LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Two new creative school concepts received the green light from the Jefferson County Board of Education as part of the district's School of Innovation competition on Monday and will open in time for the 2015-16 year.
During an afternoon work session, Superintendent Donna Hargens stunned school board members by asking them to approve all four concepts – but in the end, the Catalpa School and Louisville Reach Academy were named winners in the competition.
“When you are trying to improve schools…you don't take small steps,” Hargens told the board. “We need all four of these schools.”
But school board members said they were not comfortable moving forward with all four proposals, although they said it's possible to revisit the Metro Museum Magnet School and Next Generation Community School concepts in the near future.
“We need more details – we don't know how we will pay for this, we don't have specifics as to where,” said Debbie Wesslund, a school board member who represents District 3 in northeastern Jefferson County. "I think you're going to be stretched really thin to pull all this together." Hargens said the two winning concepts will be incorporated into buildings that already exist in JCPS. She said she would come back to the board with specifics within the next few months.
All four finalists presented detailed plans to the board in July. Last year, the Kentucky Department of Education designated JCPS as one of four school districts in the state that would be allowed to break out of the traditional structure of public education and experiment with learning.
“It says great things about the future of education in Jefferson County," said Greg Givan, who exchanged congratulatory hugs with his daughter after learning that her team's concept, the Catalpa School, received approval.
According to the proposal, the Catalpa School will serve students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade initially, with plans to expand to eighth grade. The school would be inspired by Waldorf tradition, which uses the arts to teach academics in a brain-based and developmentally appropriate manner. It's a humanities-based curriculum that incorporates movement, visual art, storytelling or drama.
The other winner, the Louisville Reach Academy, would offer technology based learning on a year-round schedule. The campus would include opportunities for medical, dental and governmental services. It would also feature small class sizes, technology-based learning (iPads for every student) and a fully operational greenhouse.
"We are so excited, we've worked so hard on this concept and now we will get to see our dreams become a reality," said Kristen Thomas, one of four JCPS teachers who put together the Louisville Reach Academy proposal. "Our goal was not to even just have this concept in one school, but to generate an idea that could be replicated at other high needs schools."
After the meeting, Hargens said she will put a team together to discuss how the district can move forward with the Metro Museum School. She also noted that Liberty High School and the Phoenix School of Discovery are “already looking at the elements of Next Generation School concept.”
The Next Generation Community School concept serves high school students and offers them flexible scheduling with a strong community to bridge the gap between the traditional classroom and the outside world by housing satellite locations of local businesses, media outlets, and community services on-site, to be run with the help of student interns.
The proposal for the Museum School called for it to be located at 745 Main Street in Museum Row -- a building that would cost $6.7 million to buy and renovate and an additional $4.4 million to construct a gym. The Museum School would have connections with the Kentucky Science Center, Frazier Museum, Louisville Zoo, Muhammad Ali Center and several other cultural institutions.
“This is not over for Metro Museum School, the door is still open for this concept,” said Helene Kramer, a spokeswoman for JCPS. “Dr. Hargens is very excited about this concept, it's just a question of funding. This concept needs a building and as of right now we don't have a building.”
"I do think the Museum School is by far the most innovative," said school board member David Jones, Jr. "I'm just very concerned with the cost."
District officials suggested they could seek private donations to purchase the building or identify other property JCPS could more easily afford.
Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0839 or @tkonz on Twitter. Copyright 2014 WDRB News. All rights reserved.