JCPS unveils plan to reshape alternative school education - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS unveils plan to reshape alternative school education

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JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens (March 9, 2015) Photo by Toni Konz JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens (March 9, 2015) Photo by Toni Konz
Breckinridge Metro High School, 1128 E. Broadway Breckinridge Metro High School, 1128 E. Broadway
 LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A plan that would reshape alternative education in Jefferson County Public Schools was discussed with school board members during a work session Monday afternoon that could be up for final approval in three weeks.

The plan would consolidate Jefferson County's three alternative schools -- Kennedy Metro Middle, Buechel Metro High and Breckinridge Metro High and turn them into academies designed at looking at individual students' needs and provide them with resources they need to get back on track.

"This is completely different from the alternative schools we currently have," said Dewey Hensley, chief academic officer for JCPS. "We would place students in schools based on their needs instead of placing them in schools because of their grades or offenses they may have committed."

Rather than assign a student to an alternative school, a committee would look at each child and his or her circumstances and find a pathway the district hopes would ultimately guide them to a program or place where they can be successful, he said.

The district currently has approximately 1,700 students who've been assigned to alternative schools, Hensley said. Officials believe an additional 3,300 at risk-students who are failing to prosper in a traditional school setting would also benefit from the restructuring, he said.

Superintendent Donna Hargens said the district knows it must "improve the services we are providing our alternative school students."

"We want to help them gain academic footing so that they can be successful when they transition back," she said. "From their entrance into an alternative school setting to their exit -- and everything in between -- we want to build capacity and help them succeed."

The plan would make Buechel Metro, 1960 Bashford Manor Lane, a sixth-through-tenth grade alternative school; and Breckinridge Metro, 1128 E. Broadway, an eleventh- and twelfth-grade alternative school.

Middle school students would be housed on the second floor of Buechel and would be separated from the ninth and tenth graders, who would be housed on the first floor, Hensley said.

Students who pose an "immediate danger to others" would be removed immediately and placed into a restorative academy -- likely housed at Breckinridge Metro -- a setting where they would also be monitored individually and provided support and services to help them get back on track.

The plan was discussed during a 4 p.m. as part of a school board work session on the draft budget for the 2015-16 year.

Officials said reshaping alternative schools could save $1.7 million by combining programs and staffing. The average teacher to student ratio in the district's alternative schools is 7 to 1, this plan would increase that to about 10 to 1, Hensley said.

The district spends approximately $40 million on alternative education annually.

"The driver is to improve what happens in alternative schools, the driver is not to save money," Hargens said. "But if we can do that in a way that saves money and at a lower cost, that's an added benefit."

School board member Linda Duncan says she thinks the plan to restructure alternative schools is promising.

"This is a game changer -- it would change our whole alternative school approach," she said. "Right now, I think we are sending kids back to the regular school setting before they are ready. I think this idea would help address that. I think it's a good idea, as long as we follow through with it."

Board members Chris Brady and Diane Porter agreed and added a few suggestions.

"If we are going to combine Kennedy and Buechel, we need to put bus monitors on buses," Brady said. "We can't be tone deaf to the problems we've been having with that."

Porter said she thinks alternative school students need better access to quality career and technical programs.

JCPS has been searching for a place to put the district's alternative middle school students since last summer, when the Jefferson County Board of Education voted to close Kennedy Metro, 4515 Taylorsville Road, in order to make it an elementary school, in order to address capacity issues at elementary schools in the East End.

As WDRB News reported in February, the plan to consolidate Jefferson County's alternative schools has caused concern among staff members and parents.

Buechel Metro currently has students in grades 9-12 who have been referred by the JCPS office of student services, juvenile court or state and county agencies. It has roughly 180 students in a building that was initially an elementary school.

Breckinridge Metro is for students who previously lived in juvenile residential facilities, were involved in juvenile court and/or long-term placement in Louisville Metropolitan Youth Detention Center. It also serves students who demonstrated success in other alternative settings, but who still appear to need the behavioral supports at the school.

"We are worried about our kids and where they will go," a staff member at Kennedy who requested anonymity because of fear of retaliation told WDRB News last month. "We are scared, we don't know who to talk to. We don't know what to say or what to do."

Similar concerns were highlighted by other staff members in a letter sent to WDRB News, particularly with moving Kennedy's students to Buechel, a school they fear would be "difficult to manage due to the physical constraints of the facility."

"We believe this would cause problems due to the fact that these students are much older and street-wise than our current population," the letter reads, noting that staff is worried about Kennedy's students "interacting with students that are almost adults."

A grandmother of a sixth-grader at Kennedy Metro previously told WDRB News she doesn't believe her 12-year-old grandson should be in the same building with students as old as 18.

"There are kids in tenth grade who are already adults," the grandmother, who requested anonymity so her grandchild would not be identified.

Hensley said that is one of the issues the district is trying to address.

"We have situations where a kid who's been truant is sitting in the same classroom as a student who's been violent," he said. "We also have 17-year-old ninth graders. We need to create a flexible system so that we can better respond to situations like that."

There have been several incidents involving the district's alternative school students in recent months.

A former JCPS bus driver is facing charges after police say she allowed two alternative school students, ages 13 and 18, to engage in sexual relations in the seat behind her while she was driving.

In January, two Breckinridge Metro students were fighting on a bus when after the fight, one stepped back into the stairwell and sustained serious injuries after falling out of a moving school bus.

Hensley said the district will be holding forums with faculty members and sending out student voice surveys about the proposed alternative school changes -- two things that have been delayed due to the bad weather that has canceled school seven days in the past three weeks.

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

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