The Legacy of Carol Haddad; Three Decades of History-Making Leadership on JCPS Board

Some people in young Carol Ann’s life told her she wouldn’t amount to a hill of beans. “I always wondered what that meant,” she said. “Just what is a hill of beans?”

What Carol Ann Haddad has amounted to is one of the leading shapers of Jefferson County Public Schools for more than four decades. At 29 years of service, Carol Haddad is the longest-serving board member for JCPS, bringing a plain-spoken, impatient style to governing from merger and desegregation in the 1970s to implementing education reform in the 1990s and, in 2007, a U.S. Supreme Court ruling paving the way for a broader definition of diversity in schools.

IMG_3947Carol Haddad first filed for election in 1975, stepping into a situation that many would avoid. That year, the city and county districts were ordered by the state to merge, and the schools were ordered by a federal judge to desegregate. The next year there was a two-week teachers’ strike.

During the merger process, the Board composition changed annually. When Haddad joined the Board in January of 1976, it had 13 members, which accommodated merging the city and county boards, plus three. In 1977, the Board reduced to eight members, 11 in 1978, then to its current seven by 1979.

“Merging the districts was much harder than desegregation,” Haddad said in a recent look back. “But most people don’t realize that.”

She described the complexity of merging different administrative structures. She remembers employees lined up outside the building to pick up and often correct their paychecks while systems were being combined.

Carol Haddad was a 36-year-old mother of two, and president of the Audubon Elementary PTA when she entered and won her first race. News reports said she ran on the platform of improving discipline and developing traditional schools. At the time, she was opposed to forced busing, joining many local, state and federal officials who fought the effort.

However, once the integration of schools was upheld in court, Haddad moved on to other issues, and has supported changes over the years to improve and streamline student assignment plans. She remembers the pride she felt on the day in 2006 – 30 years after she was first elected – when she attended the U.S. Supreme Court session debating the most recent court challenge.

Looking back at desegregation and the staying power of the district’s commitment to diversity Haddad said, “It survived because it changed. We listened and we gave parents choice.”

Carol Ann Esterle was raised mostly in the St. Vincent Orphanage. She entered the institution when she was four years old after her parents divorced. Her three brothers were sent to St. Thomas Home Orphanage. Her mother and grandmother alternated visiting the children on Sundays. Both parents died when she was eight. Carol Ann went to live with her grandmother in the West End of Louisville when she graduated from 8th grade. She then attended Presentation Academy where she got her high school diploma.

Haddad does not use her experience for pity; in fact it made her more devoted to family. “I don’t look back and say, ‘what if?’ My family did the best they could do. But I made sure my family was close.”

Carol and Bob Haddad have two children, Bruce and Camille, who each have two now-grown children: Danielle and Derek Haddad, and Parker and Hunter Bowling. Anyone who knows Carol knows of her pride in her kids and grandkids.

She met her husband, Bob, when she worked at the Haddad Law Firm after graduation. “I loved it,” Haddad says of her work there. She must have been good at it because the managing partner offered to pay her tuition to attend law school at night. Instead, she ended up marrying and focusing on family. Bob Haddad still works at the firm and is a well-known and highly respected attorney.

After the first tumultuous years on the Board in the late 1970s, Carol Haddad lost her race, largely, she believes, because of her support for Ernie Grayson, superintendent at the time. She said of him, “I don’t know if any superintendent could survive merger and desegregation.” Haddad credits his calm demeanor and management ability for steering the district through the early years of big changes. Of course, being the top person during such a difficult time takes a toll. Haddad left the Board and Grayson left the district.

During the 1980s, Carol Haddad found her opportunity to stay involved with the Kentucky Association of Secondary School Principals. She worked for the group throughout the decade. In 1990, she returned to the school board after a hard-fought race against a union-endorsed candidate. She was chair when Steve Daeschner was hired as superintendent, and was on the board during the next two hires, Sheldon Berman and Donna Hargens.

