Anonymous Letter Campaign

Mitigate Reasons Why People Leave JCPS

Here is an adapted / conglomerated set of conversations I have had with some board members around the subject of magnet programs. The board already has heard from me on these issues in multiple ways. All of this was, for the record, well received by everyone I communicated with – David Jones, Steph Horne, Dr Hargens, and Diane Porter. Thanks for your enthusiasm and commitment to change.

Dear JCPS,

The problem with our high-performing magnets like the MST, G and T, and HSU, are that there are NOT ENOUGH SEATS. Every child who can do the work should be allowed to try the next challenge. ( “every child who can do the work” not “every child with a certain test score.” Using single test scores as admission thresholds to high-performing programs makes all the work the kids and teachers do all year seem unimportant.) The next challenge, being a college-bound education with consistent challenge, should be available to every child in the district. Today, it is not.

My resides school does not serve my child’s needs for college-bound studies. I know many other parents in the same boat.  It is unfair to me and also to parents without the resources to game the system. Every student who can do the work – who wants to try and is able to keep up – should be on a track to a high school experience that includes:

      College board AP/ IB classes / university credit,

      An environment conducive to learning at a college-bound level

      Access to extracurricular activities that allow pursuit of interests such as specialized arts and sports.

Why is it that there are not enough spots in the system to accommodate the needs of high-performing students, and of students who want to try to challenge themselves?

I think there are enough stellar teachers and enough kids who would do Algebra in 8th grade if put on the path to do so, that we could have “optional and magnet” programs that could be spread out to many other schools, creating the seats we need. Creating high-performing programs within schools, even at the expense of whole-school magnets, which I realize would be unpopular, would allow kids to move in and out of classes as their desires and abilities dictate – not as their parents’ resources allow.

We should not require such deep parental involvement to get kids on a college-bound track. One of the board members hit it straight on in a recent meeting- the system favors families with the bandwidth to navigate the bureaucracy.

Ideally, every school in every resides area could accommodate students of all levels. Advanced students should be challenged. High-risk students should be given the support they need. All students should be able to be doing work that is rewarding and challenging and not have to move buildings to do it.   

In my case, and in that of many others, I will put my child in private school before I send him to his resides school. There is just nothing for him there. I am saddened to say that, since it’s the same school I graduated from. But it is a fact that if he is not admitted to a magnet program for high school, I will either have to move or send him to private school.

JCPS is being diluted by its own policies. The number of people who move to private school or to Oldham County because of the sibling and school choice policies amazes me, as I’m sure it does you.  We can’t get those people back once we lose them, and next year, we might lose one more – mine.  

Steph Horne then asked me to define in writing what a successful magnet program within a school would look like.

Whole-school magnets require kids to move buildings to get in, which requires parental involvement, and it discourages kids from taking a risk and attempting more challenging work because if they do not succeed, they have to move buildings again.

Magnet programs within schools that also serves a resides population seem preferable:

Because the magnet requires an application and minimum performance to stay in it, there is a level of commitment that may not be present elsewhere.

Children whose parents did not explore school choice have opportunities to take on more challenging work, whether or not their parents took initiative to make that happen.

When you put high-achieving magnet programs in high-poverty areas, school activities that might not otherwise not exist are funded by the higher-income parents who send their kids there.

Putting magnets in areas where the population is not diverse can cause the school to improve its diversity voluntarily. This is an important point that the MSA really missed. We have diversity issues in housing and education. Magnets within schools moves money, and it causes people to become accustomed to seeing people who are racially or culturally different from themselves.

So with all that said, I do not know why every parent chooses the magnets that they do, but I would bet that the majority choose a magnet not because of a focus on an area of study but rather for the environment and core content areas.

An effective magnet program to me would be a program within a school, where high achievement was expected and celebrated. I would be assured that:

My child will be learning alongside children who are equally capable and committed to success in school, and whose parents or other adults are supporting them along the way. Student applications to get in, and exiting to less challenging classes when needed would have to be part of the program.

My child will be challenged and offered the best opportunity at college readiness, including dual-credit and college board AP classes in high school. (Notice I did not say “and career readiness.” I think that most people doing magnet programs are college bound, with a few notable exceptions.)

There will be extracurricular activities and elective classes that will allow my child to explore his interests, and to keep him doing something that makes him happy even if the rest of school does not.

My child will have the opportunity to explore and develop talents in music, art, theater, and competitive sports.

The learning environment will be safe and free from distraction.

The administration will be willing and capable of helping my kid pursue the next level of his education, including guidance for middle /high school /college admissions and scholarship guidance.

There will be enough children like him in his classes (20% seems reasonable) so that he does not feel isolated from the rest of the school and he has opportunities to find and develop a few close friends out of a relatively large cohort.

There will be enough diversity among racial and ethnic groups that he sees in school what educated adults see in the world.

For me right now that is the MST program at Meyzeek. But I would not have cared what the program was actually called. My kid is not even taking any science electives, he is taking Band and French, which was a big reason he chose Meyzeek- it has a full-year foreign language program that Noe does not. The MST made no difference whatsoever – it was the above things I was after. Meyzeek has a large resides area with a dramatic poverty rate and they make it work, for everybody.

If you could make a truly high-achieving, college-bound core content magnet combined with specialized electives, you’d really have something. What about calling  Noe the Art Achievement program(because you have more art class choices there) , Meyzeek the science achievement program (because you have to do science fair), make another school have 3 different kinds of specialized PE electives – call it the active lifestyle magnet, another one have more computer electives.  All resides schools, all magnets within that school, but all of them also offering college-bound, high-achieving core content with the requirement to apply and perform to get in and stay in. Then you’d give every kid who wanted to try a chance to do it without concentrating every high-achieving kid in the district into a handful of schools. Over time I’d bet the number of schools WITH performance magnets, if they were done right, would outweigh the number of schools without them.

There are so many issues to consider, and this district is so big – I am amazed that a single group of people is expected to oversee every aspect – from bus engines to nutrition to college preparation. I know it is too much. But I think that so many people exit JCPS or never enter — people with resources and time — that if we could mitigate their reasons for leaving we might end up with more resources for all the kids, available closer and closer to home.

Thank you,

Jenni Schlechty

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