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New school year will bring ‘biggest changes’ to JCPS in decades

 Young children cross the street to get on a school bus.
J. Tyler Franklin
JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the 2023-2024 school year will bring “probably the biggest change we’ve seen in decades here at JCPS.”

From new start times, to new schools, to new curriculum — major changes are in store for Jefferson County Public Schools when students return to the classroom next week on Aug. 9.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the 2023-2024 school year will bring “probably the biggest change we’ve seen in decades here at JCPS.”

“These are long overdue changes that should have happened many years ago,” Pollio said during a press conference Monday morning.

“But we’re taking them on now because we know we need bold change in JCPS.”

The most obvious change to families will likely be the new arrival and dismissal times for schools. Most schools will see their school day shift, with most middle and high schools moving to an earlier start time, and many elementary schools starting later. That’s a change the district made to make do with fewer bus drivers, and to give some teens more sleep.

Pollio warned the shift may make the first couple weeks be rocky.

“We are asking the community for patience, understanding that there will be some challenges. But we are up to those challenges,” Pollio said.

Families can find their school’s start time at this link: https://www.jefferson.kyschools.us/back-school-2023-24.

The JCPS page also has links to forms for families to find their bus route or request a new stop.

Pollio encouraged families to review the back-to-school information in the next few days.

Here are the other big changes in store for the 2023-2024 school year:

Student assignment

This fall will be the first year under JCPS’ overhauled student assignment plan, which will have the greatest impact on families in west Louisville.

The Jefferson County Board of Education approved the plan last June, after years of deliberation. The plan allows students in the majority-Black West End to attend a school closer to home. Since the 1970s, students from the West End have mostly been assigned to schools in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods to the east and south, with the goal of creating integrated schools. Proponents say the new plan finally allows Black and low-income students in the West End the same close-to-home choices afforded students in whiter, more affluent sections of town. Critics, however, note that the decision signals the end of the district’s nationally-recognized design to promote racial and economic integration.

Check out our 2020 series on student assignment here: https://www.lpm.org/tags/student-assignment-series

JCPS refers to the area students have historically been bused away from as the “Choice Zone.” The Choice Zone covers most of the West End, downtown and parts of the Highlands and south Louisville. Students in the Choice Zone have the choice between a school in the West End or a school further away to the east or south.

In response to concerns from the Louisville NAACP and other leading Black organizations, the board agreed to provide extra funding for the high-poverty, majority-Black West End schools the plan will create in the Choice Zone.

“The district has invested additional funding in Choice Zone schools, so their students have the opportunities to experience smaller class sizes, more field trips, after school activities and enrichment programs,” JCPS Director of Choice Zone Programs Jamiera Johnson said.

Schools in the Choice Zone are working to attract and retain more educators by offering teachers yearly stipends of $8,000 and administrators $10,000.

The plan required the district to start a new middle school in west Louisville. This year, sixth-graders at the new Dr. J. Blaine Hudson Middle School will be temporarily taught at the old Phillis Wheatley Elementary School building while the district constructs a new building.

The Choice Zone also includes a brand new elementary school: Dr. William H. Perry Elementary, the first elementary school built in the West End in at least 20 years. Perry Elementary will welcome students who were formerly zoned for Roosevelt-Perry Elementary and Phillis Wheatley Elementary.

The new student assignment plan will also lead to greater numbers of students at the Academy @ Shawnee.

New curriculum

The 2023-2024 school year will also be the first year JCPS has a district-wide K-8 curriculum in reading and math.

Until this year, most school’s Site-Based Decision-Making Council chose each schools’ curriculum. But critics say that led to varying quality of curriculum throughout the district, and made it difficult for students who change schools.

State lawmakers handed district superintendents the power to set curriculum during the 2021 legislative session. Pollio said a standard curriculum will help ensure equal access to quality instruction throughout the district.

“That is going to be an enormous difference-maker for us in the district — that we have an aligned curriculum across all of our schools,” he said.

Weapons detection

This fall will be the first time JCPS students will have to walk through weapons detectors to get into their school buildings.

Historically the Jefferson County Board of Education has shied away from metal detection, over concerns it makes schools feel prison-like and leads to criminalization of students.

However, earlier this month the board approved a controversial $11.7 million contract to bring Evolv AI weapons detectors to middle and high schools this year.

The company has beencriticized for a lack of transparency around its capabilities, and for its failure to detect many knives. District officials say they believe the technology will allow the district to scan for firearms, while minimizing searches of students.

Pollio said he expected to have weapons detection systems operational “by the end of September or first of October.”

Support for this story was provided in part by the Jewish Heritage Fund.

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

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