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Phoenix School of Discovery's Move to Myers Building a Homecoming for Principal

When the Phoenix School of Discovery relocates to the Myers Middle School building next school year, it will be a homecoming for David Bennett.Bennett is the principal of the Phoenix program. But, before that, he spent 18 years at Myers as a school administrator—four years as an assistant principal and 14 years as principal.“It will be kind of odd,” he said.  “But, I am thrilled because I know it is going to be great for our school.”The Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday to move the Phoenix School of Discovery to the Myers building off Klondike Lane.The Phoenix program is designed to help struggling students in grades 6 through 12.  After moving to Myers, the program will include 4th and 5th grades as well, said Bob Rodosky, chief data officer for Jefferson County Public Schools.The Phoenix School is currently located at two locations.  The high school students go to class at Valley High School and the Phoenix middle school students at Stuart Middle School.JCPS school board member Chuck Haddaway, who represents the 4th District, which includes the Phoenix schools, said he was skeptical about the relocation to Myers.  He cited transportation costs and the “serious concerns” that some students west of I-65 may struggle to get to the new building, which is east of I-65 in Hikes Point.Bennett, the principal, said the extra travel for students and staff will be “worth it.”“Kids, in time, will see that we are going to have more resources," he added.He pointed to new resources like a library, gym and a music room, which were weren't available in the Phoenix program.The amount of after-school clubs will also be boosted, Bennett said.In recent years, the struggling Myers Middle School has gone through an array of transformation models, staff restructuring, principal changes. Earlier this month, the Jefferson County Board of Education decided toclose the school and repurpose the buildingfor other education uses.Myers' current sixth- and seventh-graders were supposed to move to Waggener High School. But those students will now have the opportunity to apply for the Phoenix School program, said Bob Rodosky, JCPS chief data officer.“I think any child that fits our profile and wants to be a part of the program, should be able to apply,” Bennett said.Board member Linda Duncan said she was concerned about the speed of the decision to relocate the Phoenix program to Myers.“What troubles me is that this was just such a fast change,” Duncan said.  “I think it is difficult for parents to make that adjustment and I think it is difficult for kids to make an adjustment like this.”Earlier in the year, the district's plan was to move the nearly 350 students enrolled in the Phoenix School of Discovery at Valley High School and Stuart Middle School to Frost Middle School.Bennett said there was "no comparison" when weighing the benefits of moving to Myers instead of Frost.At Frost, Bennett said the program would be limited to one floor with only 18 classrooms.“I need 25 classrooms,” he said.Myers will offer two floors, a gymnasium, a library and 30 classrooms.Here are the locations for each school. Myers is in blue.

Haddaway, of the school board, also expressed concerns about a lack of communication about the move with students and families involved with the Phoenix school.Dewey Hensley, JCPS’ chief academic officer, said the lack of communication is the result of the “advanced rate we had to make this decision."“This move just made way too much sense in the bigger picture of the district of meeting the needs of students,” Hensley added.Duncan, who opposed the move to Myers, said she things "we need to take some time to plan and prepare the students.”Hensley said since the decision has been approved, “everything we possibly can” do will be done to assist families during the transition.The school district will spend about $100,000 preparing Myers for the transition of Phoenix program students.  The move to Frost would have cost nearly $1 million, according to Rodosky. Students currently enrolled in Myers' Exceptional Childhood Education programs will remain in the Myers building.  Efforts will also be made to consolidate as many as 10 early childhood education programs from across the district and relocate them to the Myers building, Rodosky added.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.