JCPS votes to discontinue Catalpa program from Maupin Elementary

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Following a passionate discussion in which JCPS officials admitted mistakes were made, the school board voted on Tuesday to support a district recommendation to drop the Catalpa program from the west end school.

"If we vote to remove the Catalpa program, we must own up to fact we really messed this up," said board member Chris Kolb, shortly before the board unanimously voted 6-0 to support the district's recommendation. "We should have seen these issues beforehand."

The Catalpa School at Maupin Elementary opened at the start of the 2015-16 year, a result of the Kentucky Department of Education designating JCPS as one of seven school districts in the state as "Districts of Innovation," meaning they were being allowed to break out of the traditional structure of public education and experiment with learning.

The program -- which features a Waldorf-inspired curriculum that incorporates movement, visual art, storytelling or drama with an overall goal of boosting test scores -- had a difficult time getting on its feet. That, combined with bleak test scores and the results of an audit from the state, appears to have prompted officials to come to this conclusion.

"The current program is failing to meet the academic needs of the students," said JCPS assistant superintendent Joe Leffert, adding that Maupin is the lowest performing school in Kentucky.

A total of 11 parents and community addressed the board, all but one asking them to give the program more time. 

"We elected you to deal with that and not cut short or under-fund a model you committed to," said Shameka Parrish-Wright, a parent. "The people of (the) Parkland (neighborhood) understand what a lack of commitment looks like."

Leffert told the school board he had talked with parents at the school who are in the "silent majority" and want the program removed.

Principal Maria Holmes admitted that her staff was split on the proposal, with half wanting the Catalpa program to remain while other half wanted it go.

"Looking at the evidence and looking at the data and continuing to do something that distracts us from the purpose of learning is ill-advised," Holmes said.

Each of the board members said they were not happy with the decision, but that they supported what was recommended by the district.

"The district should be commended in its efforts to try something new in combating the lack of achievement that has plagued Maupin for a long time," said board chairman Chris Brady, who was absent from Tuesday's meeting, but sent a statement that was read before the meeting.

"More often than not, an innovative solution is achieved only after many failures," Brady said. "That’s true regardless of what problem the solution is trying to solve."

But he added: "That said, we in leadership should be held accountable for the incompetent way this innovative solution was implemented."  

Following the board's vote, many of the Maupin teachers and parents who attended the meeting walked out in tears. One of them was Jennifer Nelson, one of three JCPS teachers who helped create the idea behind the Catalpa School.

"I am extraordinarily disappointed, but I suppose I am not surprised," Nelson told WDRB News, adding she doesn't "have the slightest idea" what she will do next.

More than half of the school's teachers -- 16 of 30 -- have requested transfers out of the school at the end of the 2016-17 year. 

But many of those teachers told WDRB the reason they applied for a transfer is because they were advised to do so by Holmes, who they say told them she couldn't assure them that the Catalpa program would return for 2017-18 year.

"We were told to put our transfers in by our principal," said one teacher, who did not want to be named. "That's why there are so many transfers."

Nelson asked why the district went through such a lengthy, detailed process in selecting the Catalpa program as a School of Innovation.

"Why go through the competition, the process and invest all of that money and disrupting things at Maupin, as well as move students and teachers -- what was the point of all of that?" Nelson asked. "Why even bother?"

WDRB first reported last fall that the district had quietly changed course on a plan that allowed two of its lowest performing elementary schools to experiment with new ways of teaching and learning.

At the time it was approved, the district said it would spend about $370,000 over four years to implement the Catalpa program at Maupin.


Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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