LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Reopening classrooms in Kentucky’s largest school district is the first step in a multiyear journey to help students who have struggled with remote learning recover academically, Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio said Thursday.
The first group of elementary students are set to walk inside JCPS schools on March 17, some for the first time and others for the first time in about a year.
JCPS and school systems throughout the state shuttered their classrooms early in the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.
The Jefferson County Board of Education approved a phased reopening plan last week that has elementary, middle and high schools operating on hybrid learning schedules, with about 60% of students expected back once classroom instruction begins. The district’s youngest learners will resume in-person instruction March 17 while middle and high schools will reopen for students April 5, the week after spring break.
“I have told my team that I plan on spending the last couple months of this school year in school buildings because I have missed students,” Pollio said Thursday during a news conference at Broadbent Arena.
Pollio and other district leaders are looking beyond the 2020-21 school year to help students who need intensive academic supports after a year of learning from home. JCPS will need to invest in such students “for multiple years,” he said.
The effort could take between three and five years, he said.
“We need to invest in our seniors to make sure they get to the finish line, but everyone else, it’s going to take summer programming, after school, community support, multiple years to make up for lost learning, and we're going to do that in JCPS,” Pollio said. “But in the short-term our goal is to reengage kids.”
The district’s summer programming may not be as extensive as Pollio would like initially because of COVID-19 restrictions.
His goal is to provide summer academic programs for about 30,000 JCPS students – nearly a third of the district’s typical enrollment – starting in 2022, he said, adding that JCPS intends to continue partnering with community learning hubs developed through its partnership with Evolve 502.
“I don't think we're going to be in a spot where we can bring thousands of kids into a school,” Pollio told WDRB News, referring to COVID-19 restrictions. “… We'll be doing some camps and things at many of our schools, specifically at schools where we've had issues around participation rates, and identifying those students who need additional help.”
WDRB News found that most high-poverty schools in JCPS trailed the district’s average participation rate in the opening months of the 2020-21 school year while those with fewer students on meal assistance exceeded the district’s 90.7% average participation rate.
Getting a firm grasp on how many students need help academically will take more than analyzing participation rates and grading data, Pollio said. The district plans to administer diagnostic tests to determine where students are in reading and math once in-person learning resumes so JCPS can identify those most in need of academic supports, he said, noting that about two-thirds of the district’s students qualify for free or reduced-price meals and about 6,000 are homeless.
JCPS isn’t alone as it confronts the pandemic’s impact on education.
Pollio noted that the federal government has dedicated billions of tax dollars to help school districts across the U.S. weather the COVID-19 pandemic, including $54.3 billion in a second round of Elementary and Secondary Emergency Education Relief funding in December.
“This is a national problem, really a worldwide problem,” he said. “… There is not a school district in this country that does not have kids that are suffering because of the pandemic.”
Logistically, the district’s hybrid learning plan for elementary students has made resolving an ongoing bus driver shortage a bit easier.
Pollio, who originally recommended that elementary students return to classes five days a week, said the district is exploring ways to consolidate routes.
Pollio, who said JCPS has struggled finding enough bus drivers “for years,” could not say by how much the district’s shortage of bus drivers could shrink. JCPS needed about 100 more drivers to fully cover routes as part of Pollio’s original recommendation, according to presentations before the Jefferson County Board of Education.
“I know a substantial amount of routes have been cut,” he said. “… We're confident we'll be where we need to be.”
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