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The Jefferson County Board of Education discusses the racial equity plan passed Jan. 8, 2019.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously passed a racial equity plan Tuesday that aims to cut the achievement gap between white and black students, promote a more diverse teaching staff and improve access to district programs for minority students.

The push for racial parity in Jefferson County Public Schools comes as it faces a persistent achievement gap between white and black students and disparities in disciplinary actions like suspensions, of which minority students have made up 77 percent so far this year, according to JCPS data.

Among the plan’s goals are:

  • Reducing the achievement gap between white and black students by 3 percent by 2020.
  • Cutting the percentage of minority students who make up JCPS suspension from 77 percent to 67 percent by 2020, a reduction of 1,800 suspensions for students of color.
  • Increasing teachers of color from 16 percent to 18 percent by 2020 and administrators of color from 31 percent to 36 percent in the same timeframe. That would mean 128 more minority teachers and 31 more minority administrators on the district’s payroll.
  • Identifying more minority students for gifted and talented programs, from 38 percent to 43 percent by 2020.
  • Boosting minority enrollment in magnet programs from 52 percent to 55 percent by 2020 and in advanced courses from 39 percent to 42 percent by 2020.
  • Improving minority students’ reported sense of belonging in school from 75 percent to 80 percent in 2020.

JCPS passed a racial equity policy May 8.

Pollio told the school board that a number of initiatives laid out in the racial equity plan have already been implemented and begun yielding results.

He said suspensions have declined throughout the district by 20 percent this year, with the disproportionality between white and black students down.

What’s more, assessments show that black students have made “impressive growth” academically.

“We still have work to do there as well, but we’re working on that diligently, and we believe we will see a closing of that gap,” Pollio said.

Some, however, criticized the plan’s goals for not going far enough.

Chris Harmer, chairman of the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, asked the board to table Tuesday’s planned vote and instead offer a bolder vision of equity in the district. He also said JCPS should invest more than the $2 million minimum, as detailed in the racial equity plan, for initiatives geared toward minority students.

He called that amount “impossibly small” to address equity gaps in JCPS, particularly considering the district’s $1.7 billion budget.

“Please do not vote on this tonight,” Harmer said. “Give it back to the staff, get stronger numbers, bring it back and get a tool that you can use for the budget.”

Autumn Neagle, president of the 15th District Parent Teacher Association, urged the board to “be aggressive” in its goals for the plan.

“I’m asking this board to table this vote and send it back to committee to be reviewed and updated to add the teeth that will make it a credit to the policy that was put in place last May,” she said.

But the board moved forward with the vote despite such protests.

Pollio said that the board would be updated quarterly on the plan’s progress. What’s more, he said board members can offer revisions at a board retreat in the coming weeks and at future meetings.

Board members were comfortable moving forward with the plan knowing that they could recommend changes.

Chris Kolb, who was elected the board’s vice chair Tuesday, noted that there would be ample opportunities to hear progress on the plan and get community feedback on how it’s working.

“If there’s a change that we determine really needs to be made urgently, then that’s always a possibility,” Kolb said.

Board member Linda Duncan noted that the plan’s goals can always be exceeded.

“The goals are not the really significant things for us to focus on right now,” she said. “…Our ultimate goal is that we have 100 percent of our students scoring the same.”

In an attempt to resolve the shortage of minority teachers, the school board voted to approve an agreement between JCPS and Simmons College of Kentucky, a historically black institution, to help recruit newly graduated teachers.

Pollio said JCPS is developing a summer program to offer alternative certifications for Simmons graduates. That, he said, will lead to Simmons graduates in JCPS classrooms this fall.

“We expect this collaboration to produce hundreds of teachers that will become JCPS teachers,” he said. “We know that a high percentage of African-American teachers in this country went to an HBCU (historically black college and university), and we know that fortunately we have an HBCU right here in this community, and we believe that this collaboration is going to be one of our main ways to reach our goal of diversifying our teaching staff.”

Reach reporter Kevin Wheatley at 502-585-0838 and kwheatley@wdrb.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevinWheatleyKY.

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