement," said Hargens.

"I think the community there (in Louisville) is as strong as the community here (in Wake County) and they know what this is really about is the education of students," Hargens continued. "When you let something distract you from that, you are hurting the education of the students that are currently in the system."

The other candidate, Johns leads Utica Community Schools, just north of Detroit, Michigan.

In a letter currently on that school system's web site, Johns addresses dramatic budget cuts her system faces. The current funding cut from the state stands at about 13.5% for her school system, Johns says. She adds that there is more flexibility in Louisville because there is a local funding source through property taxes.

The Utica Community Schools district is considering closing four elementary schools and laying off almost 500 people.

Johns said she believes in dealing with budget issues by, "carefully looking at what is our academic program, which programs that we need to provide to support students in the classrooms and teachers and our core mission is about academic achievement and therefore how do we protect the classrooms as much as possible."

In comparison to JCPS, Johns leads a school district roughly one third the size in terms of student enrollment, although she points out she's worked both in Baltimore and Pasadena prior to her current job.

"What I bring to the table, perhaps that is different from anyone else is that I have the national experience on both east and west coast and in the Midwest in both large urban-suburban and mid-sized school districts," Johns said.

Hargens is now second in command at a district that is about one and a half larger than Louisville's schools.

"There are so many positive assets in your community and your system that really are to be applauded and commended and I would really love the opportunity, obviously, to be a part of the continued improvement of your system," she said.

Both will be in Louisville in June to meet with members of the community.  Johns will be here Monday and Hargens Wednesday.  Members of the public can go to Male High School on both nights at six to meet the candidates.

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