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School Choice: JCPS looking at changes to student assignment

This comes as west Louisville families seek better options. We saw their efforts to learn more about what's available at JCPS' 'School Choice Night' in Shawnee.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) says it's working to give west Louisville families more options on where their kids can go to school.

For decades, many students continue to be assigned to facilities far away, hurting their experiences. People have criticized the busing of students cross-county for years.

Now, school leaders say they're discussing plans to make changes to the student assignment system.

Even Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio has acknowledged it's a problem that's needed fixing for a long time, voicing his intentions to lead that change.

Meanwhile, at JCPS' first-ever 'School Choice Night,' WHAS11 saw first-hand the efforts families are taking to work around the issues and seek more beneficial options.

"If he would go to Ramsey [Middle School], it would be almost an hour in the morning and hour in the evening," said Angela Neely, whose son Bryce heads to middle school next fall. "We came tonight to find out more choices for sixth grade."

JCPS student assignment employees walked parents through their options for the 2022-23 school year, and helped them register through the sometimes complex online system.

Bryce's top choice: Dubois Academy, a highly sought after magnet school 15 minutes southwest of their California neighborhood.

"You can put up to two choices," a staffer told Neely.

No promises are made, as demand generally exceeds open spots, inevitably leaving several families seeking a backup plan. The problem: Many students in west Louisville aren't given good second or third options.

JCPS Student Assignment Assistant Director Amanda Averette-Bush has experienced the flaws in the system herself. Growing up in Shawnee, her assigned schools were often far away.

"For middle school, I did not have an option to attend a school close to home," Averette-Bush said. "I was on a TARC [bus] at 11 or 12 because I stayed after school. Now, we're definitely wanting to increase access."

Many west Louisville neighborhoods haven't had new schools built in decades. JCPS has started to change that in recent years, with renovations and breaking ground on new facilities.

But student assignment remains a problem.

"Give the option for families to stay here, or continue to leave the community if they want to," Superintendent Pollio said at a panel back on Nov. 18. "That is not the only part of student belonging, but it is a huge part that students feel they have choice in where they go to school."

As for a timeline for Superintendent Pollio's vision for changes, JCPS Spokesperson Renee Murphy says plans are moving forward.

"We're still having those discussions right now about next steps and what that could look like, but our first step right now is to make sure families know about the options available to them right now," Murphy said. "And then we'll proceed on next steps throughout the winter months."

As for Neely, she's hoping for the best for her kids next fall -- and calling for improvements in the meantime.

"Families in the west end need just as many options as everybody else," Neely said. "We deserve the same as everybody else."

The application period for the 2022-23 school year ends in two weeks, with a Dec. 15 deadline. We're told many families will hear back whether they got their top choices early in 2022.

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