Jefferson County Board of Education girls of color academy.jpg

A standing-room-only crowd listens during the Aug. 27, 2019, Jefferson County Board of Education meeting.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools will launch an academy tailored for middle school girls of color in the 2020-21 school year after a unanimous vote by the school board Tuesday.

The Jefferson County Board of Education authorized the school amid an outpouring of support from many who say such an academy — which will focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics — has been desperately needed for minority girls in JCPS, particularly black females. A standing-room-only crowd welcomed the unanimous vote with a standing ovation.

Talk of opening a girls of color academy comes as the W.E.B. DuBois Academy, which features an Afrocentric curriculum geared toward minority boys, enters its second year with its first class of seventh-grade students.

Officials believe the girls’ STEAM school will help promote a greater sense of belonging in school and create better outcomes for them academically. The curriculum will also be Afrocentric and gender specific, so minority females will learn more about the accomplishments of women of color.

Several speakers at Tuesday’s board meeting voiced their support for opening the all-girls school, often pointing to successes seen in the DuBois Academy’s first year as an example for what can happen for females in a similar environment.

“We are failing these girls,” said Sadiqa Reynolds, president of the Louisville Urban League. “We are failing them in a way that we don’t have time to make up, so we’re asking for the opportunity tonight to show you, to show this city, this country, that we can learn and be successful.”

Kathryn Wallace, education chair for the Louisville NAACP, called the lack of positive black role models “a serious deficit in our community” and that many minority youth have been put “in an educational ghetto that demands little more than attendance.”

“The achievements and contributions of African-Americans and other minorities are rarely mentioned in our schools’ curriculum,” she said. “This lack of appreciation for and sharing of African-American history and culture has impeded the progress of blacks in America by depriving African-Americans, particularly our youth, of inspiring images of motivating achievements and of nurturing wisdom.”

The girls’ STEAM academy is projected to open to a sixth-grade class in the 2020-21 school year, with seventh- and eighth-grade classes added in the two subsequent years. Each class would have about 150 students, board documents show.

The district plans to have a principal, who is budgeted to make nearly $125,000, in place by early September and ahead of the application period for students, who will be admitted by lottery if demand outpaces the roughly 150 slots for incoming sixth graders.

The school’s initial budget of about $2 million grows to $3.3 million by the 2022-23 school year as it expands through the eighth grade for about 450 total students. In the first three years combined, JCPS expects to spend $501,277 for its STEAM instruction, $185,000 of that going toward classroom instructional devices.

Pollio said the STEAM academy for girls is another example of the district’s push to provide greater equity for all of its students and address problematic issues like achievement gaps between black students and their white peers.

“We clearly have a long way to go, and we must do this work over many years to get the outcomes that we want,” Pollio told the school board. “This is not short-term work, but the approval of the females of color academy is a major step forward … in making us a model district for racial equity.”

It’s unclear exactly where the school will be housed or what it will be named.

While the board initially discussed a broader vision for the girls’ STEAM academy to extend through high school, members only approved the academy as a regular sixth- through eighth-grade middle school.

But Pollio said the board will be asked to approve expanding the girls’ STEAM academy and DuBois Academy through high school as well as a name for the new school later this year.

That’s something Diane Porter, the board’s chairwoman who represents District 1, wanted reflected in the minutes of Tuesday’s meeting. There was some debate among board members in previous meetings about whether DuBois was intended to go beyond middle school when it was approved in 2017.

“I want to make sure that Dr. Pollio’s words are recorded because sometimes we tend to forget what we have said, and to eliminate the questions as we move forward, I think it’s very important that it becomes a part of our minutes this evening,” she said.

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