If Betsy DeVos Likes School Choice, She Should Love JCPS

School choice advocates should love Jefferson County Public Schools. I’ll bet no system has more options for students and families than ours.

I can’t say it better than JCPS does on its Web site:

JCPS offers a school choice system unlike any other. We boost academic success by letting parents apply to the school or program that best meets their child’s needs and matches his or her learning style.

Isn’t that what much of the school choice debate is about?

I was reminded about this feature of JCPS when I spoke with a JCPS mom at the KY PTA conference last weekend. She told me her elementary-aged child goes to one of the district’s traditional schools in the East End, and her middle-aged child is set to attend an arts-themed school in the West End. That indicates this parent has children with different personalities and interests, and she works to see they land in a school that can accommodate each.

She said something like: “My kids are as different as night and day.” I have heard versions of that description from many parents who value our local public school choices.

Here’s the extent of choice in JCPS:

Say your child is entering elementary school. You will be assigned a cluster of seven comprehensive schools you can choose from. But, you ALSO may choose among more than 10 district-wide magnets and other optional programs. Types of schools offered include a traditional school (more structured, uniform-wearing environment), math-science-technology magnet, arts magnet, International Baccalaureate magnet, Montessori, gifted & talented, and a K-12 “self-directed” learning magnet. There are several other schools with specialized programs.

When you are ready to go to middle, you will be assigned your one area resides school, but, again, you may choose among a variety of options that might fit your student better. Options include gifted and talented magnets, performing and visual arts magnets, International Baccalaureate option, Montessori program, math-science-tech magnets and traditional schools. There are even single sex middle schools for those who are interested.

For high school there’s more. You will be assigned one resides school you may accept, and you can choose from the types of magnets available at the elementary and middle level: traditional, math-science, International Baccalaureate and others. But high schools also have career academy focus areas at area schools if your student wants to explore a career interest. Local businesses and unions support these programs. These “5-Star” programs include:

  • Business and Finance, Information Technology
  • Human Services, Education and International Studies
  • Engineering, Architecture and Construction
  • Communication, Media and the Arts
  • Medicine, Health and the Environment
  • Urban Agriscience Technology
  • Aerospace and Global Logistics
  • Automotive Technology
  • Machine Tool & Die
  • Early College and Culinary Arts

These high school programs are placed in multiple locations so that all JCPS students have access to the option of their choice.

There are several specialized schools, as well, for students with special needs, including those dealing with behavior issues, or who need a different setting to be successful.

Parent choice is baked in to the JCPS student assignment model. Valuing and promoting choices based on your child’s needs and aptitudes can ensure a happier and more successful education experience.

Further, working to ensure all schools offer high quality instruction and offering necessary supports for the development of healthy, well-rounded individuals are goals for the district.

Secretary DeVos should love our school system because of the choices we offer. These public schools operate in a transparent, highly-regulated environment that ensures money is spent appropriately and problems get addressed.

There have been successful charter schools, but there have also been many failures because of a lax regulatory environment and too many authorizers that have not been equally professional. Ideology should not be in the lead in the public education debate.

Choice is something to be recognized and celebrated in Jefferson County Public Schools. A charter school may well become one of the choices. It is important to ensure all schools in this school system continue to live up to the tradition of focusing on the needs and gifts of every child, and that they welcome them all.

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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