Education

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) could have new rules for magnet schools as early as next school year, and a new student assignment plan for West End students by the fall of 2022.

The student assignment proposal would allow all students in the West End and downtown the option of attending a school in their neighborhood for the first time since the district desegregated in 1975. Most students in majority-Black west Louisville and downtown are assigned to schools in the East End and suburbs to keep schools racially integrated. Pollio said it’s not fair that West End families don’t have the same close-to-home options as families in the East end.

“If they are not accepted to a magnet school or program, then they are the only students in the city that have to leave their community. And it’s not their choice,” he said during a virtual public forum Tuesday night.

The plan would allow West End students to choose between a school in the East or South End, or a school closer to home. Close to home options would be the Academy @ Shawnee, or a yet-to-be approved new middle school.

The plan would likely worsen racial segregation in schools. Because of housing patterns and historic redlining, the West End schools would likely have a majority of Black and low-income students. Community members who participated in the forum liked the idea of investing in west Louisville, but were concerned about the district’s plan to support the schools.

“Being close to home is a good thing, but the schools that are close to home need the adequate resources,” Kentucky Alliance Against Racist And Political Repression leader Shameka Parrish-Wright said. Parrish-Wright is also a West End parent. 

“Besides just having new buildings, we need to make sure that they’re having the quality education, and every tool at their disposal,” she said.

As part of the student assignment proposal, Pollio presented a near $92 million investment plan for The Academy @ Shawnee and the new middle school. Most is for building and renovation costs, but it also includes about $3 million for each school for “improvement strategies.” Pollio said those include smaller class sizes, more professional development for staff, financial incentives to recruit and retain staff, and extended learning for students during the summer and weekends.

The student assignment proposal would also make changes to magnet programs, with the goal of making them more equitable, Pollio said.

The magnet school lottery and application process would be standardized and centralized to make it easier for families to apply, and more transparent as to who gets in. Magnet schools would also be prohibited from initiating student exits — kicking students out. These are practices that advocates say have been used to keep low-income students of color out of magnet programs.

The district says it also wants to replicate popular magnet programs, including the STEM program at Brandeis Elementary and Youth Performing Arts School, and create a new music magnet school and a new information technology magnet high school.

LaiEsha Allen, a JCPS parent invited to participate in the virtual forum, wanted to know why the district did not consider opening up seats at the existing magnet schools for West End students while the new magnets are getting up and running. Most magnets are already located in the West End or downtown, but serve few West End students.

“A lot of these children are capable of performing to those levels and the standards for those schools, but don’t have the opportunity to really get in them like those other kids,” she said.

The district was supposed to have a new student assignment plan in place for this school year, 2020-2021. The proposal has been in the works for the past three years, ever since the Kentucky Department of Education flagged JCPS’ student assignment plan as a problem in its attempted state takeover.

The pandemic has set the district back. Pollio said the board will take up the plan in its work session next week, and could vote on it by the end of the year.

If approved early enough, the magnet school changes would go into effect for the 2021-2022 school year. The new West End schools would be available starting in the 2022-2023 school year. 

The district is still taking feedback on the plan. You can submit your thoughts through this Google Form.

 

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.