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JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens: 'This School Year Is All About Implementing Our Strategy'

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens says the district has the strategy, structure and resources in place to implement a strong plan that will help improve student achievement this school year.

But money problems continue to plague JCPS, which has been forced to dip into its savings to support some of the district's new programs. Hargens joined WFPL on Friday to discuss these issues plus more. Below are excerpts of the conversation and a link to the full show.On Dipping Into Savings to Pay For ProgramsThis week the JCPS school board approved a tax hike lower than what Dr. Hargens and the JCPS administration proposed. The move will provide the district with over $8 million in extra revenue but will still be short of what JCPS needs for the programs its promised, like extended learning services for the 18 persistently low-achieving schools. The district will dip into its "fund balance" account for the rest."The board is dipping into that part to provide extra learning for our students. We'll never get to the goal of all JCPS students graduat[ing] prepared if we don't provide for our students who have gaps in their learning. I commend the board for taking out of fund balance."What not take more money out of fund balance to provide more services?"Remember fund balance only works for one year. Once you take it out its gone so you could deplete it. And what you need in a big system is enough money to keep payroll going because we get our revenue at different times of the year. So it is sound practice to have an amount of money to cover things you can't anticipate."On Kindergarten PreparednessAll elementary schools will screen kindergarten students this year to see what their skills are entering the public education system. As WFPL reported, around one-third of students are kindergarten ready. Some elementary schools offered several meet-and-greets to make new students feel welcome.“Some schools have done orientations for their kindergartners and have already done the assessments on their kindergartners. Remember we assess with the Brigance [screener]. Some of them have already gotten their kindergartners ready. What the principals do is meet and share best practices. So there are some best practices where they can learn from each other.”On Vocational Education“There isn’t one vocations school. What they’re called is Career and Technical Education. We have 15 of our high schools, they have five themes that are repeated three times. So three of our schools have a medical theme, where actually students are learning science and math related to medical professions. We have advisory groups that are actually working in the field and giving our students experiences in the field.”On Testing“There are different kinds of testing. So certainly we have the state accountability model that’s required. And the whole thing about the common core [standards] is about critical thinking. It’s about reading, we say, like a detective and citing information and evidence.”“In our Districts of Innovation application there’s really also a part about performance based assessments, actually demonstrating skills throughout projects. And in our Five Star high schools that’s what teachers have been designing with industry, is projects that our students can actually do and demonstrate. So a paper-pencil assessment is just one part of assessment.Do you think there’s too much paper and pencil testing in public education?“We try to make it as efficient as possible, but we want to know where our students are relative to other students in Kentucky and other students in the nation, which is what the common core is about.”