Education

Officials at Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) say central office staff and school leaders are developing plans for the 2020-21 school year, which will begin in nontraditional instruction (NTI) due to the pandemic.

In a JCPS board meeting Tuesday night, officials released more details about the opening, which they call “NTI 2.0.”

Training & Instruction

Teachers and staff will begin 10 days of professional development starting on August 10. Most of that training will be focused on digital instruction. Staff at struggling, Accelerated Improvement Schools (AIS) schools will have 15 days of professional development.

“We know our teachers will need more support this year than they’ve ever had,” JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio said.

JCPS Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman said schools will also provide training sessions for parents, and that the digital tools and resources students will use will be more consistent than they were in the spring.

“We really have been intentional about focusing on a smaller number of well-researched practices to support our students,” she said. “This time around, we are trying to be much simpler.”

Connectivity & Contact

Officials told the board their goal is to get every JCPS student a device who needs one. On Wednesday, Pollio is expected to announce how families can to apply to receive a Chromebook or hot spot.

Chief Information Officer Kermit Belcher said teachers and staff will use technology called RingCentral, which will hide their cell phone numbers when they make calls to students and parents. This was a privacy concern for staff in the spring.

The technology will also allow each school to keep their main phone line staffed during work hours. Pollio said this will solve another problem the district faced in the spring, when parents got no answer when they called the main phone line at their school’s empty building.

Early Childhood Education

Pre-K students will each receive an NTI kit, which will include 6 weeks worth of “Choice Boards,” or grids of activities. The kits will also contain books, crayons, paint, magnetic numbers and letters and other school supplies.

Teachers will design lessons using the same materials, Superintendent of Academic Support Programs Alicia Averette said.

Averette said early childhood students and families will have live virtual sessions throughout the week, and lessons will be recorded and shared for families to watch on their own time.

Special Populations

Teachers will be expected to differentiate virtual instruction for all groups of students, including gifted and talented students, students with disabilities and students learning English, staff said.

For special education students, Chief of Exceptional Child Education Kim Chevalier said the district wants teachers to check in virtually more often with students and parents than they did in the spring.

She noted that the federal government has not waived regulations around providing special services to students with disabilities.

“We must ensure that our students are engaged [and] they’re receiving services on their IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to the maximum extent possible,” she said.

For English Language Learner (ELL) students and families, the district will begin providing an “NTI 2.0” newsletter in multiple languages. Averette said a Spanish-language radio station will be providing supports to families as well.

The district is upping its translation game through an app that will automatically translate messages between teachers and parents into their native languages. JCPS will continue to provide interpretation in many languages at the 3-1-3-HELP line.

ELL students and special education students may be invited to participate in “learning hubs,” where students will go for in-person support and instruction in small groups. Pollio said the district is still working out the details, but that the hubs could be held in churches, nonprofits or other community partner locations.

He said he will present more information on learning hubs at the board’s Aug. 18 meeting.

Racial Equity

The district is trying to prepare teachers and staff for having “courageous conversations” about race when students return to the virtual classroom after the summer’s uprising over racial inequality.

“We know that those conversations will happen in class, virtually or face-to-face,” Chief Diversity Officer John Marshall said. “So we’re giving training and expectations on not shying away from that conversation in addressing race and racism, inside of our schools and inside of our system.”

Marshall said JCPS is building curriculum around the Black experience, and setting individual goals for teachers and staff to address racial inequity. In addition, all middle and high schools will have a Black Student Union next year.

“This is a safe place for Black students to convene, congregate and discuss their own experiences and understanding, all the while understanding how they connect to their school and do things inside of their school that they feel need to be addressed,” he said.

Finally, students will be able to use a “virtual hall pass” during class, that will let them see a counselor.

“That’s very important because we know the racial trauma, and other traumas that our students are feeling and experiencing, still need to be addressed in school,” he said.

Sports

The Kentucky High School Athletic Association (KHSAA) has moved the start-date for fall sports to Aug. 24, but neither Pollio nor board members seemed confident infection rates would allow for practices and competitions to begin safely anytime soon.

“The way things are trending now, I’m not inclined to be in favor of starting fall sports in person,” board member Chris Kolb said.

Louisville’s positivity rate was 7.45% on Tuesday, according to Mayor Greg Fischer — well above the CDC’s 5% threshold for a “safe” reopening.

KHSAA has approved practices and tryouts to begin on Aug. 24 for many fall sports, including football, field hockey, cross-country, soccer, volleyball, cheer and dance team. Games are to begin on Sept. 7 for all fall sports except football. Football games are scheduled to start Sept. 11.

Board member James Craig said members were being “lobbied hard” on fall sports.

“The acceptable level of deaths…should be zero, for the board,” Craig said, “but if there’s any way for us to be able to pull this off safely, I’ll sit here in my board chair and offer you any incentive I can to get it done.”

Board members Linda Duncan and Joe Marshall both expressed concern that sports practices could spread the virus.

“We will continue to monitor that and plan on having a discussion with you at the August 18 board meeting,” Pollio told the board.
Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.