Keeping Montgomery Countians In The Deep Dark

If you’re following the Montgomery County Schools mess, you already know embattled superintendent Joshua Powell is on a misinformation campaign. That’s not biased reporting — it’s fact. Feel free to read up on the man yourself.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s dig in to the “myth busters” column his local newspaper is allowing him to publish. As if what he has to say is the gospel.


In his latest million-word-long diatribe, Powell just… good god, read it for yourself. He’s doing himself no favors knowing that he’s about to be fired in January:

More than three years ago, I became employed as superintendent of the Montgomery County School System and was very excited to embark on the mission of improving the school district. I had gained superintendent experience at the Cloverport Independent School District and the Union County School District, and I anticipated that Montgomery County would have similar needs and issues that had prevented the district from performing at high levels. My beliefs were quickly substantiated and I Realized that, even though the district had tremendous potential to be among the elite, a fight would most certainly ensue.

The barriers to public education most often cited by school leaders are not at all the real issues that prevent schools and districts from achieving. Many report poverty, minority populations, poor parenting and lack of of funding and resources to be the primary barriers that contribute to lackluster performance. Yet, there are several schools throughout the United States with the same alleged barriers that perform exceptionally well.

There are those who espouse that student achievement cannot dramatically increase in a short period of time, unless cheating or manipulation of some sort occurs. In my view, those that are critical and cite conspiracy as the reason for improvement are either unaware of the actual barriers in public education or, for those that are employed in a public school district, are too afraid to address the real barriers for fear of consequences including but not limited to job loss, humiliation and personal attacks.

It would be no surprise to those that are employed in the private sector that personnel, especially leadership, is the absolute and undeniable key to success. It should also come as no surprise that this concept is the same for public education; and the fact of the matter is that school districts must employ top-notch teachers, principals, bus drivers, custodians, etc., to achieve excellence. The same concept applies to sports — you must have the best athletes and coaching to win. Could you imagine trying to improve a losing collegiate or professional basketball team without some personnel changes? Why is this concept so difficult to embrace in public education?

The Commonwealth of Kentucky has 173 public school districts located in 120 counties. In most of the counties the school district is the largest employer. Unlike other public entities where board members are appointed, school district boards in the commonwealth are comprised of five elected board members who, by statute, provide general oversight of district operations (budgets, allocations, school tax rates, setting policy, hiring a superintendent and attorney). Also, these same elected board members, by statute, are not to have any influence on the hiring, firing and oversight of employees. So, as it is often reported, the public school district becomes a community organization.

Although the community-school designation sounds appealing and consistent with how a local school district should be operated, especially with regard to transparency, it can often lead to a plethora of issues. Imagine if Toyota Motor Company, or any other high-performing organization, operated under the same concept with personnel changes showcased in the local newspaper, and gossip and political agendas driving the organization. Instead, these companies are under a performance-drive, bottom-line concept that seeks to optimize profits; otherwise, they would cease to exist. Along with this, successful organizations recognize the value of the consumer and, also, the critical nature of high quality employees.

In high-performing organizations, consumers and employees represent and dictate the actions of leadership and, make no mistake—all decisions are data driven and specific to the product. And, when the product fails to adequately perform to the established set of high standards, both consumers and employees express extreme dissatisfaction over the quantifiable bottom line of industry and accept absolutely no excuses. Unfortunately, the same expectations are often not applied to public education (unless the school district is already high-performing). In low performing districts, consumers of public education tend to be more tolerant of poor performing schools and cite excuses including but not limited to the belief that test scores have little meaning.

The bottom line is that in public education, student achievement, as measured by test scores, absolutely has value and, moreover, test scores are significantly related to every positive aspect of school functioning (student behavior, teacher behavior, morale, efficiency, etc.). Student achievement is the organizational product of a school and, just like successful, private organizations, the activities of employees have to be directed toward the organizational product: the greater the relationship the better the organization performs. Finally, the real barriers of public education consist of a minority of cantankerous adults — not children, poverty, parents or money.

