JCPS board approves creation of Louisville Reach Academy at Atki - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS board approves creation of Louisville Reach Academy at Atkinson Elementary

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A new "school of innovation" that will feature iPads for each student, smaller class sizes, summer learning and a longer day will open next fall at J.B. Atkinson Elementary in Portland, the Jefferson County Board of Education decided on Monday.

The Louisville Reach Academy was one of two winning concepts in the district's School of Innovation Design Competition. Aside from offering technology-based learning, the campus will also include opportunities for medical, dental and governmental services.

District officials say the concept is to “create a school where the physical, social, emotional, and academic needs of all children are met, removing barriers to learning, while providing access to a challenging curriculum.”

Under the plan, Atkinson will eventually expand to include middle school grades. It will serve students in the elementary grades for the 2015-16 school year, then add a grade each subsequent year until full elementary and middle school implementation in 2018-19.

Superintendent Donna Hargens said she is excited about the opportunities for extra learning that will be available at Atkinson.

"Consistency and continuity for these students is really, really exciting," Hargens said.

The extended day will be three times a week in nine-week sessions; six of the weeks will be spent on math and reading intervention, while three of the weeks will be for "reach clubs," enrichment clubs that may include music, art, gardening, robotics and more.

JCPS originally proposed converting Klondike Lane Elementary into the Louisville Reach Academy. Students would've been moved to the nearby Myers Middle School building.

However, school board members and others said they believe Atkinson was more deserving of the switch, because it has lower test scores and fewer students would have to move.

In other action, the school board approved all but one part of its 2015 legislative agenda.

Board members delayed until their next meeting support of legislation that would grant superintendents greater authority in the selection and assignment of principals. 

Under current state law, each school's site-based decision making council has the authority to select and hire principals, unless the council's authority has been stripped by Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday. 

Hargens told the board she wants "more tools and flexibility to get an experienced principal placed" where that person's skills are best used.

District 3 board member Debbie Wesslund said the district has had difficulty in finding qualified applicants for struggling schools. Other board members agreed.

"We have had ample evidence the principal selection process is broken," said District 2 board member David Jones Jr. "There are a lot of voters who are flabbergasted the superintendent does not have the authority to choose the principal," Jones continued.

District 7 board member Chris Brady wondered if the process might strike a balance between the authority desired by the superintendent and the responsibilities delegated to SBDMs by law. 

"A CEO should be able to choose her own managers."  But, Brady said that is balanced by the feeling of "destiny" SBDMs have in charting the future of their schools.

The other, approved parts of the board's legislative agenda include:

  • Supporting legislation to solve the problem of the unfunded liabilities of the retirement systems that serve school district employees, and the development and implementation of a sustainable plan to fund and maintain the Kentucky Teachers' Retirement System and the County Employees Retirement System on an actuarially sound basis
  • Endorsing legislation that enhances and promotes public education and opposes the use of public dollars to finance public charter schools, or to support programs that fund non-public schools, such as vouchers or tuition tax credits
  • Supporting the continued use of Kentucky Core Academic Standards to align curriculum and instruction, to establish clear, high expectations for what Kentucky students are expected to be able to know and do, and to serve as a foundation for potential improvements to the statewide assessment and accountability system

"We really do have the luxury of time in that the legislative session starts in January," Hargens said. District 6 board member Carol Haddad countered that preparations for the legislative agenda should have started earlier in the year, perhaps in June.

Brady said he was surprised the board would be hiring a lobbying firm to make its case in Frankfort. He expected an in-house JCPS director of strategy to handle the board's lobbying efforts.  

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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