LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – When the two finalists to become the next superintendent at Jefferson County Public Schools took the stage for Monday’s community forum at Gheens Academy, they faced 15 JCPS students ready with questions about how they would lead the state’s largest school district.

Those tasked with peppering acting JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and Chief Operations Officer Mike Raisor with questions brought students’ perspectives to the hunt for a new superintendent, and they touched on subjects such as bullying, school equity, technology in classrooms and potentially moving students learning English to a consolidated facility.

Ali Al-Mosawi, an eighth-grade student at Olmsted Academy North, said he asked the finalists how they would improve equity at JCPS schools for the district’s neediest students because those populations aren’t getting the same opportunities as others.

Many of his classmates live in poverty and have personal struggles to deal with after school that other students don’t, he said.

“Their job is centered around our teaching and they get paid for teaching us, so it’s only fair that they get to hear our opinion on the education system,” Al-Mosawi said of being on the panel.

Both candidates for the district’s top post said finding additional resources would be key to providing equal access to programs and services throughout JCPS.

Pollio highlighted a recent vote by the Jefferson County Board of Education to provide money for arts and music education for the district’s elementary schools and reiterated his call for the top teachers and principals at JCPS to serve in schools with the greatest needs.

“We should make sure that every single one of our schools, no matter what the poverty level is or the at-risk percentage, has equitable access and the same access to great and rich programs, including AP and gifted and talented, that any school has in our district,” said Pollio, who has been interim superintendent since Donna Hargens resigned July 1.

For Raisor, “there is no issue that is more important in our school district” than student equity.

To bridge the gap, he said JCPS needs to clearly define its priorities and finance them.

“That would be the staffing and resources at our most at-risk schools,” Raisor said.

“That would be making sure that our students of poverty and our at-risk students who attend other schools are also getting the equitable resources that they need, but it also means that the smart and talented teachers and principals that you have will have what they need to provide for the very things that you ask for.”

Paige Mincey, a junior at Valley High School, asked the finalists how they would treat students who didn’t want to join one of the district’s high school academy programs, which provide more focused instruction in career-oriented areas like health sciences and information technology.

Raisor said a critical part of the transition process is engaging with students to ensure they’re on the right paths, and Pollio advocated for the academy model, saying that embracing the program yielded substantial drops in suspensions and other disciplinary issues during his time as principal at Doss High School.

Mincey, who is part of Valley’s health sciences academy, said it’s important for her and others to know what will happen with the expanding program under new leadership.

“I love my program, and I don’t want anyone to come in there and just not be into it because I’m into it and I love it, and I don’t want anyone to come in and distract me from learning something that’s going to be my future,” she said after the forum.

For Raisor and Pollio, Monday’s forum offered them a chance to hear directly from students on issues that are important to them.

“The whole key to this is it’s about the kids, and public education is the very bedrock of our society, so you’ve got to hear what their concerns are,” Raisor told reporters, “and also, it’s important for the children to know their voice does matter, that the concerns they have matter.”

Pollio said he was impressed with the quality of questions at the district's second superintendent forum, which drew about 100 to hear from finalists.

“I think it underscores the need to always make sure that we have student voice at the table because all the questions felt very authentic to me,” he said afterward, noting that such opportunities help students develop a sense of belonging within JCPS.

The school board hopes to make its decision on the next superintendent by March 1. The next superintendent forum, the third of four, is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Ballard High School.

The district is also seeking input on the selection through a survey at JCPSYourVoice.com.

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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