Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens appeared live in our studios for a WFPL News Special today.She spoke with WFPL's Devin Katayama and took questions from listeners about the first day of school, student achievement and graduation rates, district management, the school assignment plan and transportation logistics, the proposed tax hike, lunches and nutrition, language issues, and more.A few excerpts follow.On graduation rates dropping to 67.8 percent from a level of 69.3 percent the year before:It wasn’t good enough before it dropped, not acceptable and we know that, and certainly we want the arrow going in the right direction. So my gut reaction was we’ve got to do better, and we will do better, but also we’ve got to learn from what caused the drop. We’ve put a lot of things in place, for instance with 9th graders, like academies at the 9th grade level and project proficiency at the high school level. Some of those things are in progress and we won’t know the impact of those until we get to the graduation of that class.Using GPS technology with student busses:I believe the GPS in the busses will eventually save us money, and it gives us information so that we can solve problems. So yesterday on the first day of school we knew when a bus actually arrived at the bus stop; we knew if they were delayed at the bus stop in taking off from the bus stop; so any route that was longer than what we expected, we can actually track the point at which the bus spent a lot of time at the bus stop. So if a parent thought that a bus was coming at a certain time, and they called and said the bus never came, we know where that bus went instead, or we know the parent or family was maybe at a different intersection.Addressing achievement gaps:Everybody needs to learn the same thing and master the same thing, but some students need different time and support given their circumstance, so that’s what we try to do in a system, is try to provide that extra time and support. So the student that doesn’t read well, the way to get them to read well is to give them extra time around reading. There’s no way to teach them faster about how to read. A student from an advantaged background who has read throughout their pre-K years, versus a student who hasn’t had that opportunity or hasn’t heard a lot of vocabulary – that’s the gap that we’re trying to close. But we know from the kindergarten assessment, we know at pre-K where the gap is, so the solution is extra time and support.
Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens will be live in our studios for a WFPL News Special today at 1:00 pm.She'll talk with Devin Katayama about the first day of school, district management and the upcoming school board elections. We'll also be taking your calls at (502) 814-8255. You can also leave your questions or comments here.
All Jefferson County Public Schools buses were cleared from the last bus depot at 6:38 Tuesday evening, ending the first day of school.That beats last year time, when the final students were reportedly delivered home after 7:20 pm. The morning commute was also slightly better than last year, according to a JCPS spokesman.Over 950 JCPS buses carry some 70,000 students throughout the county on any given school day.
As part of our new series UNIQUE, we’re spending the next year finding the stories of students, teachers and families that make up our local public education system.Today we visit with 17-year-old Hannah Watkins, a student at South Park TAPP, one of the district’s two schools serving teen mothers and mothers-to-be.Watkins plans on graduating this year after spending the last two years in the program. She shares her experiences and gives us her perspective of a much needed program.
Jefferson County Public Schools students will begin the year this week with 1,770 iPads in over a dozen different schools. While the past few years teachers have been trying to figure out where new technology and social media fit into the classroom, iPads, Nooks, even phones are becoming more prevalent in the district, and schools have begun connecting the dots between teachers, students and parents.Chancey Elementary kindergarten teacher Karen Stone said she surveys families at the beginning of the year to find out who has access to the Internet and who has a cell phone. Nearly all parents in her classes have one or the other.So, students send tweets and short online voice messages--what she calls "I Can" statements--to parents throughout the day. “They can hear what their child’s learning,” she said.Stone has been on the forefront of pushing technology to the hands of JCPS students. She was recently granted $17,000 to have an iPad for everyone in class and she's the only one-to-one kindergarten teacher in the district.But she also uses Skype, which is a free video chat program.“We had a dad in the military two years ago and he was in Afghanistan and we Skyped with him. And he Skyped with us for Veterans Day and he was able to tell use the different things people do in the military besides carry a gun...and the kids chief thing is they just thought they carried guns and so he was able to show us what he was able to show us on this base in Afghanistan," said Stone.There’s no doubt that online learning is here to stay and it will be growing, said Dr. Paul Lanata, director of JCPS library media services.The role of the librarian hasn’t changed much the past decade; they still promote literacy, provide resources and work with teachers to enhance the curriculum, he said.