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Students return to JCPS for a year of big changes

Jefferson County Public Schools’ 95,000 students returned to classrooms Wednesday for the start of the 2023-2024 school year amid some of the biggest changes in the district’s history.

JCPS is implementing new school schedules, a new student assignment plan and new curriculum all at the same time.

Family Resource Center Coordinator Desmond Phillips welcomed car riders outside the entrance of Schaffner Elementary School in southwest Jefferson County. Schaffner is one of many elementary schools that moved its start time from 9:05 a.m. to 7:40 a.m. under this year’s new bell schedule.

“We got some that’s sleepy and some that’s ready,” Phillips said.

On the sleepy side was a third grader named Zoe. She said she was happy to see her friends but also nervous.

“Because I have a new teacher, and I have butterflies in my stomach,” she said.

LPM News asked Zoe if thought she’d adjust to the new schedule.

“I’ll have to,” she replied matter-of-factly.

Meanwhile, her classmate Naliyah said she doesn’t mind the change. She was so excited for the first day of school, she woke up at 5 a.m.

“All on my own. I didn’t have an alarm,” she said.

The shift in schedules is meant to alleviate a bus driver shortage. Historically JCPS has had two bell times: 7:40 a.m. for middle and high school and 9:05 a.m. for elementary schools. This year, there are nine staggered start times. Most middle and high schools have later arrival times — a decision leaders hope will give teens more sleep.

Fern Creek High School senior Nehemiah Lucky said he appreciates having an extra hour of shut-eye.

“It’s great!” Lucky said. “I can go to bed at 11 p.m. and wake up at like 7:30 a.m and have like eight-and-a-half hours of sleep.”

Lucky’s parents, however, are not as pleased as he is. The shift made it more “awkward” for his parents to coordinate the school commute with their work schedules, he said.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said he understands the change is difficult, but said it’s necessary to prevent students from missing hours of instruction due to bus delays.

“Unfortunately with the resources we have right now … we had to make some tough choices,” Pollio said.

First days of school are usually chaotic, as students, families and bus drivers navigate the logistics of the commute. It’s common for buses to be delayed on the first day, and Wednesday was no different in that regard, Pollio said.

Some students reported that their bus never came — another common first-day conundrum.

Pollio said the district is working out the kinks. He said families may need to make sure they put in their address correctly on the bus stop request form and bus finder app.

Families can search for their stop here.

New student assignment plan, new West End schools

The 2023-2034 school year is the first year under JCPS’ new student assignment plan. The plan allows students in the West End of Louisville more school options close to home. Historically the district assigned students in the majority-Black area to schools in whiter, more affluent suburbs as a means in promoting integration.

However, the policy led to a disinvestment in JCPS’ West End facilities, and many families complained the long bus rides were unfair.

The new plan prompted the creation of Dr. J. Blaine Hudson Middle School, the first middle school started in west Louisville since 1932.

Staff and community members cheered and welcomed students through the doors of the building — the old Phillis Wheatley Elementary School revamped with a $3 million renovation.

Parent Nicole Thompson walked her sixth-grade son Harold to the entrance. She said they chose Hudson because of its proximity and because it's new.

“This is a good opportunity — it’s historic. I was just telling him coming down the street, it’s historic,” Thompson said, beaming.

Harold said he’s most excited about “a new beginning” at Hudson.

His sister Kenadie is also attending a new West End school: Dr. William H. Perry Elementary. The massive new facility connected to the West Broadway YMCA is the first school JCPS has built in the West End in 23 years.

Pollio has said he plans to announce the building site for Hudson’s permanent location in the next six to eight weeks.

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

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

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