JCPS Student Assignment Review Committee.jpg

Barbara Dempsey, director of student assignment for JCPS, talks with the Student Assignment Advisory Review Committee during its Oct. 22, 2019, meeting.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson County Public Schools is looking to refine the application process for magnet programs in hopes of making it easier for families to understand.

The Student Assignment Review Advisory Committee met Tuesday and discussed creating three application methods for the district's magnet programs, two of which would not have admissions criteria.

The committee, which did not come up with a recommendation, discussed the proposals for about an hour during Tuesday's meeting, debating the merits of whittling the magnet enrollment processes down to lotteries, interest-based applications and selective admissions.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said one of his primary goals is to bring "much more clarity" to the varied application processes for the district's magnet programs and make it easier for parents and guardians to understand why their children weren't enrolled in a particular school.

"It's difficult at times, but what we don't have right now is clarity around, in many schools, why a student gets in or if they don't get in, so I think that has to be a consideration through this as well," Pollio told the committee.

The lottery and interest-based application processes would not require admissions criteria, but a selective enrollment process would. The advisory panel discussed potential requirements that would entail, such as academics, attendance, behavior, performance related to specific skills in given programs and diversity.

Much of the panel's discussion Tuesday focused on the selective admissions process and whether some of the criteria should be included.

Some on the panel said attendance, particularly at the elementary level, can be beyond students' control, and some middle- and high-school students can face issues that may also impact whether they can make it to school every day.

Others also said that behavior, which would look at how many days a student missed school for disciplinary measures like suspensions, could be biased against the district's black students, who are disproportionally punished compared to their white peers.

Admissions criteria could also benefit children of more affluent families more than those who come from less secure economic backgrounds, said Delquan Dorsey, Community Engagement Coordinator for JCPS.

"When you start digging down into those things, a lot of it's going to depend on your family's economic level as to where have you been able to set the student up to be able to perform high," Dorsey said.

Another factor that the committee discussed is the availability of seats in the district's magnet programs.

Atherton High School Principal Tom Aberli said based on his experience at the high school level, there could be more students applying for programs than slots available for them, especially if "reasonable" entrance criteria are set.

"You would have more people requesting selective admission than there is space and therefore you'd need to move to a lottery system within a selective-admissions program," Aberli said.

Pollio suggested that high-interest programs, such as performing arts magnets, could need additional seats to meet the demand of students who want to join them.

"The only thing a student in an interest-based magnet would have to do in order to qualify would be to express that passion and love for it," Pollio said. "So I think that's kind of what we're thinking about is more seats and opportunity in those areas."

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