There have been many opinions voiced about the recommended state takeover of JCPS. I agree with those who have been speaking out against a takeover for the many good reasons mentioned. What I haven’t seen is much talk about the schools labeled as “chronically failing” – the ones that bear the brunt of the criticism for JCPS’ woes. I’d like to give you a glimpse into one of those schools.
I am a parent representative of the Iroquois High School-Based Decision Making Council. The student body of 1,307 students is:
• 55 percent African-American, 22 percent white, 13 percent Hispanic and 10 percent other.
• 34 percent English Language Learners (ELL) representing 54 countries and speaking 38 languages.
• 3.2 percent homeless (highest of district high schools).
• 88 percent free and reduced lunch (highest of district high schools).
• 14.3 percent Exceptional Child Education students (third highest of district high schools)
Consider what this means for teachers who are under intense pressure to raise test scores for students who are:
• Coming to school hungry.
• Not sure where they will be sleeping from night to night.
• Wondering whether a parent is going to be deported.
• Navigating between two cultures and language as they go from home to school.
• Coping with the daily effects of poverty and racism that weaken their sense of safety and security and their sense of self-worth.
• Struggling to succeed academically because of learning disabilities or mental health diagnoses.
Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs reminds us that if students are coming to school without the basic needs of food, water, warmth, rest, security and safety met, their ability to learn is severely handicapped no matter how good a teacher is.
How much of the problem of low test scores at Iroquois can legitimately be placed at the feet of educators?
How can a state takeover of JCPS, which alters none of the underlying issues for the students at Iroquois, help improve this school more than its current leadership? Do you honestly think that the person Dr. Pollio would report to during the state management is more equipped to deal with these issues than Pollio or our elected school board?
Dr. Kelly Foster spent the previous 10 years before her time at the Department of Education in two counties in Kentucky: Nicholas County, population 7100, 97 percent white, and Montgomery County, population 26,000, 94 percent white. She may be an outstanding educator, but that doesn’t mean she is equipped to make decisions about a district that is drastically outside of her own experience.
But that’s not the only reason I don’t want Iroquois under state control. Right now good and exciting things are happening. Iroquois’ teachers and administrators are working to find creative solutions to their students’ learning barriers.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer made it clear his desire is that Jefferson County Public Schools remain under local control. Mayor’s office
For example, one of the factors that drives down Iroquois’ graduation rate is the requirement that students who turn 21 must leave public school. A third of Iroquois’ population is ELL students, a significant number of whom are coming from situations overseas where they were unable to attend school, so it has an unusually high number of students who would age out before finishing high school.
What has Iroquois done about this? They have created a performance-based program called Accelerate to Graduate (A2G) that is a nontraditional, project-based method of acquiring credits that allows progress toward completion of a diploma for students at a faster rate than the traditional classroom. Performance outcomes are aligned with state or national standards, college readiness standards and the core skills of the discipline. Because they could find no models of this anywhere else, the teachers leading this program designed and built the coursework themselves. As the first year of A2G comes to a close, 28 students are set to graduate this month that otherwise would have aged out before finishing high school.
Is it fair to label a school doing innovative work like this failing because their student test scores aren’t rising at a high or fast enough rate?
I could also tell you about Iroquois’ acceptance into the Academies of Louisville starting with the 2018-19 school year. Or how overall referrals, out of school suspensions and in school removals are all down significantly from a year ago. Or how my son, an African-American ECE student who struggles mightily in the classroom continues to be pushed and prodded and encouraged by tireless teachers who care about their students and are interested in the whole child, not just their ability to score well on standardized tests.
Iroquois High School is a unique community facing challenges most educators outside of this district have never encountered. The current leadership, who have already been investing their time, energy and resources into our kids, are making a difference. I want to see them continue this work, not have it be disrupted by a state takeover.
Cindy Cushman is an SBDM parent representative at Iroquois High School.
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