“But the tools that they use have changed dramatically and continue to change every day," said Lanata.There’s no single prescription for how much technology needs to be in the classroom and each school needs to serve its individual programs and students, he said.But some schools have put a larger emphasis on 21st Century learning.All schools receive the same amount of per student funding. But Lanata said it’s up to each school's School Based Decision Making Council to allocate funds to the library and schools spend anywhere from $0 to $25 dollars per student annually.“I’m sure they’re making some difficult decisions," he said.This is likely why Brandeis Elementary, which is a technology magnet school, is ahead of the curve. The school boasts a green screen and lights, like a small broadcast studio, and the students use Flip cameras to make videos.Librarian Malaissa Bell has posted over 500 student podcasts to the cloud. A podcast at Brandeis is a short book recommendation that exists online for others to see.“We had one girl who took nine different books home, and she took them home to India, and they visited over the winter break, and they used a Flip camera and you would see people with a backdrop of something completely different from what we have and there’s our Brandeis book right there,” said Bell.The students do their own editing with Bell’s assistance, and the editing programs the school uses don’t cost a dime.“The reason we use free programs is because our kids are leaving me and I want them, once they leave here, to have all the skills that they need when they go home," said Bell.Pat Macnamara is the librarian and media specialist at Chancey. Like Bell, her school podcasts book reviews, and she uses QR (Quick Response) Codes that connect parents with a cell phone to their child’s reviews.“Last year, when I had some of my book reviews hanging in the hall with a student picture on them, a parent walked by, he didn't know anything about it or how to work it and so Karen came by and downloaded the app to his phone and showed him how to scan the QR code to listen to his child’s book review," said Macnamara.The idea with all of this is to expand media literacy and to engage students in the technology, which they now use to communicate, said Stone.“This is the 21st century. The students we’re teaching today, they’re digital natives. We’re the immigrants, they were born into this. And so its our responsibility to provide them with an experience an opportunity to engage technology meaningfully and responsibly. And it’s their right to have access to it," she said.As more technology has become integrated in schools, it’s become another way for students to engage in content, and to strengthen their communicating skills, but it’s also becoming another way to connect parents to their child’s education.
More than eight thousand Indiana public school students have been awarded vouchers allowing them to use public funds to attend private schools this academic year. That’s more than double the number awarded last year. Adam Baker with the Indiana Department of Education says the program approved by the Republican-led General Assembly in 2011 allows for 15,ooo vouchers this year. "Next year, there’s actually no cap on the number of vouchers available, so we’re hoping that we continue to see this number rise year by year," he said. The Indiana Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the voucher law by the state teachers’ union, which argues that it violates the separation of church and state because many of the private schools in the program are religious-affiliated. The law also has prompted some struggling Indiana public school districts worried about losing funding to launch marketing campaigns aimed at persuading parents not to move their children to private schools.
The Jefferson County Board of Education will soon consider its largest tax increase in the past four years, as district leaders say the hike is needed to offset a lack of state and federal funding.Last year, Superintendent Donna Hargens and the JCPS board said the district would only raise taxes a fraction of a penny. The taxes are based on property values, and the increase meant homeowners would pay $1 more for a home assessed at $100,000.The more than 3 percent increase being proposed now would add over $20 more to the same tax bill.Hargens told WFPL last year the district was losing over $15 million by not increasing taxes by the maximum 4 percent allowed. Now it hopes to generate nearly the same amount to fund dozens of assistant principals and other initiatives this year.A public hearing is scheduled for next week.Last year, members of the Louisville Tea Party spoke in opposition to the increase. They’re expected to do the same this year. School Year/Tax Increase (per $100,000 of assessed property value)2011-2012: 67.7 ($677 per year)2010-2011: 67.62009-2010: 64.62008-2009: 62.5
Nearly 70,000 Jefferson County Public Schools students are taking the bus Tuesday for the first day of school, adding over 900 buses to the roads.District officials expect some bus delays in the first week while drivers and parents figure out where students need to go after school, but they hope the new GPS-enabled buses will make transportation in the district more efficient. “GPS is going to be used to monitor where buses are and to help locate a student, possibly, if there is some confusion about where the student is supposed to be. But our hope in the very near future is that we’ll be able to use GPS to help us with our routing," said JCPS spokesman Ben Jackey.It hasn't always been easy. Two years ago the district couldn't get some students off the bus until after 9 pm on the first day of school.Last year was much more successful, nearly 30,000 students were home in under half-an-hour and this year JCPS officials expect a similar result, although Jackey said it could take up to two weeks to get all routes on their regular schedule.