FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) – Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Polio addressed racial inequities in Kentucky’s largest school district during a legislative committee meeting on Tuesday.
Polio told the Interim Joint education Committee that there is a problem, and not just in his district. “We have a problem in JCPS about racial inequity, specifically with disproportionality and achievement, like many other districts across the nation.”
While there are outside factors that affect the achievement gap, Polio said school districts “must change the way we do things if we expect to have different outcomes. We can’t continue to do what we have done for 40, 50 or 100 years if we expect to have different outcomes for our kids.”
He said districts must be willing to re-examine everything including teaching methods and hiring practices, curriculums and student assignment plans, how gifted and talented students are identified and even facilities. “There’s not just one thing to identify, we must look at everything.”
Polio said looking back at the Great Recession in 2007-2008, “I think we undervalued the impact [it] had on education and achievement across the country. Specifically, with the achievement gap and black students. As we are now in the COVID-19 crisis, I think the 2020s will be marked in the same way about how we respond. I’m not sure we knew at the time, what impact the recession would have.”
The superintendent said school districts must be more intentional about COVID-19 and how it might impact students through the next decade, “specifically, students of color. At JCPS, that is going to require us to continue to push harder and do things differently. When kids come back to us, they’re going to have bigger needs than they ever have had before.”
He said his school district would need to provide students access to mental health professionals.
The way students are assigned to a school is inequitable, said Polio, as are the buildings, especially in west Louisville, where many minorities live. “That would not be acceptable in east Louisville, so we must be willing to step up and say we’re going to do what it takes, and the tough work to support our kids in every way possible.”