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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- A new academy geared toward girls of color may be launched next school year if approved by the Jefferson County Board of Education later this month.

Jefferson County Public Schools officials detailed their plans for the all-girls academy during a board work session Tuesday. The board will be asked to authorize the school, designed to be a sixth- through 12th-grade program, at its Aug. 27 meeting, with a principal in place for next year’s Showcase of Schools in October, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio told board members.

The program, if approved, would focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics as part of an Afrocentric and gender-centric curriculum and be modeled after the W.E.B. DuBois Academy, an all-boys JCPS school that’s entering its second school year. Computer coding will be a required course at the school if it's approved by the board, Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman said.

“The curriculum itself will be designed so they can see themselves everywhere they go in every class in their curriculum and understand what it takes, that they’re not an anomaly, that there are a lot of people that have come before them that have done this work,” JCPS Chief Equity Officer John Marshall said during his presentation Tuesday.

The concept is meant to demystify careers in STEAM fields for girls of color, he said.

“We are really talking about high, high expectations where we have a viable source of young ladies by the time they graduate that are definitely Spelman-bound, but also NASA-bound,” Marshall said, referring to the historically black girls’ school Spelman College.

One Spelman graduate is on the committee tasked with designing the girls of color STEAM academy. Jon’a Joiner, a 2000 graduate of Central High School, said going to Spelman drove home the importance of learning from people who can relate to students’ life experiences.

“JCPS will be really a pioneer in this field as far as identifying a school and a curriculum that is specific for girls of color to help truly enrich them through their matriculation not only through middle school, but potentially high school and beyond,” Joiner told reporters.

Making the new girls of color STEAM academy available through high school will likely mean an expansion of the DuBois Academy, which has only been approved to have classes through the eighth grade.

Some JCPS officials and board members have vocally endorsed the school’s expansion through high school, and Pollio said a proposal to expand DuBois could be brought to the board this winter.

“We know there’s a lot of work to be done and there’s more data to be collected, but there’s a ton effort, resources and just elbow grease put into the design of these schools,” said Chief of Schools Devon Horton.

Pollio said the district has a location in mind for the school, but he declined to identify exactly where. He said the district is looking to repurpose one of its current facilities for the STEAM academy.

The push for an all-girls alternative to the DuBois Academy comes as JCPS works to improve outcomes for minority students.

Officials said black girls make up 14.2% of suspensions at JCPS compared to 4.3% for white girls. Black girls also make up 25% of enrollment in JCPS alternative schools compared to 3% for white girls, according to data presented Tuesday.

Some board members shared their concerns with the proposal. Board member Chris Brady said he would like to see JCPS develop a multicultural curriculum that also recognized the achievements of the Latino community given recent growth in the Hispanic student population.

Board member Linda Duncan said she hoped to see success from the STEAM academy, but not at the expense of existing schools like Olmsted Academy South, which is an all-girls middle school.

She also worried that the new school would create less diverse classrooms throughout JCPS.

“At this point we need to understand and recognize that we are moving ourselves away from this necessity of having black, white combinations,” Duncan said. “We are moving ourselves away from that idea, and we are moving into choice very strongly.”

But board member James Craig countered that the board is doing its part to make amends for past atrocities against the black community.

“We’re moving toward a point where we’re trying to create new equity in schools to overcome the sins of the past,” he told WDRB News after the meeting.

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