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JCPS officials unveil new school choice proposal

The main focus of the new plan according to JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio is to take the burden of diversity off of west Louisville residents.
The main focus of the new plan according to JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio is to take the burden of diversity off of west Louisville residents.

Jefferson County Public Schools officials have unveiled their new plan for school assignment. 

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district is hoping to address the burden on Black students and their families under the current school assignment strategy. 

“For the past 40 years–and I’ve said this many times, and I’ve talked a lot about the problems with student assignment–the onus of diversity has been placed on the shoulders of the students of west Louisville,” Pollio said at a press conference Tuesday.

The new plan would impact families living in the “choice zone,” most directly. The zone refers mainly to neighborhoods in west Louisville. It would give families in that zone the option to attend a nearby school or one outside of their neighborhood.

“What this proposal does is give families a choice to attend close to home, so the burden of diversity is not just on students in the choice zone,” Amanda Averette-Bush, assistant director of student assignment at JCPS, said. “Where you find diversity is having strong, resource-magnet [schools] which are located in the choice zone.”

Officials pitched a similar proposal in 2020, but it was put on hold due to COVID-19. The new plan is fairly similar but now includes elementary schools. 

“If a family in Middletown has choice to attend a school close to home, so should a family in west Louisville, in the Russell neighborhood,” Pollio said. 

And families, unsurprisingly, want their nearby school to be a good school.

“I talk to parents on a daily basis on student assignment, and one thing that we hear a lot is that ‘I want an option close to home. I want to make sure it's a quality choice to attend’,” Averette-Bush said.

JCPS has already begun taking steps to make resources available. 

“Our board had a resolution in 2020 that is gonna dedicate $12 million to highest-need schools, which are our choice zone schools,” Pollio said.  

He said the district will provide some of those resources automatically, like higher teacher pay, higher principal pay, smaller class sizes, more counselors and more mental health support. Schools will also be able to argue for the specific resources they need, according to Pollio. 

There are also plans to build more schools in west Louisville to offer students more neighborhood options. JCPS has secured funding for a new middle school, and would like to be able to add another middle school and high school, if the need arises, according to Dena Dossett, chief executive director of JCPS’ accountability, research and systems improvement division.

“In the end, the recommendations we’re gonna bring forward will probably be…the biggest change in this district in several decades,” Pollio said.

Since 1984, students in west Louisville have been assigned to schools outside of their neighborhood, according to Pollio. A majority of students of color in JCPS end up going to their assigned school, meaning they don’t attempt to apply for the district's magnet schools or to their non-resident school for other reasons.

“Many of them are attending a middle school on one side of town, and they have to, they are forced to attend a high school on the other side of town,” Pollio said.

It can make students and families feel less connected to a school because they can’t be as actively involved. 

Pollio said a vast majority of parents in the West End indicate a nearby elementary school as their first choice for their child to attend. 

“The number one call we get in the student assignment office is a fifth grade family saying ‘I don’t want to send my child 25 miles away from home. I can’t get there, I can’t support, I can’t be involved’,” Pollio said. 

The plan aims to remedy that issue by allowing families to choose if their students go close to home for school, which JCPS officials hope will also lead to student outcome improvements.

There are also plans to make changes to the district's magnet programs to make them more diverse and representative of the district’s makeup. 

The plan would change the protocol by which a student would leave a magnet school. Instead of the school itself being able to remove a student, only the student and their family could make that decision.

JCPS will hold multiple forums to sell the plan to community members and hear feedback. 

Families can also give feedback via a survey linked on the JCPS school choice proposal website.

Pollio aims to get the proposal in front of the JCPS Board of Education by the end of May or early June for approval.

If approved, the plan would start in the 2023-2024 school year beginning with kindergartens, sixth graders and ninth graders.

Breya Jones is the Arts & Culture Reporter for LPM. Email Breya at bjones@lpm.org.

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