Now that you’re exhausted from reading those million words (he could have said everything in two paragraphs), you realize the man is in full-on CYA mode. Blaming everyone else for his self-made problems. Trying to compare public schools to a private corporation (HELLO?). Attempting to persuade people to believe schools are merely a factory to push kids out as quickly as possible. With a quick blurb about how wrong it is to point out that his testing gains are not, in fact, based in reality as the documented government evidence has repeatedly proved.

But he’s not finished! Powell continues for pages and pages:

While the above appears to be common sense, misinformation is often presented by disgruntled people who were expected to adhere to a higher standard. It has been said that public education is run by those that show up at meetings and that has certainly been the case in our school district for the past three years. Disgruntled people have provided much misinformation at board meetings and via social media. In turn, the public events are reported to local newspapers and in a short amount of time, the few deceiving individuals have become the voice of both the community and school district.

As the educators of Montgomery County have shown, a poor-performing school district case to a high-performing school district in a relatively short period of time. The district had a history of lackluster performance and was in the bottom 24th percentile in 2011 and climbed to the 91st percentile in only three years. Let me be clear in stating that the majority of this success was a result of personnel decisions that were made, empowerment of educators, and the many educators that demonstrated an undeniable belief in and courage to implement the vision. This occurred despite the well-known and all-too-frequent barriers in public education—disgruntled adults, bureaucracy and politics.

Even though we have made extraordinary improvements in nearly every area of school functioning, some cite that the community has received a “black eye” from negative press—negativity that was caused by people who were asked to perform at a higher standard with the community’s children. I find this disheartening and am astonished that actions that have produced a better school for kids and teachers are even remotely considered to be more embarrassing than having a low-performing school district. Furthermore, the educators and students have have worked extremely hard to produce these phenomenal results are to be revered and those that have been allowed to discredit their work are, to put it mildly, dishonorable.

I offer these comments in an effort to empower the appropriate people in Montgomery County so as to hold the district accountable for the continuation towards excellence in education. The educators and students of this high performing district deserve nothing less.

Joshua E. Powell, Ph.D.

Yep. Still blaming “disgruntled employees” for all that’s gone wrong, ignoring the reckless spending, illegal nepotism, retaliation, bullying, and his own good old boy back scratching.

He continues to refer to conspiracies, as if government documents, his own records, police data, numerous lawsuits, audio recordings, video footage and countless scandals are imaginary.

He goes on for several more pages, mostly focusing on test scores as he did in a recent email blast to all district employees.

Rather that flood you with all of it, let’s take a look at a few tidbits:

1. Test Scores

Myth— You can’t compare this year’s test results with previous test results.

False. Actually, if raw scores of this test were compared to the last test you would absolutely be unable to compare, which, according to Commissioner of Education Dr. Terry Holliday, was specifically the rationale for using percentile rank.


In can be confusing, especially when Kentucky Dept. of Education (KDE) representatives have indicated that you are unable to compare each year’s test scores, but let me assure you that statistically you are absolutely able to compare each year. (emphasis ours) KDE simply reports that you cannot compare last year’s percentile rank because they changed it for some very complicated and irrelevant reason.

Catch that? He claims test scores can be compared but… kills his argument by revealing that the entirety of the Kentucky Department of Education says he’s wrong. Because he is.


2. Test Scores-Program Review
Myth—The district was able to self-score on the program review and inflated the test scores.

False. In order to achieve a more balanced testing system, program review was added to the commonwealth’s testing system.

Thankfully, you already know the district did self-score and you already know there’s no guarantee the district’s actions will be audited or reviewed at any point.

This whole mess is bizarre. Giving up huge portions of each newspaper to allow the superintendent to spin together whatever he wishes. Never bothering to fact-check or do their own reporting. Never questioning, never serving the public, never standing up for the powerless but allowing the powerful to operate with absolutely no checks.

This was the best part of the whole thing last week:


The paper couldn’t publish opinions from the people it is supposed to serve because it gave all the free space to the man the entire operation refuses to hold accountable.

And you wonder why so many small towns in Kentucky are being held back.