LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- After more than two hours of public comments and discussion, the JCPS school board gave district officials the green light on Tuesday night to proceed with the creation of a school geared toward black male students.

District leaders say the academy would enroll 150 sixth-graders in its first year, starting with the 2018-19 school year. It will cost the district approximately $5.8 million to operate the academy for its first three years.

The academy is being modeled after Lexington's Carter G. Woodson Academy and would feature an Afrocentric curriculum that would educate students through the lens of African American history and culture.

The board voted 6-1 with member Ben Gies casting the opposing vote, citing Title IX concerns and whether the creation of the school would pass legal muster. 

Gies added he believed the key question for the proposal was: "Is separate better?" He answered, saying "No. Separate weakens us. Separate takes away our ability to build a diverse, shared world."

Other board members disagreed.

"We are losing too many boys to gangs and drugs and violence," said board member Linda Duncan. "We need every single kid in this community to grow up and be productive, contributing citizens."

"This proposal is a crossroads for us," she added. "On the chance that this might work...I’m supporting (it)."

Board member Chris Brady said although he supports the concept, he was "gun shy" to support it because of the district's failed efforts to implement an innovative fix at Maupin Elementary

"We failed those kids (at Maupin)," Brady said. "We failed that school because we did not completely, wholeheartedly invest in it."

School board member Lisa Willner said "this has to be implemented well. We have to support it."

Brady also asked who will be ultimately responsible for the success of the 'Males of Color' Academy.

Soon to be interim superintendent Marty Pollio pledged to take responsibility for the implementation of it.

"Implementation of this is on me and my team, and the success will be on me and my team," said Pollio, who takes over on July 2 from outgoing superintendent Donna Hargens who resigned from the district in April, effective July 1.

JCPS has not yet decided where the academy will be housed or how students would be chosen to attend, but it will operate as an alternative program within a school and have its own administrative structure, according to John Marshall, the district's chief equity officer.

"We need to get a principal, make sure the implementation is fair and correct so we can serve kids," he said, adding that he believes "the real work is really just beginning."

Marshall added that the school will be open to any male student in the district, not just those who are African American or Latino.

It has been referred to by district officials as the W.E.B. DuBois Academy, named after the author, sociologist and civil rights activist -- but the school board has not yet approved a name for it. 

Two dozen people addressed the school board and the vast majority voted in favor of the concept, including Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, the Louisville chapter of the NAACP and many other church and community leaders.

Neal said the proposed academy is the opportunity to "uplift the school system, uplift the community."

"Give this a chance for success," Neal said, urging the board to support the proposal.

Raymond Burse, the former president of Kentucky State University, told board members "this is one of the most monumental and consequential decisions the district has made or will make in recent years."

Not all those who addressed the board were in favor of it.

Gay Adelmann, co-founder of the Dear JCPS advocacy group, asked: "What assurances do we have that our most vulnerable students will benefit?"

"I'm concerned it doesn't go far enough," she said.

Marshall said he is committed to making it work and to ensure that the district's most vulnerable students will benefit, saying that qualms by some in the community that it would be an elite school for African American students is "false."

"That's never been the case," he said. "We can talk about elite schools but this cannot be one of them."

Pollio said he hopes to appoint a principal as early as September. He added he will continue to provide updates to the board.


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

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