JCPS Engelhard restorative practices circle.jpg

Engelhard Elementary fifth-grade teacher Blake Graham demonstrates a restorative practice circle she uses with her classes during a Nov. 25, 2019, news conference at the school.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Nearly a third of schools in Jefferson County Public Schools will be using restorative practices once 20 more schools receive the training this summer, the district announced Monday.

The 20 schools, which have not yet been determined, will join 29 others in the 155-school district that already use restorative practices to foster positive relationships between students and staff and ensure students know how their behavior affects others. It's part of the district's effort to implement restorative practices at all of its schools.

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio announced the latest push during a news conference Monday at Engelhard Elementary, which is one of the district's first schools to implement restorative practices in the 2017-18 school year.

JCPS and other urban school districts in the U.S. "have more students coming to us with adverse childhood experiences, trauma and in need of support than ever before," Pollio said, noting that about two-thirds of the district's students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and nearly 6,000 of them are homeless.

The district has invested $2.6 million in training restorative practices since fiscal year 2017 plus another $80,000 per year in operational expenses. In this year's working budget, the district increased its spending on the initiative by $324,000.

Engelhard Principal Ryan McCoy, the school's leader as it began implementing restorative practices, says he's seen major differences in his students as Engelhard starts its third year using the model.

"Circles" are central to restorative practices. Fifth-grade teacher Blake Graham demonstrated a type on Monday that she uses with her students regularly, which gives her kids a chance to express how they're feeling on a given day and to share their views on a particular topic. During Monday's news conference, Graham asked her students how the world could be a better place.

Another type occurs after conflicts between students or between a student and teacher, giving each side an opportunity to share how the situations affected them, McCoy said.

Beyond stronger teacher-pupil relationships, McCoy says suspensions have declined since it started using restorative practices.

The practice has become so ingrained, in fact, that McCoy says he's seen students start hashing out their issues immediately after a conflict.

That development "is huge" given the monumental struggles that many Engelhard students face on a daily basis, he says. District data show that 85.6 percent of students there qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.

"Oftentimes there are families that are thinking about themselves or students thinking about themselves, kind of because they have to," McCoy said. "We have some students that don't know what their meal's going to be today. It's kind of survival. Where am I going to get food? What am I going to eat?

"So to have students be able to look through a different lens now to say, 'How am I affecting other people?' is big."

He also hopes it will keep them interested in learning throughout their academic careers.

"A fear of mine is that if you don't find a way to hook them, to get them engaged for them to want to be here and feel like they belong, I'm afraid in the long run that they may drop out," McCoy said. "We always want to try to build that sense of community, of belonging, and try to engage them in their learning because that increases academics, it decreases behavior, decreases absences, and hopefully that continues on throughout school."

The district has committed to implementing restorative practices in all of its schools within six years, according to Reginald Barnes, co-president of Citizens of Louisville Organized and United Together.

CLOUT has been a major advocate of the push to implement restorative practices in JCPS schools.

"It will make our schools safer for our students, teachers and staff, and it will provide the community with a better workforce with citizens who know how to resolve conflict peacefully and nonviolently," Karen Williams, chairwoman of CLOUT's restorative practices committee.

JCPS schools that have received training on restorative practices thus far are:

  • Engelhard Elementary
  • Waggener High
  • Knight Middle
  • Shacklette Elementary
  • Academy @ Shawnee
  • Slaughter Elementary
  • Phoenix School of Discovery
  • Minor Daniels Academy
  • Stuart Middle
  • Brooklawn
  • Meyzeek Middle
  • Klondike Elementary
  • Price Elementary
  • Sanders Elementary
  • Blake Elementary
  • Rutherford Elementary
  • Wilder Elementary
  • Western Middle
  • Louisville Day Treatment
  • Cane Run Elementary
  • Cochrane Elementary
  • Coleridge-Taylor Elementary
  • Newcomer Academy
  • Gutermuth Elementary
  • Hawthorne Elementary
  • King Elementary
  • Mill Creek Elementary
  • Rangeland Elementary
  • Semple Elementary

Copyright 2019 by WDRB Media. All rights reserved.