“Unfortunately that is what comes with having a school district that is as large as ours, that transports as many students as we transport. We’re transporting about 70 percent of our student population," he said.To find the right bus for your child call 485-RIDE (7433) at the available times below.Sunday, August 19, 4 to 7 p.m.Monday, August 20, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.Tuesday, August 21, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.Wednesday, August 22, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens says she’ll use the recently announced decrease in JCPS graduation rates as a catalyst for increasing student achievement.Hargens made her comments during an interview Thursday with the Courier-Journal. JCPS students begin class next Tuesday with a 67.8 percent graduation rate, a drop from 69.3 percent the year before. Hargens said while those numbers are based on the graduation class of 2011, the district should use the information as an opportunity to look at what’s working in JCPS and to continue those efforts.That examination, she said, is already underway.Hargens said while all schools have an academic plan, the most successful schools are already “working on a plan” rather than developing the plan thoughout the school year.This year some of the major changes include the addition of nearly 75 assistant principals in elementary schools, which should relieve some of the administrative duties of both principals and counselors.“It gives parents now two people that know the answers,” she said.When asked what her gut reaction to the low graduation rates was, Hargens hesitated to fully commit to an answer. She told the C-J panel she’s been called stoic before, but she likes to think of herself as methodical.Hargens further said spending more time with staff will be a priority this year and she said she’s making an effort this year to sit down with more employees for coffee.
Summer is ending for students in Louisville and, according to reports, students return to class in the fall one month behind where they left off in the spring. The loss is even greater for low-income students.To combat summer learning loss, JCPS has invested in two online programs previously offered only to low-performing students.The programs will now be used to boost learning during the school year.Over the summer, students at St. George Community Center’s summer program would read a story and then complete a related activity, like cooking a recipe mentioned in the book, or making a poster about a major theme. Countess Williams said if she wasn’t in the program she likely wouldn’t be reading.“No,” she said laughing. “I’d be on the computer somewhere.”Summer programs like St. George’s are common, offering some academic skill building, and also fun activities. But as school districts struggle with student achievement education professionals are pushing for teachers to do more to build on the lessons that were taught in the previous school year.This summer St. George and several others offered Success Maker and Study Island, two online interactive programs made available through the school district’s summer learning initiative—Every 1 Learns.The programs are interactive, but students have to answer multiple choice questions to advance.When Study Island began in February, the lowest-performing JCPS students—those scoring novice on state tests--were the only students using it, and they were getting around a third of the answers correct, said Rebecca Doyle who oversees the district’s response to interventions.This summer, they're seeing gains, she said.“In looking at the data right now, what we’re seeing, is that those kids are now getting 66 percent of their answers correct so that’s a 31 percent increase in their content knowledge,” Doyle said.Nearly 30,000 students are enrolled in the programs, 5,000 joined in the past couple months when JCPS made the programs available to all students.“Typically what we see is that kids that are novice kids--who are further behind--they make up those skills a lot faster than the student who really is on grade level and the work their doing is at their level, so it’s a little more challenging for them,” said Doyle.The programs are interactive, maybe even a little too cute for some older students, but they respond to individual skill levels. As questions get answered correctly, they get more difficult and a teacher isn't required.That's partly why JCPS was happy to partner with several Learning Places, which are peppered throughout the city, and where employees have been trained on how to assist students in using the program.Online learning is also becoming more popular in the summer.Studies from Johns Hopkins show summer vacation can account for up to two-thirds of the achievement gap for low-income students by high school.So while schools need to improve student achievement and summer programs need to add strong academic components, programs like Study Island and Success Maker may make the most financial sense, both to districts and to parents, who may not be able to put their kids in more traditional summer programs.Countess said many of her friends do not attend any summer program, and studies show that only a quarter of parents place their child in a program during summer.“I’d rather be here because I’d stay out of trouble. Because you know how some kids, you get caught up and then you want to do what they do but that’s really not good,” she said.JCPS has spent thousands of dollars for the two programs--for Study Island its $10 per student and over 15,000 have enrolled. This summer, around 500 teachers were trained to assist in using the program, which they’ll do this fall.Whether program usage means better test scores has yet to be seen, but JCPS officials are confident the investment will pay off.To find a Learning Place for you child click here.
