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Jefferson County Board of Education to appoint new District 1 member Monday

The sign for the Vanhoose Education Center
Liz Schlemmer
Five people are vying for the District 1 JCBE seat.

Five people have applied to fill the seat vacated by longtime Jefferson County Board of Education member Diane Porter, who resigned in October.

The applicants include a retired Jefferson County Public Schools teacher, a college professor, a retired corporate communications executive, a health care CEO and a longtime social worker.

Through a records request LPM News obtained application materials for all candidates who applied for the District 1 position, which opened up after Diane Porter resigned at the end of October for health reasons.

The board has been meeting in closed session to discuss the vacancy.

Members will meet in another closed session at 5 p.m. Monday to interview candidates and make a selection. According to an agenda, the candidate would be appointed during an open session directly following the closed session later that evening.

The meeting is at the VanHoose Education Center.

State law requires the board to take final action in an open meeting before a Dec. 23 deadline.

Whoever the board selects will fill the seat until voters elect a successor in November 2024.

LPM reached out to all five candidates to learn more about them.

Annette Bridges

Bridges is a JCPS graduate and 40-year resident of Louisville’s West End, according to her application. She’s currently the chair of General Studies and Early Childhood Programs at Simmons College of Kentucky. She also holds a doctorate degree in education and a master’s degree in elementary teaching, and is a member of the Kentucky Governor’s Office of Early Childhood Council and other state and national boards.

“I've been an educator for a long time. So I was thinking that this would be a good opportunity for me to be on the other side with those who make decisions about children's education,” Bridges told LPM.

In her application, Bridges said she would have a “student-first” lens and “represent marginalized communities and advocate for equitable, quality education and resources.”

She told LPM she thinks the greatest challenges facing JCPS right now are transportation issues and the teacher shortage. She said she thinks a proposal to reduce transportation services to magnet students may be the answer to the district’s transportation woes.

As to teacher shortages, Bridges said the district should offer $20,000 more a year to high-performing teachers who want to work in high-needs schools. JCPS currently offers an $8,000 annual stipend to teachers in those schools.

“Research suggests that … high-quality teachers really do support and promote higher academic outcomes for kids. So we know that that's true. How can you make that happen?” she told LPM.

One specific goal she would advocate for is getting STEAM programs — or science, technology, engineering, arts and math — into pre-k through high school, according to her application. She also said the board and the district should “try harder to involve the families.”

Wallace Garner III

Garner is a concert promoter and retired JCPS teacher. His resume also says he holds a principal certification and a master’s in educational administration.

“I taught in District 1 for over 20 years, and am well aware of the issues — the pros and cons,” Garner told LPM.

Garner said transportation and student behavior are the top problems facing JCPS.

“They are hand in hand,” Garner said. “The bus drivers are quitting and mainly because of discipline on the bus. … It’s a public safety issue.”

As a retired member of the U.S. Air Force, Garner said he takes a “no-nonsense” approach to education.

In his application he calls for a “real comprehensive behavior plan … without deviation.”

He also said he thinks JCPS should work more closely with Louisville Metro Government on the transportation issue, along with private companies.

“Someone out there has a good idea that hasn't been contacted that’s in Metro government,” he said.

Garner said he has one grandson in JCPS.

Devan King

King is the director of operations at St. John Center, which provides services for Louisvillians facing homelessness.

According to her resume, King has a long career in social work. She’s a JCPS graduate and has a bachelor's degree from Northern Kentucky University and master’s in management from Sullivan University.

King told LPM she was inspired to apply for the District 1 seat because she “admired” the work of Diane Porter, who held the position for many years.

King said she wants to bring her long career in social work and youth services to the board. The district’s main challenge right now is “students being able to show up at school.”

“There's so many barriers to a student getting to school and being able to receive a full day of instruction,” she said. That includes transportation issues, according to King, but also mental health challenges kids and their families are facing, deviation from students’ special education plans, and disciplinary practices like seclusion.

Asked what the board could do better, King said she thought there was more room for community engagement and including student voice.

She said she has one child currently in JCPS.

Joseph Nalley

According to his application materials Nalley is the CEO of GetWell Health System, which offers a broad range of health services at locations in Louisville and Southern Indiana.

Nalley is a JCPS graduate and attended the University of Louisville and Northeastern University.

“My interest in serving on the local Board of Education stems from a genuine desire to contribute to the enrichment and advancement of our educational system,” Nalley wrote in his application.

One goal Nalley wants to complete in the next four years is to expand “technology and digital learning resources across all schools.” According to Nalley that would include expanded access to high-speed internet, training in digital resources for teachers and digital literacy curriculum for students.

Nalley did not immediately return a request for comment by LPM.

Gail Strange

Strange is an independent consultant and former communications director for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., headquartered in Louisville.

Strange is a JCPS graduate and also attended Kentucky State University and Webster University, according to her application.

In an interview with LPM, Strange said her background in corporate communications could help the board with “messaging.”

“Because I think they're doing a lot of things well, it's just making sure everybody knows what they're doing well,” she said.

When it comes to solving transportation problems, Strange said she thinks the board is rightly in the “exploratory” phase of studying the issue.

“You've got to learn best practices, what's worked in other places — knowing that each district is unique — and then look at opportunities to come up with solutions,” she said.

Strange said the biggest issue the district is facing is “the number of hours missed in educational learning because of the transportation issue.”

In her application materials, one goal she said she would like to pursue is to reduce the achievement gap between students of color and economically disadvantaged students and their peers by “a minimum of 85%.”

Strange said she has one grandchild in JCPS, along with several great-nieces, great-nephews and young cousins.

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.

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