Experiment? Try something different? What rules will JCPS waive for its Innovative schools?
- Redistributing students?: Fine for manipulating likely student test scores, but what impact will that have on learning?
- Expanding the school year?: Yes. Boosting instructional time for students who have good minds but who have not been taught is the right way to go.
- Provost instead of a Principal?: Is this just semantics? There are a set of duties that must be performed by administration. The public expects a lot. What you call the leader or how you divvy up responsibilities won’t make a difference by itself.
- Looking at students, not through a lens of deficit, but through a lens of abundance?: Sure. If the faculty has been focusing on finding fault in their students rather than recognizing talent - that should have been dealt with long ago – by the district and JCTA.
- Involving teachers in the important work of the school?: Crucial.
- Reorganizing grade levels?: So what? Students can be successfully organized in many ways.
- Challenging curriculum and focus on Non-cognitive skills?: Good. Very important. But let’s call them what they really are….meta-cognitive skills. I know Paul Tough said “non-cognitive.” He got the idea right, but he got the term wrong. It’s helping students think about how they think.
- ROTC?: OK. Can they make it work?
Four struggling public schools in Jefferson County may undergo radical changes by next fall under a series of proposals that includes redistributing students, expanding the school year and installing a provost in place of a principal.
Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Donna Hargens and other district officials told school board members during a work session Monday that they want to “do things differently” at Myers and Frost middle schools and Shawnee and Valley high schools, starting with the 2014-15 school year.
“If we don’t do something different, we will continue to get the same results, and the time is now to propose these changes,” Hargens said. “We are not asking for board approval tonight, we will bring a final proposal to the board on Oct. 14.”
The cost of the proposals would be roughly $1 million. District officials haven’t said where they would obtain the funds.
Dewey Hensley, chief academic officer for the JCPS, said it’s an “opportune time” to experiment with different ideas, particularly since the school system was selected by the Kentucky Department of Education in June as one of four “Districts of Innovation,” meaning it will be able to seek waivers from state education rules to try new approaches to learning.
“This really gives us a chance to rethink some schools and see what opportunities might be there and look at them not through a lens of deficit but through a lens of abundance,” he said. “We need to think about how can we rethink structures and how we can do some new things in order to get better achievement from these particular schools.”
But JCTA President Brent McKim expressed disappointment that teachers weren’t included in the discussion before the proposals were unveiled, saying wasn’t even aware of them before The Courier-Journal told him after the school board meeting Monday night.
“It looks like some of them would require negotiated changes to our contract agreement, which we may be open to doing, but we will have to meet and discuss that with the district,” McKim said.
“I would have hoped that they would have afforded us the opportunity to provide some input on even the concepts they are talking about before we find out about them from the newspaper, but they did not.”
Among the proposals:
• Frost Middle School would become a sixth-grade academy and its seventh- and eighth-graders would move to Valley High School, essentially making Valley a 7-12 middle and high school.
“We would have sixth graders at Frost go through a rigorous, highly challenging curriculum around reading and math and a lot of those non-cognitive skills like developing dispositions about school and ensuring they learn some leadership skills so they can transition well into seventh and eighth grade at Valley,” Hensley said. “The two schools would collaborate constantly around this work.”
District officials are calling the Frost concept a “Transitional Academy” and it would feature an extended day that all students would be required to attend. It would also feature an extended school year, where incoming sixth-graders would attend a four-week transition program during the summer that will focus on assessing all students.
In addition, the Phoenix School of Discovery, which is a specialty middle/high school for students who choose to opt out of a regular school setting, would be moved to the Frost campus. Currently, Phoenix’s sixth- through eighth-graders are housed at Stuart Middle School and ninth- through twelfth-graders are housed at Valley.
• Myers Middle School would offer a cadet academy magnet program, which would offer a sequence of courses during the school day that would prepare them for secondary and post-secondary career pathways for participation in JROTC in high school.
Hensley said the district recently conducted a survey of its high school JROTC program and found that participants in JROTC perform better than students who did not participate, with higher test scores, fewer suspensions and better attendance.
“The Cadet Academy would have a focus on leadership and responsibility and establish a framework to improve student behavior and academic performance, instill personal discipline, promote character development and establish positive peer role models,” Hensley said.
Myers principal Jack Baldwin said he already has 125 cadets participating in the cadet academy; the district would expand the program to include more students who live in the area surrounding Myers.
• Shawnee High School would receive an administrative overhaul that would add a provost and a school administration manager, rather than a principal. The school would also be organized into three academies consisting of a vice principal, dean and teachers who will lead activities in each academy.
The provost position would be jointly funded by the district and the University of Louisville. The university would also get naming rights for the Shawnee Academy model, Hensley said.
“We are looking to restructure Shawnee in terms of its leadership structure, length of the school day, its middle school magnet program and partnerships within the community,” Hensley said.
“Shawnee has been a bottom 5 percentile performer for a long time,” he said. “What we are hoping to do is look at how we can circle kids with this new leadership structure and new practices built around professional learning communities so we can build wraparound services for the kids that helps them move forward.”
Hensley said its a structure that would be a different from any other structure in high schools across Kentucky.
Blake Haselton, interim dean of education at U of L, said “this is still a work in progress and several details that need to be worked out ... but this about our holistic approach of working with students who have significant needs.”
Now that the concepts have been laid out for the school board, Hargens said officials will now seek feedback from parents and community groups, in addition to the Jefferson County Teachers Association.
“We are excited about working out the details and hearing from community and staff because the concepts will get stronger as we bring other people get brought in to it,” she said.
School board members had several questions for district officials, such as cost and feasibility, but most said they were happy to hear about the different possibilities at four of the district’s lowest performing schools.
“I think this is good news,” said board member David Jones Jr. “We have to try new concepts and do things differently. I’m looking forward to hearing the feedback about these concepts before we decide whether or not to move forward with them.”