LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- When Jefferson County Public Schools transitioned to nontraditional instruction in January and February, participation rates at many schools serving some of the district’s most disadvantaged children trailed districtwide averages each day of remote learning.

Records obtained by WDRB News show more than 30 schools and programs lagged JCPS participation rate averages each day during the nine days of remote learning in the first two months of 2022.

Many schools that trailed JCPS average participation rates during nontraditional instruction serve high concentrations of students living in poverty above the district’s 67.9% of students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals and have been identified by the state and district as low-performing schools that need help boosting academic achievement.

Others that lagged districtwide participation rates during remote learning serve high-need students, such as disabled children, those learning English, teen mothers and those in alternative programs for disciplinary reasons.

Participation rates across JCPS averaged 84 % on Jan. 11, Jan. 12 and Jan. 13; 81% on Jan. 14; 83 % on Jan. 18; 82% on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20; and 78% on Jan. 21 and Feb. 3. JCPS used most of those nontraditional instruction days as COVID-19 cases surged among employees and students in January, creating concerns that schools could not adequately staff in-person classes.

Most of the schools, excluding specialty programs, cover western Jefferson County in school board districts represented by Jefferson County Board of Education Chairwoman Diane Porter and Joe Marshall.

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“It clearly identifies that some of our students did not have the same amount of time, which can ultimately impact their learning,” said Porter, who represents District 1. “So now that we know that, the question is what are our plans to work with the young people?”

Schools and programs where participation rates lagged districtwide averages during each day of nontraditional instruction are:

  • Academy @ Shawnee (74%, 18%, 68%, 63%, 67%, 19%, 65%, 61% and 71%)
  • Ackerly (24%, 35%, 34%, 33%, 30%, 22%, 34%, 32% and 44%)
  • Breckinridge Metropolitan High (43%, 44%, 50%, 41%, 51%, 44%, 39%, 42% and 27%)
  • Churchill Park School (54%, 44%, 42%, 48%, 49%, 47%, 38%, 43% and 36%)
  • Cochran Elementary (76%, 81%, 76%, 73%, 81%, 79%, 78%, 71% and 74%)
  • Dixie Elementary (80%, 78%, 80%, 73%, 82%, 78%, 78%, 76% and 7 %)
  • Doss High (67%, 67%, 60%, 58%, 64%, 59%, 56%, 52% and 42%)
  • Engelhard Elementary (68%, 72%, 71%, 66%, 64%, 67%, 67%, 64% and 64%)
  • Fairdale High (66%, 60%, 56%, 50%, 55%, 51%, 50%, 45% and 50%)
  • Frederick Law Olmsted Academy North (68%, 71%, 68%, 59%, 62%, 63%, 62%, 55% and 57%)
  • Georgia Chaffee Teenage Parent Program (64%, 64%, 41%, 52%, 54%, 59%, 43%, 50% and 16%)
  • Iroquois High (68%, 70%, 69%, 66%, 68%, 70%, 66%, 64% and 75%)
  • Jacob Elementary (74%, 81%, 80%, 73%, 78%, 80%, 78%, 74% and 68%)
  • Jefferson Regional Juvenile Detention Center (27%, 17%, 19%, 19%, 15%, 16%, 37%, 21% and 47%)
  • King Elementary (70%, 81%, 75%, 69%, 71%, 81%, 74%, 67% and 62%)
  • Liberty High (64%, 62%, 58%, 52%, 52%, 57%, 50%, 47% and 56%)
  • Louisville Day (45%, 64%, 45%, 36%, 36%, 36%, 27%, 18% and 50%)
  • Marion C. Moore (79%, 76%, 77%, 71%, 74%, 70%, 73%, 63% and 68%)
  • Maupin Elementary (68%, 70%, 68%, 59%, 66%, 68%, 68%, 59% and 71%)
  • McFerran Preparatory Academy (77%, 83%, 80%, 76%, 78%, 78%, 78%, 74% and 73%)
  • Mill Creek Elementary (71%, 77%, 74%, 74%, 75%, 73%, 76%, 74% and 77%)
  • Minor Daniels Academy (47%, 51%, 51%, 44%, 45%, 37%, 41%, 27% and 36%)
  • Newcomer Academy (80%, 83%, 82%, 72%, 77%, 81%, 79%, 74% and 69%)
  • Pathfinder School of Innovation (60%, 59%, 60%, 57%, 60%, 60%, 59%, 57% and 57%)
  • Peace Academy (66%, 56%, 61%, 58%, 69%, 66%, 66%, 62% and 46%)
  • Phoenix School of Discovery (77%, 74%, 67%, 66%, 67%, 63%, 61%, 60% and 54%)
  • Pleasure Ridge Park High (78%, 78%, 68%, 70%, 71%, 70%, 66%, 63% and 64%)
  • Robert Frost Sixth-Grade Academy (74%, 75%, 68%, 64%, 43%, 38%, 53%, 36% and 54%)
  • Semple Elementary (69%, 75%, 73%, 72%, 73%, 75%, 75%, 71% and 73%)
  • Seneca High (78%, 75%, 75%, 71%, 77%, 71%, 62%, 68% and 52%)
  • Stuart Academy (52%, 50%, 49%, 45%, 42%, 48%, 41%, 42% and 40%)
  • Waggener High (62%, 49%, 51%, 56%, 60%, 54%, 55%, 55% and 69%)
  • Waller-Williams Environmental (68%, 68%, 66%, 60%, 65%, 72%, 68%, 38% and 48%)
  • Wellington Elementary (72%, 78%, 71%, 73%, 78%, 80%, 78%, 77% and 71%)
  • Western High (82%, 81%, 79%, 77%, 79%, 78%, 76%, 72% and 71%)
  • Valley High (67%, 67%, 61%, 52%, 53%, 50%, 47%, 38% and 31%)

WDRB News has previously reported on many high-poverty schools trailing the district’s average participation rate during the opening months of the 2020-21 school year, which began with nontraditional instruction.

