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.

Brad Yost is a producer for WFPL News and Louisville Public Media.