Jennifer Glasgow was named director of education for the town of Little Rock in April. She succeeds Jay Barth, who left to take up a position as head of the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. Barth inaugurated the position in 2019, and since then much of his focus has been on Community Schools, a joint effort between the city and the Little Rock School District. Community schools provide “comprehensive services” such as dental and health care, tutoring, and family support to students, their families, and surrounding neighborhoods. The first four community schools – Chicot, Stephens, Washington and Watson Elementary Schools – began offering these additional services in September 2020. With a two-year state grant, Mabelvale Elementary and Middle Schools will become communities this fall. We spoke with Glasgow about his experience and vision for leading education policy in Little Rock.
What is your experience in education?
More recently I was with an organization called excel by eight, formerly Arkansas Campaign for Grade Level Reading. The goal of this organization was to get children reading at school level by the end of the third grade, because that is when instruction changes. If you struggle with reading in fourth grade, you’re going to struggle at every level. So we looked at things that were working outside of the classroom, making sure kids were ready for kindergarten, making sure parents were engaged and [encouraging] presence. We also shifted much of our focus to birth to 3 because we found there was little awareness of its importance. The most significant development in a child’s brain occurs before the age of 3, and much of it relates to language and literacy before they even speak.
Insofar as Little Rock residents know what the city’s director of education does, they’re probably most thinking of the community school’s partnership with the LRSD. But there’s more to do, isn’t there?
Community schools are certainly a big part of that, because there’s a lot to talk about. Because of my background, I am actively looking for ways the city can support families from birth to age 5. I think one of the results of the pandemic that we have become aware of is how we rely on our education system for child care, for better or for worse. So I’m trying to do some research and figure out what would be a way to support that. You hear anecdotally of moms leaving the workforce because there was no proper childcare option, but it’s not just important so mom can go to work. It’s important that these kids are on track to be ready for kindergarten, to read in third grade, to graduate from high school.
What is the city’s commitment community schools?
The city has pledged $500,000 [per year] to community schools. But we also applied for and received a Byrne grant through the Department of Justice, with the goal of reducing violence through community rather than police initiatives. This focuses on Stephens Elementary, which is connected to Stephens Community Center, making it kind of a unique space. The grant will provide two social workers who will work with students, but also with members of the community. Then, in the fall, we’ll collect feedback from the community to find out what interests them. As for the future, I think it boils down to what schools would like to become community schools. Leaders at all levels must want this, right up to the principal, they must feel it is a good fit for their students.
How do you respond to skepticism about city involvement? Some wonder why the city should get involved in education.
In anything, especially something that uses taxpayers’ money, you have to show your worth. It’s something I’m working on with the district. We know what we should be measuring, so how do we start collecting that data? It’s not just attendance and test scores; there are other ways to measure success. I think part of it is about engagement, and taking a small step beyond the families being served. So, you know, if 10 kids went to the eye clinic and eight of them got glasses, okay, we can measure that and talk about that. Some of these grants that the city has received, the fact that it’s a city/district partnership is what makes us so competitive. I think that makes our nominations compelling to show that we have that united front.
“Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte.
Are you reading something good right now?
“Parent Nation” by Dana Suskind. It is about knowing how to support families of children from birth to 5 years old, how to facilitate parenthood. There are many challenges for all parents, some more than others, and it comes down to how to get the support they need, whether through policy change or otherwise.
Your favorite place to travel in Arkansas?
Lake Greers Ferry.