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5 Ways Louisville, JCPS Can Start Fixing Their Magnetic School System


Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio wants schools and magnetic programs in the district to be as diverse as the city of Louisville.

This would require a large increase in magnetic enrollment among black, Hispanic, and low-income students in the district. It could also mean fewer places for white and advantaged students, who currently dominate the district’s most sought-after magnetic programs.

Pollio, who recently got a contract extension from the school board, has proposed a list of reforms he says will boost diversity in the district’s popular Magnet program. He expects a vote on the proposal this spring, he told the Courier Journal.

But if the results of a 2019 community inquiry into these reforms are any indication, Pollio will face fierce opposition.

On the one hand, some members of the community believe that no change is necessary. They view Jefferson County’s Magnet schools and programs as a success and see no need to tamper with them:

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio welcomes students from Doss High School on September 15, 2021.
Matt Stone / Courier Journal

Contrary to community opinion, some want the magnetic schools in the district to be abolished altogether, arguing that they have exceeded their target.

In this scenario, schools such as Male High School and duPont Manual would have the same enrollment areas as regular high schools in Jefferson County.

A variety of potential reforms – some small, some large – fall between these two perspectives.

Here are five examples, including those proposed by Pollio:

When a district committee in 2019 analyzed the fairness of JCPS magnet programs, the panel found “no benchmarks” for magnet diversity and “few opportunities for the central office to monitor.”

While Pollio’s proposal does not seek a strict quota for Magnet diversity, it calls on Magnet schools and programs to “strive” to achieve diversity “goals”.

These goals would be based on the diversity formula the district currently uses when assigning students to schools, which takes into account the median income, educational attainment, and non-white population of a student’s neighborhood.

Pupils are classified in category 1 (the most disadvantaged), category 2 or category 3 (least disadvantaged).

Magnets should strive to achieve 30% Category 1, 50% Category 2 and 20% Category 3 markings according to Pollio’s proposal.

Many of the magnets based on JCPS criteria, which require test scores, behavior recordings, and sometimes auditions before students enter, would have a lot of work to do.

None of JCPS ‘popular math, science and technology magnets meet the proposed standard. On average, the programs – three in colleges and one at the high school level – serve 12% of Category 1 students.

Only one of Jefferson County’s four criteria-based arts hubs – the Western Middle School‘s Performing Arts Program (35% Category 1) – meets the bar. The other three serve only 7% of Category 1 students on average.

The non-criteria-based magnets from JCPS enroll their students in a random lottery system, with schools drawing names from each group of diversity categories.

The 2019 fairness review committee said moving lotteries under the responsibility of central office officials “will ensure that there is a strict 1-2-3 lottery process.”

It would also give the district better data, the panel said, regarding the number of underprivileged students applying for a magnet. From there, the district could see which magnets need to improve recruiting in Category 1 neighborhoods.

This reform, included in Pollio’s proposal, was one of 26 recommendations the national nonprofit Magnet Schools of America made to JCPS in 2014.

Ending the ability of magnets to eject or “pop” students based on grades, behavior, or attendance was another recommendation from Magnet Schools of America.

The nonprofit at the time expressed concerns about the “legality and ethics” of JCPS ‘exit policy, which does not meet national standards for the Magnet program.

The district’s fairness assessment panel said bias could play a role in exits and magnets could pressure students to leave “on the basis of their suitability.” were from low-income households, according to district data.

Acknowledging a past unsuccessful attempt to ban sorties, Pollio said he is uncertain whether he will have “the political capital” to do what his predecessor, former Superintendent Donna Hargens, did not.

Still, he is moving forward with the proposed ban.

“Once you are accepted into a school, you become part of that school community,” Pollio said. “And if you’re not successful, the school needs to make sure they look after that student’s success and offer interventions and don’t chase the student.”

Superintendent Marty Pollio says he wants to accomplish more with JCPS

Superintendent Marty Pollio says while the past few years have been tough for superintendents across the country, he wants to accomplish more with JCPS

Sam Upshaw Jr., Louisville Courier Journal

Because of their tendency to foster division within schools, national magnet experts and education researchers caution against internal magnets and instead favor whole-school programs.

JCPS has dozens of internal magnets in its elementary, middle and high schools. The federal government rarely funds such magnets.

Magnet Schools of America asked the JCPS in 2014 to eliminate them, either by making the programs school-wide or by eliminating them altogether.

When “students (and perhaps teachers) perceive those in the other program as being different or treated differently in some way or another, challenges and inequalities arise,” the association said in its report to the district.

Pollio’s magnet reform program, introduced in October 2020, makes no mention of the fairness issues between its internal magnets, which tend to serve the whitest and most advantaged populations.

Marty Pollio, JCPS Superintendent
If it is to be a true magnetic school, it must be wall to wall, which means that every student experiences this type of education.

But in an interview in September, Pollio said magnets “have to be wall to wall”.

“If it is to be a true magnetic school, it has to be wall to wall, which means that every student experiences this type of education,” he said.

Asked by The Courier Journal whether a wall-to-wall approach should apply to criteria-based programs, such as the Math, Science and Technology program at Meyzeek Middle School, Pollio did not answered directly.

“I think you can have gifted and talented type programs within the school community,” he said. “… There is a place for that as long as all the students are given rigorous lessons.”

Magnet Schools of America has recommended that JCPS replicate several successful Magnet schools or programs, including K-12 Brown School and Brandeis Elementary, which focuses on math, science and technology.

This strategy, which is included in Pollio’s reforms, would increase seats for students of color who are under-represented in the district’s top performing magnets, according to the JCPS Fairness Assessment Panel.

But Pollio told the Courier Journal that making new magnets shouldn’t excuse current magnets for their diversity issues – and new schools shouldn’t open with the same issues, either.

“The thing I always get, ‘Well, why don’t you just do three more textbooks? ”, Said Pollio. “… It would all – it would separate the successful, the haves, and the have-nots even more.”

We want to hear from you

Let us know what you think of the Jefferson County Public School Student Assignment System and Magnet Programs.

Mandy McLaren: 502-582-4525; [email protected]; Twitter: @mandy_mclaren.

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