SUNDAY EDITION: Expanding preschool, converting Kennedy Middle i - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION: Expanding preschool, converting Kennedy Middle into elem. school part of JCPS plan

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JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens chats with James Moore outside the Presbyterian Community Center on July 24, 2014. JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens chats with James Moore outside the Presbyterian Community Center on July 24, 2014.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Already planning a new elementary school in Norton Commons, Jefferson County Public Schools is looking to free-up more space in fast-growing eastern Louisville by converting Kennedy Metro - an alternative middle school near Jeffersontown – into an elementary school.

Kennedy's repurposing is one component of a long-range facilities plan that the Jefferson County Board of Education will debate at its meeting on Monday. District officials are still trying to figure what to do with the 100 alternative students who are typically assigned to Kennedy.

"We have several options and will bring a proposal back to the board within the next few months," said Mike Raisor, chief operations officer for JCPS.

The proposal also emphasizes early-childhood and alternative education as well as finding more space to accommodate a growing number of students who don't speak English – three top priorities for JCPS.

"We know we have to have the facilities that can accommodate those needs," Superintendent Donna Hargens told WDRB News.

If approved by the school board, early childhood education wings would be added next year at Atkinson and Maupin elementaries and at Stuart Middle, as well as one at the new Norton Commons school in the 2016-17 school year.

The district will also ask the school board Monday for approval to purchase the Presbyterian Community Center in Smoketown for $1.5 million so it can be used for early childhood classrooms. The center, at 701 S. Hancock St., closed its doors last year. It has a gym and an adjoining child development center on Finzer Street.

School board member Carol Haddad said a comprehensive facilities plan is crucial for JCPS, the nation's 28th largest school district. The district's enrollment has steadily grown since 2002-03 and is expected to reach 102,613 students by 2018.

"We are finally getting a comprehensive plan, we have been asking for one for years," Haddad said, adding that she agrees with the focus on expanding preschool. "Early childhood education is key – we have to get to our kids early so that they are ready for kindergarten." 

Overcrowding issues

One of the plan's focuses is dealing with crowding issues in eastern Jefferson County, where two of the district's biggest elementary clusters will be over capacity in less than four years.

Last month, the school board decided to spend $15.1 million to build a new elementary school at Norton Commons in northeastern Louisville. The new school will serve 650 students and will be built on 11 acres of land that was donated by Traditional Town, the developer for Norton Commons. It's on Ky. 1694 across from the Glen Oaks subdivision.

Once converted to an elementary, Kennedy Metro could serve another 550 students, said JCPS chief academic officer Mike Raisor. 

The change would happen for the 2015-16 school year. Kennedy Metro, at 4515 Taylorsville Road, was built in 1955 and was an elementary school until 1980. It became a book depository in 1982 until 1996, when the district made it an alternative school for students who demonstrate behavioral problems at their home school. 

Under the district’s plan, Kennedy Metro would be added to Cluster 8, which includes Watterson, Jeffersontown, Wheeler, Fern Creek, Farmer and Bates elementary schools.

Capital Projects in JCPS

Despite the recent spending on new schools in eastern Jefferson County, district records show most of the $667 million JCPS has spent on capital projects since 1989 has been in western and southern Louisville.

Here is a breakdown of capital project spending by school board district:
- District 1 (Diane Porter): $145 million has been spent in west Louisville
- District 2 (David Jones): $55 million in central Louisville
- District 3 (Debbie Wesslund): $73 million in northeastern Louisville
- District 4 (Chuck Haddaway): $112 million in southwestern Louisville
- District 5 (Linda Duncan): $82 million in southern Louisville
- District 6 (Carol Haddad): $110 million in south central Louisville
- District 7 (Chris Brady): $88 million in southeastern Louisville

"Historically, we've done a really good job of balancing all of our capital projects," Raisor said. "Right now, we are at a point where all of our projects must be based on need and finances."

But Haddad says in the 25 years she has been on the school board, she's always voted to support projects where they are needed.

"It's never been about the south end or north end to me – I want the money to go to projects as they are needed," she said. "Our students go to school all over the district, so if there is a particular area that needs something, they should get it." 

Non-English speaking students

District officials recently told school board members that JCPS must find more room to meet the needs of its growing English language learner population. According to recent figures, the number of ELL students increased from 3,460 students during the 2010-11 year to more than 4,400 last school year.

Raisor said the district will open an International Academy at Iroquois High School this fall, with the potential to replicate that program at other schools in 2015-16. In addition, Hazelwood Elementary in south Louisville could house more comprehensive services for middle school aged ELL students, he said.

Alternative education JCPS also needs between 1,000 and 1,500 more seats for alternative education for students struggling in the traditional learning environment who need interventions tailored to help them, Raisor said.

Yet, district officials haven’t decided where to send the 100 behaviorally challenged students typically assigned to Kennedy once it is converted to a conventional elementary.

"We are still assessing where we would place those students," Raisor said.

In May, the school board voted to expand and move the Phoenix School of Discovery to the Myers Middle School building this fall. Phoenix, a specialty middle and high school designed to turn around struggling students through individualized instruction, had been housed on the campuses of Stuart Middle and Valley High. The school is also adding the fourth and fifth grades.

Previously, the school's location in southern Jefferson County meant that it could only accommodate students who lived west of Interstate 65, Raisor said.

"We have had great success with that program and now that it's centrally located, we believe will be able to help more kids who are struggling in a traditional school setting," he said.

Phoenix's move is one of several in store for the Myers building in Hikes Point. Earlier this year, the board voted to close the academically underachieving middle school and reassign its students to other schools.

JCPS is moving 250 preschool students to Myers from eleven preschool classrooms at Bates, Cochrane, Gilmore Lane and Wheeler elementary schools, Carrithers Middle School and Fern Creek and Waggener high schools. That is expected to free more space in those schools, Raisor said.

The district's facility plan also addresses the addition of a District of Innovation school in time for the 2015-16 year.

JCPS was named by the Kentucky Department of Education last year as one of four "Districts of Innovation," which allows it to experiment with learning in a non-traditional school setting.

Four finalists – the Catalpa School, Louisville Reach Academy, Metro Museum Magnet School and Next-Generation Community School – were announced in March and will present their detailed plans to the school board on Monday.

The school board will vote on a winner in the School of Innovation design competition on Aug. 11.


What: JCPS School Board Meeting

Where: 3331 Newburg Road

When: District of Innovation work session is from 4-6 p.m.; regular school board meeting is at 7 p.m. 

Sign up to speak
: You can sign up to speak at the 7 p.m. meeting before it begins or you can call 485-3342 to sign up in advance. 

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0839 or @tkonz on Twitter. Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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