JCPS Says Student Equity Needs Community Response, Releases ‘Equity Scorecards’

Dozens of community leaders and educators formed groups Monday morning at the Jefferson County Public Schools district office and discussed how the community and schools can better support student equity.

This isn’t a project, officials promised.

Instead, JCPS hopes ‘equity scorecard’—which measure student and school disparities in the district through data and surveys—can be a catalyst to improve inequity in public school culture and data.

“This is not going away. We are following these kids. They are our thermometer,” says JCPS researcher Dr. Judi Vanderhaar who helped develop the scorecard.

Suspension rates vary widely among JCPS schools; some areas of Jefferson County have low literacy rates; and students in some schools don’t feel supported.

These are some of the findings and data that will be used to guide the district in redirecting resources, or to overhaul policies and procedures, all in the name of improving student equity.

But JCPS does not operate in isolation, says Superintendent Donna Hargens.  The community needs to step up too.

“The issues are steeped in centuries of complex social, political and economic factors. Conversations about them involve poverty, race and neighborhood demographics,” Hargens says.

The scorecards—which are similar to a model currently used in Fayette County Schools—focus on four areas including literacy, discipline, college-and-career readiness, and school climate and culture.

Each area sheds light on the complex problems Hargens describes.

For example, students in the West End and Newburg areas are scoring at the lowest level on reading tests. That also correlates to low-income areas of Jefferson County. But that shouldn’t define whether students are successful, officials say. In fact, some schools are beating the odds.

But, for the most part, there are some obvious trends that many Louisvillians might recognize.

Overall, reading proficiency rates in elementary schools range between 19 and 83 percent. Suspension rates in middle schools range between 3 and 30 percent and most suspensions are to African American students. 

In fact, over 40 percent of African American students in JCPS will be suspended at least once during their time in public school and Vanderhaar says one suspension can double the chances for dropping out of school. 

JCPS’ own research even shows that suspending students isn’t effective for many infractions.

One particular group Monday asked that JCPS consider implementing more full restorative practice programs in schools to handle discipline issues. Educators pointed out that elements of restorative practice are in some JCPS schools but students could benefit from full implementation.

A unique scorecard features is in measuring school climate, which is not easily represented in state or district data. But JCPS does use student surveys that point out useful trends. For example, student satisfaction ranges in schools between 50 to 100 percent of the student body and, interestingly, one perfectly rated school (percentage wise) is an extreme poverty school, says Vanderhaar.

“This is an instrument for learning and change,” she says.

Instead of reinforcing negative perceptions, the scorecard should actively challenge people’s biases, Vanderhaar says. 

As part of the scorecards, JCPS highlighted model schools like Fern Creek High School and Young Elementary School, which are both high poverty schools. 

Young specifically blew past its annual goals and principal Mary Minyard says it takes knowing your students and adjusting the schools operations and practices to appropriately fit the students and families needs. Sometimes this includes not asking her families to participate in costly activities that other schools might be able to host, she says.

“We can still have fun, we just have to be mindful, says Minyard.

The JCPS board’s job will be to listen, review and question certain district policies that address inequity. 

“The district has asked the right question,” says District 2 school board member David Jones Jr. 

JCPS is asking organizations and community members to do their part. This includes lawmakers who can support funding programs that attribute to these education disparities, like when Kentucky cut childcare subsidies earlier this year.  

Individuals can volunteer for the district mentor program Every 1 Reads or with Big Brothers Big Sisters, officials said.

JCPS is also hold more equity summits like Monday’s, and is asking community organizations to host some too.

The district has created a timeline that will help keep JCPS on track and officials will review district operations through an internal, informal audit to determine which department will be accountable for what, and where efficiencies could be realized. That will occur over the next several months.

Over the next couple months, JCPS will post the community feedback online.

“Jefferson County Public Schools cannot and will not shy away from this important conversation,” says Hargens.

Devin Katayama

Devin Katayama host middays for WFPL and reports on education and other Louisville issues.

@DevinWFPL

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