Navigating the COVID-19 pandemic has presented JCPS and other school districts “a lot of lessons, and one of those is that NTI isn’t for everyone,” Marshall said.

He sees a correlation between schools with high rates of students on free or reduced-price school meals and those that posted lagging participation rates during remote learning compared to district averages.

“When I look at that I don’t think, ‘What did our teachers not do? What did our administrators not do?’ I look at how can we be better as a society in reaching families that are struggling right now,” Marshall said.

Chronic absenteeism, where students miss 10 or more instructional days for any reason during a school year, has been a problem at JCPS for years. Nearly 23% of JCPS students in the 2018-19 school year, the most recent in which all instruction was held in in-person classes, were considered chronically absent.

Data from the 2018-19 school year show chronic absenteeism becomes more prevalent the older students get.

Maupin Elementary had one of the highest rates of chronic absenteeism at the elementary level that year with 32.2% of students missing at least 10% of school days. Stuart Academy led middle schools in chronic absentee rates with 46.3% that year.

More than half of all students at five high schools missed at least 10% of instructional days in the 2018-19 school year. Western High led that group with a chronic absentee rate of 58.3% followed by Valley High at 56.1%, Iroquois High at 56.1%, Waggener High at 51.7% and the Academy @ Shawnee, which also has middle school classes, at 51%. Doss High came close to reaching 50% of students missing at least 10% of class days that year after posting a chronic absentee rate of 49.1%.

All of the schools mentioned trailed the district’s average remote learning participation rates this year.

Marshall said teachers and administrators of several District 4 schools struggled to maintain consistent contact with students, some without permanent housing, during nontraditional instruction.

Many families in District 4 went into “scramble mode” to determine how to make at-home learning work after JCPS transitioned to nontraditional instruction as COVID-19 cases spiked inside JCPS schools and in Jefferson County, he said. He also suspects some students took the opportunity to pick up extra shifts at work when classrooms closed.

“It wasn’t that they (teachers and administrators) weren’t working hard,” Marshall said. “It wasn't that they weren't trying to reach kids. ... Once we came back, to make that transition NTI again, it's a tough transition on families who are just now getting back into the mode of school day-by-day.”

District 1 schools also worked “extremely hard” to make nontraditional instruction work during the quick transition to remote learning, Porter said.

While JCPS has distributed thousands of Chromebooks and internet hotspots to students throughout the pandemic, Porter said connectivity issues emerged for some families in her district.

“I don't know why things don't work, but sometimes things just did not work,” Porter said.

In some homes, older students also had to supervise younger siblings and relatives during remote learning, she said.

Superintendent Marty Pollio and other JCPS leaders have acknowledged that many students will need extra academic help because of learning disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nate Meyer, assistant superintendent for accelerated improvement schools, said that’s a problem facing not just JCPS, but other school districts across the U.S., particularly with schools serving high-need students.

“We’re not satisfied with those results, and it's important that as a school district and as an office that we're directly supporting those schools that had those lower participation rates because we believe in all kids,” Meyer said. “We want to ensure success for all students, and having students engaged in their educational process is certainly a key factor to making that happen.”

Meyer says the district will take “a multifaceted approach” to help students gain ground academically. The district will rely on diagnostic testing to identify students that need assistance, and schools and family resource and youth service centers work to connect with families, he said.

Afterschool and summer programming will also play roles in the district’s strategy to make up for lost learning time, Meyer said. JCPS expects to accommodate 10,000 students in summer learning opportunities this year, Communications Manager Mark Hebert said.

Schools will directly recruit students that need the most help academically to enroll in summer programs like the Backpack League, Meyer said.

“There will be learning opportunities for AIS (accelerated improvement schools) students to engage over spring, and that work will continue for the rest of the year and into summer to try to make up for learning loss not just over what occurred in January, but what's occurred over the last two years,” he said. “... We know a lot of kids were not engaged the way that we want them to be, but through thoughtful work from our Teaching and Learning Department, thoughtful work happening in schools, we’re working hard to close those gaps.”

Porter hopes to see academic progress sooner rather than later.

“What will we do moving forward because academics is something that we are responsible for,” she said. “… I think that now that we know what the numbers look like, the question is what is our plan to take care of this because everyone will never be the same academically, but there should not be a significant difference in the progress instructionally for our students, in my personal opinion.”

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated that chronic absenteeism at JCPS is counted as missing 10 instructional days. Chronic absenteeism at JCPS is counted by students who have missed 10% of instructional days during school years.

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