BACK TO SCHOOL: Lots of changes for JCPS in 2014-15 - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BACK TO SCHOOL: Lots of changes for JCPS in 2014-15

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JCPS elementary students participate in a camp at the Louisville Science Center during the summer. JCPS elementary students participate in a camp at the Louisville Science Center during the summer.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) - Lots of changes are in store for thousands of students in Jefferson County Public Schools as the 2014-15 year begins on Wednesday.

Officials have restructured some of the district's lowest performing schools in an attempt to turn them around and a host of new initiatives are being unveiled in an attempt to reach more students.

“We are looking at every aspect of student learning and trying to meet every need so we can increase student achievement,” Superintendent Donna Hargens said during a recent interview with WDRB News. "Our theme is putting more dollars and support into our schools so that it will impact directly impact students."

The Jefferson County Board of Education approved a $1.3 billion budget in May that includes expanding preschool, creating transition centers to help struggling middle and high school students and hiring mental health counselors who will be assigned at the school level to help out with the emotional needs of students.

In addition, nearly 55,000 students at 95 schools will be receiving free breakfast and lunch this fall — regardless of their income – because of new federal eligibility rules that enable high-poverty districts to offer free meals to all students at schools with enough kids that are certified as qualifying for free lunch.

Officials estimate the move will save families who previously qualified for reduced-price meals $122 per child each year. Families that did not qualify for free meals would save about $700 per child each year.

For those who do not qualify for free lunch, the cost to pay for the meal is increasing by 10 cents. Elementary students will now pay $2.50, while middle and high school students will pay $2.60.

[CLICK HERE TO VIEW ENTIRE LIST OF SCHOOLS SERVING FREE MEALS]

The district has eliminated six elementary bus depots, which means 1,500 fewer students will have to transfer buses in order to get to and from school. It also means shorter ride times for those students.

“We are always looking at ways to reduce the amount of time our students spend on buses,” Hargens said. “This is a direct response to that.”

Here is an outline of some of the major changes students and their parents will see this year at some schools:

Transition Centers

The district is spending $4.9 million for transition centers at each middle and high school. The centers are meant to help students coming back from an alternative school or extended absence.

As part of this effort, 46 teachers were hired at each middle and high school, in addition to 13 instructional coaches who were hired and placed into the district's lowest-performing secondary schools.

“Our transitions were not working well and this will help address high mobility across the district and help kids acclimate back into a regular school setting,” said Dewey Hensley, chief academic officer for JCPS. “The teachers we hired as part of this initiative will help create individual plans for students so we can make sure that they don't fall behind.”

College Access Resource Teachers and Mental Health Counselors

The district is spending $1.5 million to hire teachers who will be assigned to the district's high schools in attempt to help better prepare students for college and careers.

Hensley says these teachers will focus solely on college and career readiness and will allow school guidance counselors to help students with “social and emotional issues."

In addition, $1.9 million is being spent on mental health counselors to help students who suffer from social and emotional disorders.

“Our principals indicated to us that they needed assistance helping students who are dealing with issues like anxiety, grief or depression – things that are impacting their learning in the classroom,” Hensley said.

The need for additional mental health counselors was also highlighted last year following the death of a Male High School sophomore who posted a video suicide note before killing herself.

“We have to find ways to reach these kids and do whatever we can to help them,” Hensley said.

According to the district, the mental health counselors will be based at Klondike Lane, Price, Rutherford, Trunnell, Wheatley, Gilmore Lane/Camp Taylor, Blake/Blue Lick elementary schools; Farnsley, Thomas Jefferson and Ramsey middle schools and Iroquois, Seneca, Valley and Waggener high schools, as well as the ESL Newcomer Academy at Shawnee High School.

Hensley said the counselors will also be available to other schools if needed.

Frost Middle School and Valley High School

Frost Middle School becomes a sixth grade academy, an attempt by JCPS officials to turn the low-performing school around by focusing on smaller class sizes and other methods aimed at boosting student achievement.

Seventh and eighth graders who would have attended Frost are now assigned to Valley High School, where they will be housed separately from the high schoolers in a part of the building where the Phoenix School of Discovery used to be.

Test scores from 2013 ranked Frost in the first percentile of schools in Kentucky (the very bottom), with only 13 percent of students proficient in reading and 10 percent proficient in math.

Frost is projected to have an enrollment of about 250 students, while Valley is taking in about 300 new middle schoolers.

During a recent Back to School Bash held at Frost, principal Faith Stroud said her school's concept is to “focus on intervention and enrichment to make sure our students are not only performing at grade level but beyond grade level.”

Myers Middle School, Waggener High School and Phoenix School of Discovery

Myers Middle School in Hikes Point closed at the end of the 2013-14 year and its seventh and eighth grade students were reassigned to Waggener High School in St. Matthews, while incoming sixth graders were reassigned to 10 other middle schools across the district.

Hargens said “dramatic change” was needed at Myers, where only 11 percent of students were proficient in math and 23 percent were proficient in reading, according to 2013 test scores.

The seventh and eighth graders at Waggener will be housed separately from high school students. Educators will be focusing on “intense instruction” to get them on grade level before they enter high school, Hargens said.

Meanwhile, the Myers school building is being repurposed to meet other needs outlined in the district's long-range facility plan.

The Phoenix School of Discovery, an alternative middle and high school that had been housed on the campuses of Stuart Middle and Valley High, is expanding to include fourth- and fifth-graders and is now located on the Myers campus.

The school serves students who have struggled in a traditional classroom. It features small class sizes, which are capped at 10-15 students and relies heavily on technology.

Officials have wanted to increase enrollment at the Phoenix School for years, but were limited because of its Southern Jefferson County location — logistically, the district could only accommodate students who lived west of Interstate 65.

“We will be able to help so many more kids with this central location,” Hargens told school board members in May.

In addition to moving the Phoenix School and its 200 students, JCPS also relocated 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.

Hensley said the move will also free up space at those schools.

New principals

Eighteen new principals will be greeting students on the first day. To see a list of who is where, click here.

 KEY INFORMATION FOR 2014-15 YEAR

-          First day of school: Wed. Aug. 13

-          Hours: 9:05 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. for elementary schools; 7:40 a.m. to 2:20 p.m. for middle and high schools.

-          Find your child's bus route:  http://transportation.jefferson.kyschools.us/BusFinder/

-          Transportation hotline: Call 485-RIDE (7433) for information about your child's bus route. The hotline is open from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday; 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday; 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday; 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday.

-          Meals: Elementary school breakfasts cost $1.75 and lunches cost $2.50. Middle and high school breakfasts cost $1.85 and lunches cost $2.60. Reduced-price breakfasts for all grade levels cost 30 cents and lunches cost 40 cents.

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