Fayette’s Carter G. Woodson Academy held up to lawmakers as alternative to charter schools

Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk, left, and Jefferson County Superintendent Donna Hargens testified before the House Education Committee in Frankfort on Tuesday.
Fayette County Superintendent Manny Caulk, left, and Jefferson County Superintendent Donna Hargens testified before the House Education Committee in Frankfort on Tuesday. Legislative Research Commission

Wearing a coat and tie, part of the school uniform at Fayette County’s Carter G. Woodson Academy, Josh Wooldridge told state lawmakers Tuesday that the college preparatory public school program for minority males has been “a life-changing experience for me.”

Josh spoke to the state House Education Committee, where Carter G. Woodson Academy and other Fayette County programs were cast as an alternative to charter schools, which Gov. Matt Bevin and state Senate leaders favor.

Charter schools may take many forms, and oversight may vary, but they generally are not subject to certain state and local regulations. They may provide programs not available in traditional public schools to increase student achievement.

State Sen. Mike Wilson, R-Bowling Green, has said he will introduce a bill during the General Assembly that would include charter school pilots in the Fayette and Jefferson school districts to address low academic achievement.

But the theme of testimony Tuesday from school superintendents, including Fayette County’s Manny Caulk, educators and others was that Fayette, Jefferson and other districts already have plenty of school choice to help children at risk.

“I believe our public schools are doing an excellent job,” House Education Committee chairman Derrick Graham, D-Frankfort, said after the meeting. He said Kentucky schools could make the needed improvements.

Graham said he would decide whether to call a charter school bill for a vote based on how much support it had. The state Senate is controlled by Republicans, and Democrats have a narrow hold on the House.

Gary Miron, a professor at Western Michigan University, testified that in other states, the intent behind charter school legislation and what actually happened once laws took effect were at odds. He said many privately operated charter schools were profit-oriented.

Jefferson County Superintendent Donna Hargens said her district had many innovative programs.

In addition to Caulk, Fayette County school board members Daryl Love and Melissa Bacon, Josh and classmate Keegan Lockhart, and Carter G. Woodson dean of students Rosz Akins testified about the strength of Fayette County’s alternative programs.

Akins said her students were well-behaved, well-educated and well-traveled, with a group going to Dubai in the spring.

Carter G. Woodson Academy’s curriculum meets the common core standards while providing a program through the lens of black history, culture and culturally responsive teaching and learning strategies, according to the district’s website. The traditional college preparatory program, which opened in fall 2012, serves males in grades 6-12.

“You can do creative, innovative programs right within our own school district ... controlled and held accountable by the district,” said Akins. “We don’t need charter schools. We can do everything that charter schools are doing.”

Said Josh, 16: “I’ve been open to a lot of different opportunities. I’ve been able to travel abroad, around the country.”

Added Keegan: “Going to a better school can change you a lot.”

Caulk said he wasn’t expressing a position on charter schools. He said he was simply saying that Fayette County was “a district of choice” where there were many options to address students’ needs, including The Learning Center, STEAM Academy and more.

“The challenge is how do we provide this opportunity to more students,” said Caulk.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears