Jefferson County Public Schools is postponing a plan to merge alternative schools for at least one year. Instead, it’ll begin to revamp how the district works with its most at-risk students.
Minor Daniels Academy and Breckinridge Metro High School will stay in their current locations next year, according to next week’s school board meeting agenda. The district may revisit facilities changes for the 2020-21 year.
Teachers and community advocates quickly criticized an initial plan to merge the alternative schools by grade level, placing middle schoolers at MDA and high schoolers on Liberty High School’s campus. Combining students into a school on non-neutral gang territory would worsen an already daily issue with fights and gang-related problems, they said.
School board members raised similar concerns with the plan in late February, leading JCPS to break the merger off of a larger facilities proposal to reconsider.
Despite concerns with the physical merger, teachers liked the bulk of a larger proposal to reimagine how the district serves alternative students. Much of that proposal will be up for board discussion Tuesday, listed as the first phase of an alternative school revamp.
Last year, an alternative school taskforce of community members identified four improvement areas for the district: a safe learning environment, instruction, behavior support and wraparound services.
Alternative school students skew black, poor and identified as special needs. Providing additional mental health resources and utilizing restorative practices can help mitigate the impact of trauma faced by some of the district’s most disadvantaged students, teachers and advocates say.
Those supports make up a large portion of the list of improvements for next year, according to the agenda. School staff are slated to receive training in positive behavior interventions and de-escalation to create a less punitive environment.
District leaders have said increasing student belonging is important by giving students things they’re interested in can help. To do that, the district is pitching initiatives to personalize learning and add career and technical education options to boost readiness.
Both sides of the transition process — onboarding and exiting to a comprehensive school — are also on the list to be implemented.
The district is also expected to discuss a potential partnership with Big Picture Learning, a national nonprofit with experience serving at-risk students.
According to the agenda, students work with “teacher advisors” in small groups to identify interests for a more personal approach to learning. Parental engagement and an internship are also involved, according to the agenda.
A new home for the W.E.B. DuBois Academy is the only expected facilities change included in the proposal. The all-boys middle school is likely moving onto the current Liberty campus, not onto Breckinridge’s campus as initially proposed.