Education

Next week, Jefferson County Public School students will begin the school year, and it’ll be the first year for the district with an official race and equity plan in place. Approved in May by the district, the new policy aims to address some of the inequities within the public school district, including achievement gaps between white students and students of color, disparities in the way black students are disciplined and making sure the JCPS teacher workforce is reflective of the student population.

Students of color make up slightly more than 50 percent of the district’s student population.  Eighty-four percent of the district’s more than 6,000 teachers are white.

“Black students have the lowest rate of proficiency, have the lowest rate of college and career readiness and that even when we account for lunch status,” said JCPS community data specialist Krista Drescher-Burke, referring to the number of students who receive free or reduced-cost lunch because of their income. “So we just can’t say it’s poverty that is accounting for the disparities,”

Some of the district’s academic disparities were cited for the reason of Interim Commissioner Wayne Lewis recommendation for state management.

This summer, JCPS has been getting the word out to the community about the new policy. On Monday night,  dozens sat in the gymnasium in Maupin Elementary to learn more about the district’s plans.

The policy says it will develop a curriculum that reflects the contributions of people of color in this country. At the meeting, Leora Jackson wanted to know more about this planned diversity in curriculum and if parents could be more involved in creating it.

“What books are they going to be reading?” Jackson asked. “What black history plays are they going to be looking at? What movies?”

Jackson just moved to Louisville from Arkansas. Her son is in the fourth grade.

For attendee Edith Yarbrough, seeing the stark disparities between black and white students — such as reading proficiency for black elementary students lagging white students by at least twenty percentage points — is nothing new. But she does worry about what those scores mean for the city’s future.

“I want our city to be able to function the same level as other cities such as D.C., New York City,” said Yarbrough. “I mean Louisville is coming up so if we’re going to come up, we know we’re going to have to educate our workforce. Particularly our students of color.”

But on the eve of another school year, many attendees’ questions about how the policy will be implemented were left unanswered.

“It was like not answered because they’re still in the process of trying to figure it out,” Jackson said. “So basically it’s [the policy] still new and I understand; I’m new to the community as well.”

While many parts of the plan are still being worked out, each school is currently working to develop its own equity plan. These plans are devised by principals and are based on demographic data of students by race and class.  Data also includes suspension rates and literacy proficiency by race and class. These individual school equity plans are due in September.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.