Education

Jefferson County Public Schools opened up the “Elev8” student learning center at 2500 West Broadway Monday. The center will provide after-school tutoring, enrichment, meals and other services for up to 250 West End students each weekday.

The project, funded with millions in federal pandemic relief funding, is the first of three centers planned for JCPS’ most underserved neighborhoods. The centers are meant to provide additional instructional time and support for students who struggled the most during the pandemic to access educational opportunities.

Elev8’s opening Monday came more than six months after officials promised it would. Officials say the delay was due to the challenge of finding a suitable facility and waiting for the owner to finish renovations.

“You don’t lose if you get knocked down; you lose if you stay down,” Jefferson County Board of Education Chair Diane Porter said, quoting Muhammad Ali during a press conference Monday. Porter represents the West End.

“We will not stay down for our students; we are up to teach and to educate,” she said.

A classroom with a yellow wall and an Amanda Gorman quote painted on it. New colorful empty desks are arranged in small circles. Jess Clark | wfpl.org

One of the learning spaces inside the new Elev8 center.

Officials said 90 students have been identified to start receiving services at the center starting Monday afternoon. JCPS Assistant Superintendent Alicia Averette said staff encouraged students’ families to register them for services if they had missed more than 10 days of school, were failing three or more classes, or were scoring low on standardized tests. They’ll be transported to the center from school by bus, and provided transportation home as well.

“Our priority focus area is academics, but that will be delivered through hands-on learning, engaging instruction, enrichment opportunities and targeted tutoring,” Averette said.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said enrichment, like robotics and music lessons, would be offered by partners who are also leasing space in the facility: the music education nonprofit AMPED, the University of Louisville and Fund for the Arts. Those portions of the facility, however, are still under construction.

“The true growth is going to be next year, when we bring in additional supports,” he said.

A hallway inside the Elev8 center, which has colorful portraits of noteworthy people, including Muhammah Ali, Michelle Obama, and John Lewis.Jess Clark | wfpl.org

A hallway inside the Elev8 center.

Staffing shortages continue to present a challenge. Originally, the district envisioned each center would have a dedicated counselor, mental health practitioner, and enough certified teachers to facilitate small-group instruction. So far, 10 retired, certified teachers have been hired to staff the center through June 30, along with a principal. But Averette said a counselor, mental health practitioner and 12-15 permanent instructional staff likely won’t be in place until August.

“We don’t want to pull current staff out of schools right now,” Averette explained.

The yearly budget for the West End center is $2.3 million, all in federal pandemic relief funding through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Education Relief funds (ESSER). The last of those funds expire in September 2024. Pollio said he wants to find ways to keep running the centers after the federal dollars dry up.

“We do want it sustainable past ESSER funding, so we are going to have to look for some ways to do that—whether that be our revenue increase or we look to foundations to support this role,” he said.

The district’s original Elev8 proposal called for three centers: one in the West End, one in Newburg and one in Smoketown. Pollio said that’s still the plan, but that finding a suitable location has been challenging.

District 6 board member, Corrie Shull, who represents Newburg, has been critical of the district’s timeline on the project. He said he wants a similar center opened in Newburg “as soon as possible.”

“I think it’s not too ambitious to say within three months if we can locate a place and get moving on it,” Shull said. “I think it’s imperative because we’re fighting now not only against the academic regression that was caused by COVID, but now we’re about to face the summer slide. So the sooner the better.”

Pollio said the district is working on locating a facility in the Newburg area and hopes to open the center there next year.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.