This fall's Jefferson County Board of Education election will have one of the largest candidate pools in recent history after eight more candidates filed before Tuesday's deadline.A total of 17 candidates have filed to run for three seats being vacated by JCPS board members this year. Five are vying in Steve Imhoff’s District 2, five in Larry Hujo’s District 7 and seven in Joe Hardesty’s District 4.The candidates run the gamut from well known public figures to a concerned parent who wants to change the district’s student assignment plan.While it’s still early in the race, some have already set up websites, some Facebook pages. But Hardesty said any candidate who wins a spot on the board must get used to being more visible.“They’ll become known in the public. They’re more of a public servant and they need to be prepared to answer and address constituency concerns," he said.Imhoff said he was surprised by the amount of time he needed to dedicate to the board.“Anybody who wants to be a good school board member needs to put in a lot of time and effort which will interfere to some degree with their home life, their employment," he said.The elections are Nov. 6.
During a meeting this morning of faculty and staff at Eastern Kentucky University, President Doug Whitlock announced his retirement. Whitlock, who's spent his higher education career at EKU, says his administration will end at the conclusion of this academic year. Whitlock has been president of Eastern Kentucky University since 2007. This is Whitlock’s second retirement. He left EKU in 2003 after a 27 year career in other positions at the school. He was recalled after then-president Joanne Glasser announced her resignation. Whitlock follows University of Kentucky President Lee Todd and Northern Kentucky University President James Votruba, who both retired in the last 18 months. In the private sector, Paul Patton recently stepped down as president of the University of Pikeville to serve in a fundraising role.
Despite rising college enrollment rates, a new study from Louisville’s IQS Research shows many students aren’t prepared for the transition to higher education.The report released Tuesday shows while nearly every student intends on going to college, only two-thirds enroll within one year of graduating high school.Of that group, only 42 percent graduate with a Bachelor’s degree within six years.IQS Research president Shawn Herbig says the perception of college needs to change. The report shows only 11 percent of students believe college will be difficult and many others aren’t prepared for the financial, social and scholastic issues college brings.Herbig says the sooner college can be introduced into a child’s life, the better.“I would argue that it’s everybody’s job. It’s the job of the school. It’s the job within the schools, it’s not only the educators but it’s also the support staff and it’s also the job of the community and the job of the parents," he says.Herbig says there’s a disconnect between the reality and expectations that students that needs to change.Click here for a link to the report.
Jefferson County Public Schools officials will keep a close eye on school lunches this year as the district implements new federal standards that will make meals healthier.The standards approved this year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture bring school meals into compliance with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This means more fruits and vegetables and whole wheat and less sodium and fat in school food. But students need to participate for JCPS to be reimbursed under the National School Lunch Program.To help meet these standards, the government is offering schools 9 cents more to spend on each meal for free-and-reduced lunch students, bringing the total to $2.88 per student. But JCPS nutrition director Julia Bauscher said schools won't get the money if students pass on the healthier foods.“The fact that students need to take a fruit or vegetable is very important for us to communicate that to the students, and to our staff and to parents so that they understand," she said.In the district over 60 percent of the roughly 100,000 students are eligible for a free-and-reduced meal, but only around 80 percent participate in the program, said Bauscher.Of that group, around 80 percent of elementary school students take the necessary amount of produce, but the estimate for high school students falls shorter.“The biggest challenge is going to be in high schools where the majority of students…I would say 50 percent of them take a fruit or vegetable.”JCPS has already been leading the charge in changing recipes and access to fresh produce and participation by students during this initial year would help the district continue its fresh produce initiatives, said Bauscher.In October, JCPS will submit its data to the Kentucky Department of Education and if the district is in compliance it will receive an additional 6 cents per free-and-reduced meal served. The district also receives more money than other districts for having over 60 percent of its students eligible for low-income meals.