JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens will resign from her position effective July 1, according to a statement read by school board chairman Chris Brady at a special meeting Thursday evening.

Brady read the statement of the full Jefferson County Board of Education following their nearly two-hour closed executive session to presumably discuss Hargens’ contract, which was set to expire on July 1, 2019. Hargens has served as the superintendent of JCPS since 2011, but her leadership has come under increasing criticism over the past year from some board members and teachers. The Kentucky Department of Education recently issued a scathing management review of the district’s handling of student safety and its overall culture, and will begin a wide-ranging management audit next week.

The board’s statement read that “although Dr. Hargens regrets that her approach to implementing the Strategic Plan for JCPS no longer aligns with the Board’s approach, she is grateful for the experience of having provided leadership for the school district for the past six years.”

The statement continued: “The Board thanks Dr. Hargens for her service to JCPS and for guiding the district through its strategic planning process. The Board and the Superintendent believe it is in the best interest of the employees and students to have a new leader guide the district through implementing the strategic plan.”

After touting an increase in the graduation rate, college readiness rate, and number of students taking advanced placement classes at JCPS since 2011, the board’s statement adds that they believe “the district must accelerate the pace of achievement.”

“The Board now intends to move forward with a sense of urgency to find a successor to the Superintendent, and to take actions that will continue to improve the education that it provides for all children of Jefferson County,” the statement concluded.

The amended contract for Hargens includes what appears to be a buyout worth roughly $200,000 for her to agree to step down this summer. That total includes $60,000 “to a tax-deferred annuity plan, or other investment plan, as Hargens shall select,” a buyout of unused vacation and sick days, and $48,000 for her estimated costs related to health, dental and vision insurance plans over the next two years.

Hargens also agrees to cooperate with implementing a transition plan for her interim successor in the amended contract, as well as be available for telephone consultations through next summer. It also includes a non-disparagement clause, requiring that both the board members and Hargens “mutually agree to refrain now and forever from disparaging each other, directly or indirectly, publicly or privately, in any way.”

Hargens was selected by the board to lead JCPS in 2011, replacing the previous superintendent Sheldon Berman, who served four years in that position until the board declined to renew his contract. Berman had come under fire for the implementation of the new JCPS student assignment plan and struggles with achievement gaps.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer tweeted out praise and thanks for Hargens after her resignation agreement was announced.

“Dr. Hargens has been a great partner and I thank her for her deep commitment to our children, their families and the entire community,” wrote Fischer. “She is a classy and intelligent lady, and our community has been lucky to have her. We have strong partnerships with JCPS and we will work to continue those important partnerships to improve our schools for our children.”

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Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]