LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Less than two years after Jefferson County Public Schools tried out a different style of learning at one of its lowest performing schools, the district will ask the school board to officially drop the program at the conclusion of this school year.

The Catalpa School at Maupin Elementary opened at the start of the 2015-16 year, a result of the Kentucky Department of Education designating JCPS as one of seven school districts in the state as "Districts of Innovation," meaning they were being allowed to break out of the traditional structure of public education and experiment with learning.

According to a proposal up for consideration at Tuesday's meeting, the school's principal as well as district administrators have requested the removal of the magnet status as a Catalpa School of Innovation Magnet Program and discontinue the Catalpa Model altogether.

"If the board approves the recommendation, it would not continue with the District of Innovation program," said Allison Martin, a spokeswoman for JCPS, adding that the Kentucky Department of Education "has been notified."

Meanwhile, more than half of the school's teachers -- 16 of 31 -- have requested transfers out of the school at the end of the 2016-17 year, Martin said.

The program -- which features a Waldorf-inspired curriculum that incorporates movement, visual art, storytelling or drama with an overall goal of boosting test scores -- had a difficult time getting on its feet. That, combined with bleak test scores and the results of an audit from the state, appears to have prompted officials to come to this conclusion.

"Maupin ranks 709 out of 709 elementary schools in the state of Kentucky," the proposal reads. "Thus, the most recent data indicates that the magnet is not positively impacting student achievement."

The proposal further reads: "The continuation of the Maupin Elementary School’s Catalpa School of Innovation Magnet Program for the 2017-18 school year would not support addressing the improvement priorities identified by the audit and would not support increased student achievement."

WDRB first reported last fall that the district had quietly changed course on a plan that allowed two of its lowest performing elementary schools to experiment with new ways of teaching and learning.

At the time it was approved, the district said it would spend about $370,000 over four years to implement the Catalpa program at Maupin.

Parents and teachers at both schools have been frustrated with the lack of progress delivered in what they say was promised to them.

“To me, it’s been a case of false advertisement,” said Sharon Lee, whose granddaughter attends Maupin, told WDRB last fall. “We thought the kids would be getting this new innovative program and half way through the first year, it just stopped.”

Indeed, the 2015-16 year at Maupin had a rocky start – the school struggled with its new curriculum and managing student behavior that some teachers said disrupted learning to a point that they couldn’t teach.

Jennifer Nelson, a teacher at the school who helped create the idea behind the Catalpa School at Maupin, told WDRB in December that the first year was "very challenging."

"We had a huge transition," Nelson said. "Almost every teacher in the building was new but most of the students were not. So the students came in confused about who we were and what was going on. And we really had to earn their trust."

Nelson said "we also had to get our families to buy in to what we were doing because there was a lot of skepticism."

"I don't have the time to think about the big picture politics," she said. "I feel pressure to make it work here because I love the children and I believe in the model and I want to bring holistic education to these children that I love very much."

Nelson could not be reached for immediate comment on Thursday.

Patty Rundell, a longtime JCPS teacher, resigned her post at Maupin in September 2015. In her resignation letter, she cited a “lack of assistance that every teacher in this building needs, and has been crying out for, in order to maintain stability in the classroom.”

Rundell also noted a concern that the “now that administration is trying to change instruction, the Waldorf program that is the magnet for this school, will be diluted. I cannot watch that happen.”


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

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