Carol Haddad was outspoken in her views on issues, and gained critics over the years. In fact, neither the Jefferson County Teachers Association nor The Courier-Journal supported her every time she ran. When the CJ did endorse her in 1993, it wrote, “Carol Ann Haddad has made a lot of mistakes. But on the strength of her diligence and hard work, she deserves reelection. She’s gutsy, she perseveres and has devoted more time to board activities than any other member in recent history.”

Long-time colleague Joe Hardesty, described her style this way: “Carol was not afraid to speak up for what she believed in. Her decisions were always driven by what was in the best interest of schools and students.”

Haddad served as chair of the board seven one-year terms. She lead the board through some controversial decisions including the hiring of long-time superintendent Stephen Daeschner and tension with the state and her own board over a financial software system.

She had to bring order to the Board meeting where the decision was announced to hire Daeschner over an African American candidate. Later, she stepped into the negotiation with the state over MUNIS – a mandated financial software JCPS leaders didn’t think would work. After difficult negotiation and threats from the state board of education, Haddad assured the state JCPS would comply, even though some thought she should step aside and let administrators negotiate. She responded saying, “We had to follow the law.”

Haddad entered another dispute that resulted in saving the old Male High School building downtown. It was set to be demolished to make way for a football stadium. Central High in the West End wanted a stadium closer. So Haddad talked with Ed Manassah at the Courier Journal, which owned property near Central. The newspaper agreed to sell that parcel to JCPS, and, as part of the deal, Mayor Armstrong made street changes allowing the CJ to build adjacent to their office building. Investors led by Bill Collins bought Male, and Central got its stadium. The Louisville Historical League commended Haddad for a “win-win-win effort.”

For 13 of the years Haddad served, Daeschner was superintendent, a long tenure for urban school leaders. Haddad applauds his focus on early childhood and his support for staff. “He let people do their jobs. And, he called Board members often, and even when we disagreed he was civil and personable.”

Of Haddad, Daeschner remembered her support for preschool, which he shared, and commented on her determination. “She is tenacious in pursuit of what she is passionate about.” He gives her credit for promoting the Every1Reads initiative.

She is still devoting a significant amount of time in education. She is a constant proponent of early childhood expansion and parent involvement. She is working in partnership with the Kentucky PTA and National Center for Families Learning at a JCPS elementary school on a project to engage parents. She is on the Board of the Crimson Mission, a group that supports Manual High School, where her daughter and son attended along with some grandchildren.

Two long-time JCPS principals remember Haddad as a leader who would listen and school leaders could trust.

Susan French-Epps is principal of Lincoln Elementary Performing Arts School, a sought-after downtown school drawing students from all corners of the district. She was also principal when it wasn’t so popular and some wanted to close it.

“Ms. Haddad stood there and said, ‘no’ in front of literally hundreds of people,” said French-Epps. “The parents didn’t want the school closed.”

Carolyn Hayes, retired administrator, remembered how Haddad visited Rangeland Elementary regularly and asked what the school needed.

“She came to my open houses, end of year services, and other events for the children,” said Hayes. “And through the year, she would also call to see how I was doing, and then worked to get things done.”

French-Epps added, “She made it possible for Lincoln to become what it is now. She is part of the Lincoln story. My community is indebted to her.”

“She’s a warrior,” says French-Epps. “When you think of what a warrior does, taking on fights that are not always popular with passion and courage, that describes Carol Haddad.”

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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5 Responses to The Legacy of Carol Haddad; Three Decades of History-Making Leadership on JCPS Board

  1. Justin Willis says:

    Carol Ann is still an active supporter of JCPS and the 15th District PTA. I appreciate her long-term devotion to students and education. She has always been kind and encouraging to me and many others. Nice work, Debbie.

  2. Brad Matthews says:

    Nice commentary on Carol’s long and busy career on the JCPS Board.

  3. Sondra Ferren says:

    Carol Haddad is an icon in her community and a well-respected hero for those of us who have worked with her. Her passion for educating young children is insurmountable. I had the privilege and honor of leading Early Childhood for nearly two decades in JCPS and there were no stronger advocates for young children than Dr. Daeschner and Carol Haddad! She is without a doubt … a Champion for Children,

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