LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The hallways at Maupin Elementary School are cluttered, but by the time the first bell rings on Aug. 12, students will see a whole new picture.

The school, located on Catalpa Street in the Parkland neighborhood, will feature a Waldorf-inspired curriculum that incorporates movement, visual art, storytelling or drama with an overall goal of boosting test scores. 

"I think they'll notice that the environment is bright, lively, cheerful," says Jennifer Nelson, a teacher at the school, "I think they'll notice the natural materials and I think they'll notice the enthusiasm of the teachers."

Nelson is one of four Jefferson County Public Schools teachers who shared a vision for something different. 

"What we've always wanted is to have a school and when the opportunity came along for the School of Innovation competition and it just seemed perfect," she said.

Maupin Elementary principal Maria Clemons said only one teacher from last school year decided to return to teach this year.

"Out of 28 teaching positions, we will have 24 teachers who are new to Maupin," said Clemons, who noted that all teachers attended two weeks of Waldorf training in June. "Everyone is very excited and really pumped to start this school year."

The idea behind the Catalpa School is to create an approach to education that blends the Waldorf tradition – an approach that uses the arts to teach academics in a brain-based and developmentally appropriate manner – with Kentucky's core academic standards.

According to 2013-14 test scores, only 24 percent of Maupin's students were proficient in math, while only 26 percent were proficient in reading.

The Kentucky Department of Education has designated JCPS as one of seven school districts in the state as "Districts of Innovation," meaning they are being allowed to break out of the traditional structure of public education and experiment with learning.

As a result, JCPS was tasked with finding different ways to boost student achievement. District officials chose four proposals as finalists, but only two were approved by the school board. The other concept -- the Louisville Reach Academy has been created at Atkinson Elementary and will also open this school year. 

The newly designed Catalpa Program at Maupin Elementary will be allowed to deviate slightly in the sequence in which the Kentucky Core Academic Standards are taught, according to a waiver request granted by the state board of education in June.

JCPS requested the waiver earlier this year, asking for permission to change the way in which the core content is taught at Maupin so that it aligns with the Waldorf-inspired education model.

“All of the core content will still be taught, just not in the same order,” said Jonathan Lowe, director of strategy for JCPS. “We are in no way trying to not teach the standards. We are attempting to teach them in a different way.”

David Cook, director of innovation and partner engagement with the Kentucky Department of Education, said the state recommended that the board approve the request, but in a limited way.

“The Waldorf model in its purest form still contains every single standard in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards – it will not miss a thing,” he said. “It's just going to be taught in a different sequence. For example, in our system, some content may be taught in the third grade, but with Waldorf, it may be taught in the fifth grade.”

As a result, the state board is requiring JCPS to have parents to sign off on two things. 

The first is that they must acknowledge that their child will still take the Kentucky Performance Rating for Educational Progress (K-PREP) assessment on the regular assessment cycle, but that their child may not have received instruction in some of the content at the time of assessment.

Cook said the state board is requiring that Maupin's instruction will have to catch up to the Common Core's subject matter sequencing at the fifth and eighth grade levels.

The second thing Maupin parents will have to sign off on is the acknowledgement that if their child moves from Maupin to another school, the child is likely to have missed specific pieces of the Kentucky Core Academic Standards because those standards will not have been taught at the grade level specified within the standards.

“It's important for the families to know this on the front end and so they understand what may happen,” Cook said. "The Waldorf model has all sorts of assessments that will take place during the year so parents should know where their child stands."

The Catalpa School at Maupin Elementary will start as kindergarten through fifth grade but eventually expand to include eighth grade.

Superintendent Donna Hargens said the Catalpa School will cost approximately $370,000 for the first four years of implementation – mainly to cover professional development and summer institutes for teachers.

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

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