JCPS may shift focus as it looks to revisit student assignment p - WDRB 41 Louisville News

JCPS may shift focus as it looks to revisit student assignment plan

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JCPS school board meeting at Lincoln Elementary School on Sept. 13, 2016 JCPS school board meeting at Lincoln Elementary School on Sept. 13, 2016

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools will soon revisit its controversial student assignment plan, but instead of focusing on diversity and choice, school board members urged the district to place a larger emphasis on equity and quality across all schools.

"Our student assignment plan is growing up," said school board member Linda Duncan during a Tuesday work session, adding that years ago diversity was "at the top" when the district reworked its plan. "Maybe diversity is not at the top of the list (anymore), maybe its quality."

JCPS uses six "guiding principles" for assigning students -- choice, predictability, quality, stability, diversity and equity. It last overhauled its student assignment plan – including changing the way it defines diversity – for the 2012-13 academic year.

"Last time, choice and diversity was the focus….looking through the lens of those two principles," said Dena Dossett, chief of data management, planning and evaluation for JCPS. "But we also have quality and equity and some board members said that if we are going to make changes, we need to pay more attention to those two factors."

Dossett said some of the district's schools are becoming less diverse due to demographic changes and that at times, it has been a challenge trying to find a balance between diversity and choice.

For four decades, JCPS has prided itself – and earned a national reputation – for racially integrated public schools, even in the face of the historic 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision forbidding the district from using race as the only factor in assigning students to schools.

When assigning students to schools, JCPS does not consider the race, household income or parental education of any individual student.

Instead, the county’s more than 500 U.S. Census blocks are grouped into three categories based on a combination of those factors, and schools are supposed to have an appropriate mix of students from the three categories.

But as the district’s student assignment plan has evolved over the last few years, a growing number of schools are slipping back into stark racial divisions, according to JCPS statistics reviewed by WDRB News over the past year.

On Tuesday, Dossett said 90 percent of the district's schools -- including all middle and high schools -- are in compliance with the district's diversity guideline. However, 14 schools are not, she said.

The data shows that while JCPS’ total percentage of African-American elementary students has declined from 37 percent to 35 percent since the latest student assignment plan was implemented in 2012, black students have nonetheless become significantly more concentrated in a handful of mostly west Louisville elementary schools.

The district’s 13 elementary clusters are groups of five to eight schools within a geographic area. Parents usually have the option to send their children to any of the schools in their cluster, even if it’s not the school closest to their home. They can also apply for competitive admission to magnet schools.

School board member Lisa Willner said it's important for the district to make sure there is "high quality" across the district.

District officials like Dossett says there are lots of different ways to define quality in a school.

"I think the question is, how do you define quality?" she said, adding that test scores and programs within schools are two measures the district has looked at in the past.

According to a timeline presented to the board at the work session, a review of the district’s current plan could begin as early as October, with possible revisions up for board approval in June. At this point, any changes would not take effect until the start of the 2018-19 year.

You can reach reporter Toni Konz at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2016 WDRB News. All rights reserved. 

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