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Jefferson County Board of Education votes 'yes' on school choice proposal

JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio did say this is not the sole answer to the achievement gap.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Following weeks of asking for feedback and suggestions about the School Choice Proposal, the Jefferson County Board of Education unanimously voted yes on the proposal during a special meeting Wednesday.

The plan will begin its phased implementation in the 2023-2024 school year according to the district's implementation timeline. 

This is the first major overhaul to JCPS's student assignment plan in more than 40 years. The existing method has been widely criticized for limiting options for students in the West End, forcing many to attend schools far from home, and disadvantaging Black and Brown students. 

"The is public education and it takes all of us," Board Chair Diane Porter said upon the unanimous vote. 

Overall, community members at Wednesday's board meeting spoke in favor of the plan, adding some stipulations and concerns. Most of the speakers were former or current JCPS employees. 

Members from the Urban League said pay bumps for teachers in the Choice Zone are needed, as well as cooperation from the Jefferson County Teacher Association. Another Urban League speaker, and JCPS parent, said Choice Zone schools should be prioritized for hiring.

"We must end the revolving door in these schools, and the union must help us do that," Lyndon Pryor said.

Pollio said he would like to make a substantial financial commitment to teachers in those schools, and the contract negotiation process is ongoing. He said he hopes to have a proposal before the board by next Tuesday. 

Dawn Wilson with the Louisville Metro Human Relations Commission said the organization is "cautiously optimistic," but expressed reservations about the execution of the Choice Zone and the possibility it could result in the effective re-segregation of schools. 

Principal Stacy Rowan said she fears families in the West End won’t be educated enough on what it means to keep their kids at choice zone schools.

Faye Owens with the Coalition of Black Retired Principals said the organization supports the plan, but are concerned about student achievement, implementation and accountability.

JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio did say this is not the sole answer to the achievement gap, but said this is the most important vote the district has taken in years.

Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Coalition of Retired Black Principals and Administrators said they supported the plan with conditions.

"We believe the JCPS proposal for a new student assignment plan provides an opportunity for a renewed focus on the student achievement of our students," said Raoul Cunningham, president of the NAACP Louisville chapter.

Some of those conditions include upgrading athletic facilities at Western and the Academy at Shawnee, building the next performing arts magnet school in West Louisville and setting the class size at 20 students.

Leaders also requested a renewed focus on student achievement, particularly for Black and Brown students.

"When you look at the data it's shocking," Dr. Raymond Burse with the NAACP said. "When they told me - I thought I knew a lot about education and what was going on. But when they told me only 19% of African American students in Louisville, in Jefferson County, were proficient in reading and mathematics, it gave me a pause. And I think it should give the community a pause in terms of where we are and what we're doing."

The NAACP also asked JCPS to review the plan both quarterly and annually, in addition to putting accountability measures in place.

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