SUNDAY EDITION | JCPS exploring changes to teenage pregnancy alt - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | JCPS exploring changes to teenage pregnancy alternative school program

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Westport TAPP (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB) Westport TAPP (Photo by Toni Konz, WDRB)
South Park TAPP (Photo Toni Konz, WDRB) South Park TAPP (Photo Toni Konz, WDRB)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Raven Taylor's high school education suddenly came to a halt when, at the age of 15, she got pregnant.

Taylor, who was a sophomore at Eastern High School, dropped out for nearly a year after giving birth to her daughter.

But now, at 18, Taylor's education is back on track, and she's headed to Berea College on a four-year scholarship this fall.

The turnaround is thanks to Taylor's two years at the Georgia Chaffee Teenage Parent Program, an alternative school with two locations in Jefferson County.

“I was hesitant at first,” said Taylor, a senior at the Westport TAPP school in eastern Jefferson County. “But I'm so thankful for this program – it's the best thing that could have happened for me and for my daughter.”

Thousands of teenage girls have gone through TAPP since it began in 1968. For more than 20 years, the program has had two locations – a school in Fairdale (South Park) and the Westport Road school that Taylor attends.

But as they begin to wrestle with the 2015-16 budget,  Jefferson County Public Schools officials are looking at consolidating the two locations, a move that could save $747,000 annually.

“We are considering whether TAPP services could be improved by combining the two locations into one site and focus on helping students better achieve college and career readiness,” said Dewey Hensley, the district's chief academic officer, during a March 9 work session with the school board. 

The two schools' combined enrollment of about 180 students is at a six-year low, and district officials aren't satisfied with TAPP's academic performance.

Last year, of the 112 seniors at South Park and Westport TAPP, roughly 57 percent graduated on time with a diploma. That's well below the district-wide graduation rate of 79 percent.

In addition, only 5.4 percent of South Park TAPP's seniors – and 15.6 percent of Westport TAPP's – were considered “college and career ready” in 2014 – well below the district's rate of 60.5 percent.

Superintendent Donna Hargens told WDRB News the idea to combine the two TAPP sites is only in the discussion phase, as the district is looking at “every dollar we spend.”

“Certainly, our goal is not to leave any TAPP girl behind,” she said. “We are trying to see if we can improve the services that we are providing these students. Perhaps by combining sites, we may be able to provide more course offerings and services.”

It won't be until May that JCPS finalizes its proposed budget, Hargens added.

But the idea of eliminating any part of TAPP has drawn criticism from some in the community, including State Rep. Larry Clark, D-Louisville, who has been an avid supporter of the program.

“TAPP has been proven to be successful and cutting funding to it would be a travesty,” Clark told WDRB News on Thursday.

Clark, who has helped steer more than $1 million in state money to help the program since 2008, said in many cases, “these girls are getting on school buses with their babies every day.”

Consolidating into a single location – no matter where – would mean a longer bus ride for some students, Clark said.

“It would present a hardship for whichever group of students would have to move,” he said. “You are looking at one end of the county to the other.”

“If Dr. Hargens cuts that program, I would be very disappointed in her leadership,” Clark said. “If she is looking to save money, she needs to look outside her door in central office.”

Hargens said the idea is “not to leave anyone out.”

“If it turns out that it's about excluding people, it would not be a recommendation,” she said.

At the March 9 session, school board members asked which TAPP site would be closed or moved. Hargens said it's too early to say because the issue is still being examined.

“I think it's great to say how much money we would save, but we can't risk that at the expense of a child's education,” said Diane Porter, vice chairwoman of the school board. “Whatever we do, I would hope that we would not discourage students from participating in the program.”

School board member Linda Duncan, who represents southern Jefferson County, agrees with Porter.

“The whole program was designed to prevent these girls from dropping out,” Duncan said. “If there is anything that would come with combining these two schools that would exclude anyone or present a hardship to them, it would go against our mission.”

While school board members are looking critically at the district's $1.3 billion budget, Duncan said, “Our goal is to support kids so they can graduate and be ready for college and/or a career. As long as we are finding ways to save them, it's worth every penny we spend.”

Duncan added that Westport TAPP sits on a TARC route, while South Park TAPP does not.

“Many of our girls ride school buses to school each day, but many at Westport TAPP are riding TARC to get home or to jobs after school,” she said. “That's something we must consider in this process.”

DeLena Alexander, who serves as the principal of both TAPP programs, said she and her staff have been going over the pros and cons as they wait to hear more details.

“We are really trying to be supportive in the sense of what's best for students,” she said. “In one building, there may be more of an opportunity for teachers to work collaboratively. As a leader, I would be able to provide more input to support them.”

Aside from providing regular middle and high school courses to its students, TAPP provides classes in prenatal/postpartum, family planning, child development, childcare and parenting skills to prepare each student for her responsibilities as a parent.

Each site also has a Child Development Center, which provides child care at a reasonable cost to students enrolled in the program.

"The only difference between TAPP and a normal high school in Jefferson County is the fact that you're parenting or pregnant,” Alexander said.

Alexander acknowledged the program's dismal graduation and college/career readiness statistics, saying the goal is to improve.

Taylor, whose daughter is now 2, said she enjoys the smaller class sizes at TAPP and the mentoring, support and services her teachers and other staff members provide daily.

She thinks the possibility of combining the two programs may not be a bad idea. She's taken two Advanced Placement courses while at Westport TAPP, and said more AP courses may be available at one location.

“I also like the idea of it being one school as a whole instead of one school with two locations,” Taylor said. “Maybe it could be bigger and better.”

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