JCPS Sign

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Alternative schools in Jefferson County Public Schools won’t be moving as part of a wide-ranging facilities plan passed last month, but the district hopes to rethink its approach to educating kids who are referred to such schools.

The Jefferson County Board of Education heard the district’s plans for Minor Daniels Academy and Breckinridge Metropolitan High School for the 2019-20 school year during a meeting Tuesday.

The district scrapped plans to house middle- and high-school students in separate buildings as part of its facilities plan in March. Some alternative school teachers had expressed concerns that their safety could be jeopardized with the mergers.

Minor Daniels and Breckinridge will remain in their current buildings, but district officials say they want to improve the experiences of students who attend JCPS alternative schools.

Part of that will come through initiatives such as a partnership with Rhode Island-based Big Picture Learning, JCPS Chief Academic Officer Carmen Coleman said. The group connects students with internships and develops personalized learning strategies based on their interests, according to Coleman’s presentation.

She said the group would come to conduct a school success study in the district’s alternative schools to determine whether they’re ready for such a learning model. Liberty High School and the Georgia Chaffee Teenage Parent Program have also been part of the district’s discussions with Big Picture Learning, Coleman said.

“Certainly there are aspects of Big Picture, if not the majority of their programming that we can use,” she said. “… We’re excited for the impact this could have on those schools, but we’re also excited about what we can learn that is really getting at what we want for all of our students.”

JCPS officials said they also hoped to institute disciplinary approaches at the schools that emphasize restorative practices and de-escalation; improve the exit process for students, including expanding school options based on needs and interests; hiring additional staff to handle students’ therapeutic needs; consider possible career and technical pathways to boost student engagement; and giving alternative school staff more professional development, among other potential changes for the 2019-20 school year presented Tuesday.

“We are going to have to do things differently with our alternative schools,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said. “We cannot be happy or satisfied with outcomes that we have at this point.”

Pollio said the district still hopes to separate middle- and high-school students in its alternative schools in the future.

But for some board members, time is of the essence in implementing changes to the district’s alternative schools.

JCPS is under a corrective action plan with the Kentucky Department of Education that calls for a follow-up audit by October 2020, where the state could repeat its request that the district run under its management. The corrective action plan calls for the district to assess alternative placements for students covered by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and make any adjustments as needed.

Board member Chris Brady, who represents District 7, cited the corrective action plan’s deadline and past efforts to retool alternative schools at JCPS as reasons for his worries about the proposal.

“I have serious concerns about going forward with this, but at the same time, I know that without a new facility, you’re making do with what you have,” Brady said.

Board member Ben Gies, who represents District 4, said KDE officials brought up the lack of seats in the district’s alternative schools in interviews with him “every time” they’ve talked.

“That is a critical issue that I think we must work to address,” he said.

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