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JCPS Considers Reimagination of Several Schools With Innovation in Mind

Officials with the Louisville school district are proposing major changes to a few of its lower performing schools that would extend the school day, shift students around and create new positions.

The JCPS school board met this week to hear proposals that would affect several schools, but are focused on Frost Middle School, Myers Middle School and The Academy at Shawnee (formerly Shawnee High), all of which are deemed priority schools (aka persistently low-achieving schools).Under the proposal for Frost Middle School, students entering the sixth grade in the 2014-2015 school year would participate in a “Transition Academy, which includes an extended school day.These same students would also attend an additional four weeks of school in the summer where they would be individually assessed and given an education plan that would help them become proficient in reading and math by the end of the school year, the JCPS report says.According to last year’s accountability data, only 11 percent of Frost’s sixth graders were proficient in reading and 12 percent in math. That’s compared to 37 percent of JCPS sixth graders and 46 percent statewide.Offering these additional supports should help attract students who live in the area but are opting to attend other schools, the report says.Also during the 2014-2015 school year, all seventh and eighth grade students at Frost would move to Valley High School and participate in a new “Preparatory Academy,” which would also have an extended school year and offer similar assessments. The academy would also hold classes until 5 p.m. three days a week.“The theme of extended learning time is something we are continuing to hear and something we’re putting a lot of emphasis on for making progress," says JCPS board member Debbie Wesslund.All middle school students enrolled in both the Preparatory Academy and Frost Middle would be given supports that “instill the  ‘Growth Mindset’ in all students by emphasizing problem solving, perseverance and creating stamina," the report says.Finally, all students at The Phoenix School of Discovery—which offers an alternative learning environment serving struggling students—will be moved to Frost Middle School and would receive similar supports as needed.The estimated cost for these changes at Frost and Valley is $760,000.The second proposal is to offer a “Cadet Academy” at Myers Middle School, which is also one of the district’s 18 priority schools. The Cadet Academy will be offered as a magnet program that will help students transition to a high school JROTC (Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps) program, if they desire, the report says.The academy would focus on creating responsible students by establishing a framework to improve student behavior and academic performance and create teamwork among all cadets, according to the report.JCPS says the Cadet Academy is “non-branch specific and it is not a military recruiting tool.”The cost to the district would be around $130,000 to get the program off the ground.Finally, The Academy at Shawnee High School would redesign its leadership and utilize a private-public partnership with Ford Foundation’s Next Generation learning program, which is meant to foster more community partnerships and build better teachers.Shawnee would also work with the University of Louisville that will help design the restructuring. The school would add a provost and school administration manager, who would help oversee operations. Further, the school would be separated into three academies (middle, prep, upper) that will consist of a vice principal, dean and teachers that will lead the efforts at each level.The proposal would also extend the school day for both students and teachers and would utilize the district’s Louisville Linked initiative to offer wrap around services that work in partnership with UofL's Kent School of Social Work,  School of Nursing and Medicine, College of Education and Human Development, Brandies School of Engineering.JCPS board member Linda Duncan said she was pleasantly surprised by most of the changes proposed, but the plan for Shawnee left her shaking her head. She says it may be too focused administrative adjustments rather than addressing how to get more students to enroll in the school.“Our challenge with Shawnee is its location and trying to draw people into Shawnee high school,” she says.Duncan even mentioned lifting Shawnee from its magnet program status and allow any student in the neighborhood to enroll the school.Jefferson County Teachers Association president Brent McKim said the district has not reached out to the union regarding these various proposals. Because the schools are deemed “priority” status the schools are not subject to following provisions in the union contract, but McKim says, “the implementation would be better if we were involved along the way because when they’re [the teachers] operating as they’re operating now, at best they get compliance, but what we should want is shared ownership and commitment to initiatives. ““We would love to be a partner in helping to improve the schools and any improvement effort is going to be better if you have the practitioners involved with the design,” he says.Over the next month the district will seek community feedback and continue working on these various plans. It’s expected to present a formal proposal during a board meeting in October.