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In Your Backyard | JCPS school named for one of Kentucky's most prolific writers

Stuart Academy bears the name of Jesse Stuart, born in Greenup County, who was once poet laureate for the Commonwealth.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Atherton. Kennedy. Grace James. Familiar names dot the streets of Louisville, and adorn the walls of JCPS schools

Each name has a story, and many schools Louisvillians are so familiar with honor Kentuckians who've made an impact here and around the country. 

Jesse Stuart was perhaps one of Kentucky's most prolific writers. He was born in Greenup County, Kentucky in 1906. 

"He's a renowned novelist and poet laureate for the Commonwealth," JCPS archivist Jim Cundy said. "He published novels, books of poetry, children's books, interestingly enough, which I hadn't know." 

Stuart's books often feature a regional literature style, which Cundy said had faded from popularity at the time. Many of Stuart's works document life in the hills of the northeastern part of the state. 

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Additionally, Cundy said Stuart had a long career in public education. 

"He came back to Greenup and was a high school teacher and eventually principal," Cundy said, noting Stuart left to further his education and eventually came back to be the superintendent. 

In 1966, to alleviate overcrowding, the school district in Louisville approved plans for a new junior high. In March 28 of that year, the school was named Jesse Stuart Junior High School, now known as Stuart Academy

In opened in August and Jesse Stuart, who was alive at the time, was able to attend the dedication in November.

"He was delighted," Cundy said. 

Stuart passed away in 1984. 

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Cundy said the school took on several iterations over the years, transitioning from a junior high, to a high school and back again - keeping the Stuart name. 

Today, the school serves about 1200 students, making it one of JCPS's largest middle schools according to principal Darren Dawson. 

Several years ago, Stuart merged with Frost 6th Grade Academy, which Dawson said presented a challenge, and a feeling of rivalry within the building. 

"That's been the biggest obstacle is to knock down that barrier and integrate our school," he said. "I wanted to end that rivalry, and bring us together as one campus, my motto is 'better together, one team, one goal.'" 

Dawson said the team at the school has worked tirelessly since the merger to create one school community, with the school's now full combined. 

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"We’re fully integrated this year, there is no more Frost," he said.

It's a mission Stuart himself might have appreciated, having worked through challenges as superintendent. 

"By his own account his time as superintendent was difficult, as he puts it he was part of 32 lawsuits," Cundy said. 

Dawson recognizes the power behind the name of a school, acknowledging Stuart Academy has historically struggled. 

"They just hear the name 'Stuart' and think that’s a bad school, but it's not," he said. 

He's trying to change that reputation, making the Jesse Stuart namesake a place of community and safety for his students. 

"If they can trust us and be here and feel safe, that means more than if they understand the Pythagorean theorem, we can get to the academics," he said.

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