JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio staff kickoff 2021.jpg

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio challenged teachers in Kentucky’s largest school district Wednesday to be “human lighthouses” for students as they begin the 2021-22 school year next week.

Pollio touched on numerous subjects in his 50-minute speech during an all-staff kickoff event at the Kentucky International Convention Center, such as the evolving COVID-19 pandemic, academic achievement gaps, facility upgrades and the two-year corrective action plan with the threat of a Kentucky Department of Education takeover looming over JCPS.

Woven throughout his remarks was his call for JCPS teachers to be guiding lights for their students for all 175 days of the upcoming school year.

“It’s easy to be human lighthouse on Aug. 11,” Pollio said. “It is challenging and rare to be a human lighthouse on Nov. 11 and Feb. 11 and March 11 and May 11. It is very challenging to be a human lighthouse during that time, but that is what great educators do."

“We need human lighthouses in our schools," he said. "That’s what we need every day, because our children need us more than ever, and the pandemic has definitely exposed that.”

The 2021-22 school year is the third academic year in a row affected by the pandemic. This year, escalating coronavirus caseloads driven by the more infectious delta variant has prompted JCPS and other school districts to again require indoor masking as state and federal guidance has recommended.

Pollio said about 70% of incoming students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, up from nearly 64% last school year and about 63% in 2019-20, and nearly 6,000 students were considered homeless even before the pandemic struck.

“That is something as a community we should not accept,” Pollio said after discussing the number of JCPS students experiencing housing insecurity in the 2021-22 school year.

Pollio also pushed back against opposition to the district's racial equity work as more people voice concerns with critical race theory, which is a decades-old academic study that examines the effects of racism on U.S. laws and institutions.

He noted that some of the district's principals have endured state audits and lost their jobs in part because of persistent achievement gaps at their schools.

"And now we are told we're not supposed to talk about that," Pollio said. "The time when I finally think we are making inroads to the foundation and changes that need to happen in our schools to truly change the achievement gap, and that is a commitment to racial equity, we're now being told we're not supposed to talk about, and that is a problem for me."

Achievement gaps are a national "crisis" for school districts and linked to issues within communities that school systems are often tasked with addressing, he said.

"We have been told for years when kids are struggling it must be the public school system's fault when we know so many things are happening outside of the school walls, but I do know we can address these issues within our school walls," Pollio said. "... If we're going to be held accountable, as we should, for reducing and eliminating the achievement gap, then we have to be a human lighthouse about the achievement gap."

The 2021-22 school year begins Aug. 11 at JCPS.

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