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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky's top education official has called JCPS' current state of low test scores and underperforming schools an "academic genocide."
District leaders have refuted the claims, saying gains are evident, and today they're putting up new data as proof.
Brent Peters, an English teacher at Fern Creek Traditional High School, cooked up an interesting twist on junior English. He gave the English class a food theme.
"Geography, language, biology, pop culture -- does your food item relate to current events?" he asked students on Wednesday.
The Fern Creek High School teacher brings his background as a chef to the classroom.
"What we're able to do in this class is make connections with the common core and the curriculum," he said.
It's one of many new teaching concepts being piloted at Fern Creek High School, with a goal of turning around this persistently low-performing school.
Houston Barber is the principal of the school.
"I think it's a laser-like focus, and more intentionality of where students are according to standard, and where they need to be," he said.
New data shows the graduation rate jumped to 78.5 percent last year at Fern Creek. Throughout JCPS, it's up 1.6 percent to 69.4 -- and leaders say they're narrowing the achievement gap.
Graduation rates among African American students are up 2.6 percent from the year before, and 7 percent over four years.
"We have put together a program called 'Each One Teach One' where...we kind of mentor to the young African American males," said Anthony Gaither, a student. "We're trying to change the culture from the bottom up."
Hal Heiner, of Kentuckians Advocating Reform in Education, said there is still a long way to go.
"While we always welcome good news in education, going from an 'F' to an 'F+' means we are still failing our children." According to JCPS 1057 students dropped out last school year.
Look at it like this: the graduation rate is one piece of a five-slice pie that measures school success. If the other ingredients are not right when this year's test scores come back in August, the state could step in and run the turnaround of the district's 18 failing schools.
Peters knows the stakes are high -- and says the new numbers are a bit of sweet success.
On Thursday, State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday, who called JCPS "academic genocide," will sit on a panel with Superintendent Donna Hargens to address the issue, and how the problem creates a pipeline to prison.