Education

Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) officials have proposed a tentative list of supports for schools in Louisville’s West End as part of changes to the district’s student assignment plan. The current student assignment plan sends most west Louisville students to schools in the East End, with the goal of racial integration. The new proposed plan would allow students in Louisville’s majority-Black West End the option to attend school close to home or travel to an East End school.

“We want to provide two great choices,” JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said during a virtual student assignment task force meeting Wednesday night. He said his goal is that families would “struggle” to choose between the West End school and the East End school, “and that we really make that a difficult choice because it’s two great choices.”

Under the proposed changes, the district would have to build at least one new school in the West End to meet demand.

Officials said the proposed supports are a response to community concerns that, under the new plan, schools in the West End would not get the resources and supports they need. Because of housing segregation and historic redlining, the new West End schools would serve a majority Black and low-income student population. History shows schools in areas of concentrated poverty, with a high population of Black, Latino and Indigenous students, tend to receive fewer resources and have more academic challenges.

“We heard loud and clear, ‘Yes, this sounds like a good idea, but what would be the support, and what would be the programming and opportunities available to students if they chose an option closer to home,'” Dena Dossett said. She’s the JCPS Chief of Accountability, Research and Systems Improvement.

The support could include smaller class sizes, opportunities for college credit and certifications, “robust” extracurricular activities and a device and internet connectivity for every student. The full list presented is below:

  • New and expanded career pathways
  • Early post-secondary learning opportunities
  • Small class size (24:1)
  • 1 to 1 technology
  • More inclusive curriculum offerings
  • Extended learning opportunities
  • Robust extracurricular activities
  • Mentoring and advocacy program
  • Expanded mental health services
  • Wrap-around services
  • Restorative Practices, and other alternatives to suspension

Staff said they are also thinking about offering extra incentives to recruit and retain teachers to the schools. Schools with high concentrations of poverty typically have high teacher turnover rates and struggle to recruit experienced staff.

Pollio said the cost for these supports would be an additional $4 million for each school.

Concerns About Long-term Commitment, Thoroughness of Plan

Task force members expressed a number of reservations about whether there would be a long-term commitment from the district to support the new West End schools.

“My concern would be kind of the long-term, and making sure that the students are provided for, not just, you know, a couple years after rolling this out,” task force member LaQuita Worner said.

Others wondered if the support would be sufficient.

“If there is a majority Black and brown youth presence at the schools, as well as lower income students, do we really believe that the supports mentioned are enough?” Kish Cumi Price said. Price is the Director of Education Policy for the Louisville Urban League.

Worner said she wants more specific information about how much the district is budgeting for each item. Pollio said that information will be included in the full written proposal, which has not yet been finalized.

“I feel like we’re being asked to give feedback on something that we still haven’t seen yet,” Marian Vasser said. She serves as Director of Diversity Education and Inclusive Excellence at the University of Louisville.

The student assignment proposal has been in the works since 2017, and was originally scheduled to be implemented this school year. Pollio said the work the district has had to do to contend with the coronavirus pandemic has pushed the schedule back. Staff have not yet provided a full written plan or estimates of how the proposal would impact schools’ racial and economic diversity, staffing and enrollment.

There are also still many unanswered questions about the new middle school that would have to be built as part of the proposal. JCPS has not yet chosen a site for it. But Pollio said some middle school students could attend school in a temporary West End location while the new middle school is being constructed.

During the meeting, Pollio said 50% to 60% of west Louisville parents surveyed said they would choose a school close to home if they had the option. According to Pollio, that means eventually JCPS will need a second new middle school, and a new high school in the West End.

It’s unclear how the district would pay for those new buildings if a recent 9% property tax increase fails to gain voter approval in a potential November referendum.

District officials said they will have a full written proposal to task force members in the next couple weeks. If approved by the task force, the plan would then go to the school board for final approval.

JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said “a date has not been determined” for the final vote. “There is still community feedback and input to be gained,” she said.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.