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JCPS Afrocentric all-girls middle school to add high school grades

The Grace James Academy step team performs in February 2022.
The Grace James Academy step team performs in February 2022.

Jefferson County Public Schools’ all-girls middle school with an Afrocentric curriculum will begin adding high school grades in fall 2023. The Jefferson County Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the expansion of Grace M. James Academy of Excellence at its meeting Tuesday.

“It’s an amazing program,” Board Chair Diane Porter said. “This is what our students need to have: to be embraced, and to know that they have every capability in the world.”

“This is a remarkable accomplishment for the district, and it's the right thing to be doing,” District 3 Board Member James Craig said.

The magnet school, now in its second year, is largely touted as a success by the district for making girls of color feel supported and creating opportunities for hands-on learning in science, technology, engineering, arts and math (often referred to as STEAM). 

JCPS created Grace James after getting positive feedback from the community about its all-boys W.E.B. DuBois Academy, which opened in 2018 and is also designed with an Afrocentric curriculum. Both schools are magnet programs, meaning they draw students from across the district, but students have to apply to get in.

Officials say they always planned for both schools to eventually serve grades six through 12.

Grace James opened for the first time in the fall of 2020, with one class of sixth graders. Its very first students started their careers at the school in remote learning for much of the year because of the pandemic.

The school grows by adding a new sixth grade class each year. The 2023-2024 school year will be when Grace James’ very first class of sixth graders will enter high school.

Grace James is housed in the old facility at Roosevelt-Perry Elementary, which the district renovated to accommodate older students. Staff say the school will need a new building by 2024-2025 in order to accommodate student population growth.

“We're working with some outside partners to try to find some spots,” Pollio said. “The challenge, once again, is the amount of acres that's needed for a middle school or high school.”

Pollio said he would bring a proposal to the board “shortly,”  noting the district is already exploring locations for a proposed new West End middle school and the DuBois school.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.