University of Arkansas Office for Education Policy

Half Full or Half Empty?

In The View from the OEP on April 20, 2016 at 12:56 pm

Monday night, news broke that Little Rock School District Superintendent Baker Kurrus’ contract was not being renewed.  Wow- that was a surprise!

Tuesday morning we learned that Bentonville Superintendent Michael Poore was going to replace him as the new leader of LRSD. Double wow!

Oh boy- the Little Rock folks and internet commenters started raging.  Some were mad that Commissioner Key was “dumping” Kurrus. The conclusion most seemed to jump to was that Baker was being ‘let go’ because he had opposed the expansion of two Little Rock charters.  From the comments, it is clear that many folks believe Commissioner Key selected Poore because he is a charter-friendly Waltonite who will dismantle the Little Rock School District.


Here at OEP we want to share with you what we see as the 5 facts:

1.   Baker Kurrus wasn’t ‘fired’.  Kurrus was hired on a one-year contract and it is not being renewed. It is undeniable that Kurrus has worked doggedly to address the organizational and fiscal issues faced by the district.  Commissioner Key had very positive words for his work in Little Rock; “He did everything right. He set the stage for the next direction of leadership.” Key also stated that he hoped Kurrus would continue to work with the district in some capacity. It’s not clear how that might work out, but both Key and Kurrus were professional and cordial at yesterday’s press conference.

2.   Many of the same people who are now upset that Kurrus is being ‘let go’ were also upset when Kurrus was first selected. When he was selected last May,  folks were unhappy about Kurrus’ lack of education experience, and, apparently, that they hadn’t been consulted. Now that a lifetime educator has been selected, some folks are still unhappy that they weren’t consulted.  Although you can’t ever make everyone happy, communication about this process could definitely have been better.

3.   Poore is an experienced and respected educator, with a variety of districts under his belt. Little Rock is unique, but all school districts come with their own set of challenges.  Although Bentonville’s student population is different from Little Rock’s, Poore has learned the Arkansas context through his work in the 4th largest district in the state. Although currently leading a large, low poverty district, Michael Poore has been at the helm of a racially diverse and high poverty district as well.  When he was Superintendent in Sheridan, Colorado, 74% of students were minority and 76% of students qualified for Free/Reduced Lunch. See table below for comparison of Little Rock to other districts led by Poore.Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 11.31.54 AM

4.   Academic leadership is critical to Little Rock students, and low achievement was the cause of the takeover. There seems to be general acknowledgement that Baker Kurrus has done some great work in Little Rock.  He has, according to Commissioner Key, “restored LRSD as an organization”.  Kurrus’ expertise was never in academics, but in finances and management. Although some have pointed to improvement in recently released Little Rock test scores as evidence of Baker’s positive educational impact, it is important to note that these scores are from tests taken last spring, before Kurrus was Superintendent.  Poore has not been a leader skating by on high test scores.  He has consistently asked us here at OEP to make data presentations, in PUBLIC, highlighting areas of weakness so they can be identified and fixed.  Recently, despite high test scores and above average graduation rates, Poore was seeking strategies to improve the graduation rate for At Risk students.

5.   Sometimes people do things for the right reason.  According to Commissioner Key during yesterday’s press conference, Poore has “servant’s heart”.  We assume he means that Poore is taking the position because it is the right thing to do for kids. Heading up LRSD is a tough job.  The money isn’t that much more, the Bentonville School Board was not trying to oust him, and as for the suggestion that he was pressured by the Waltons – apparently they were as surprised as the rest of us.  Kids are kids, communities are communities.  While angry community members are pointing out shortcomings (that Poore hasn’t worked in a majority African-American district, or that he isn’t from Little Rock, or that they weren’t consulted), here at OEP we believe that Poore is heading to Little Rock to make a positive difference for the kids.

Annual Salaries of LRSD Superintendents: 2011-2016

Holmes (2011-13) Burton (interim) 2013 Suggs     (2013-2015) Kurrus (2015-2016) Poore    (2016-?)
 $         226,806  $            149,676  $            228,000  $            150,000  $       225,000



When Poore was leaving Colorado, he discussed the skills he felt were needed:  “One, is that you have to have data to create the case for whatever direction you’re going to go, and second, the ability to communicate.”

Responding to Poore’s imminent departure, one of the Bentonville school board members vows you’ll never see a leader who knows staff better and who gets out in the community more tirelessly than Poore.

These are the SAME qualities that the community admired in Baker Kurrus.  Here at the OEP we feel that any district would benefit from a superintendent like Michael Poore.

The first time Johnny Key picked a superintendent for Little Rock,  people liked him so much they are ‘stunned’ that his contract was not renewed.  Why would anyone suggest that Commissioner Key would now make an inferior selection for Little Rock?

Little Rock- start looking at the glass as half full.  

With your support, it may begin to overflow.


  1. Funny Funny….This is a political choice and the people of Arkansas see right through the rose colored glasses! IT is a shame our teachers can’t make a higher salary that is at least comparable to a superintendent plus have free phones and a vehicle….

  2. “Baker Kurrus wasn’t ‘fired'” Riiiight! Keep telling yourselves that. Just because you say it doesn’t make it true. We who live in Little Rock and actually care about the minority, economically disadvantaged, and special needs children left behind by the charter schools you love so much–we know the truth. Your real interest is in making a profit off the education of children.

  3. This is extremely condescending. Shame on you for belittling our school district and city.

    An embarrassed Walton College graduate

  4. Half full or half empty, you guys do carry the water.

  5. We appreciate your interest in this topic and comments on our post. We understand that this is a sensitive issue and were attempting to clarify the issues as we saw them. We are optimistic that Little Rock students will benefit from the leadership of Michael Poore.

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