LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Boxes are scattered throughout the ESL Newcomer Academy’s office at the Academy @ Shawnee as staff prepares to move about 15 miles away to the Phoenix School of Discovery.

“Right now, teachers are packing up,” Principal Gwen Snow told WDRB News on Thursday, the last day of classes. “Everybody’s getting ready. We’ll do one initial move of some basic things early next week and then a larger move in the middle of July. We’re also waiting for some renovations to happen on the campus as well.”

The three ESL Newcomer Academy locations in Jefferson County Public Schools, which serve 663 immigrant and refugee students new to the U.S., will be housed under one roof as part of major changes that are coming to the district for the 2018-19 school year.

The new space will be welcome for Snow and other staffers in the program, who must travel to the two other ESL Newcomer Academy sites at Phoenix and the Gheens Academy, as well as students and stakeholders in the program, such as Kentucky Refugee Ministries, Catholic Charities of Louisville, the Louisville Free Public Library and various religious groups.

Snow said the consolidated location will also give students more access to resources like mental health counselors and interpreters and a better sense of community, hopefully drawing them back to help others transition to their new homes.

“It’s going to be very powerful, I think,” she said.

The Shawnee location serves high school freshmen and sophomores and has the largest number of students with 363. Phoenix, which covers seventh and eighth grade students, has the second highest number at 207 and the Gheens Academy location handles 93 students in sixth and seventh graders.

The ESL Newcomer Academy consolidation is just one change ahead for JCPS in 2018-19.

The W.E.B. DuBois Academy will open next school year at Gheens once its ESL Newcomer Academy is consolidated with others, and the district is looking for a permanent location for the magnet program, which will feature an Afrocentric curriculum and provide students with Chromebooks or iPads.

JCPS will also have fewer early childhood locations in 2018-19 after giving up its $15 million Head Start grant, instead opting to expand its early childhood program to include 3- and 4-year-olds eligible for Head Start through $8 million from the district’s general fund.

The district’s Early Head Start and Head Start programs had been hit in a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that found numerous instances of staff abusing or neglecting students. JCPS officials had been told that another incident could jeopardize its grant.

JCPS’s two teen parent programs are also consolidating under one roof in 2018-19, with the Westport location moving to the South Park site.

The district is also implementing a staffing reorganization that it expects will save the district more than $475,000. Some new positions include chief of staff, chief of schools and general counsel.

For Snow, the ESL Newcomer Academy principal, her program’s move has been needed for years. When it started 12 years ago, it had just 150 students. Last year, it ended with 900.

“It’s going to be very exciting,” she said. “This is my 10th year here, so after 10 years of getting bigger and stretching out into different spaces, having one space is going to be very exciting for all of us.”

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

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