New school year brings new initiatives for JCPS

By Matt McCutcheon - e-mail | bio

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) – It may not feel like it, but there's one sure sign that summer is winding down: getting ready for school. In just less than two weeks, on Tuesday August 17, students will be back in the classroom at Jefferson County Public Schools.

A lot has changed in the district, as officials also prepare to battle the heat during the so-called dog days of summer.

Humid, hot, hazy, horrible - there are plenty of words you can use to describe the heat, but it's nothing new to educators.

"My first summer here, there were 22 days straight of over 100 degree heat and we had to deal with that," said JCPS Superintendent Dr. Sheldon Berman.

Fortunately, all buildings within the districts are air-conditioned; the ride, however, isn't.

Nearly three-fourths of the district's 100,000 kids will be taking the bus to school - a bus with no AC that is.

"We provide water for students," Berman said. "We watch the heat carefully. That's actually one of the reasons have tried to make the routes as short as possible and condense the time students are on buses."

The district says they aim for a ride that lasts no more than an hour, but in the most extreme cases, it could be 75 minutes for some students.

"Last year, we were able to significantly reduce the ride time on buses and we will reduce them with the plans we've set in motion," Berman said. "We've purchased additional buses, we've eliminated depots, and the rides are going to be far shorten than they were last year."

Teachers also make decisions about how to handle things like outdoor recess on hot days.  Still, despite Mother Nature relentlessly cranking the thermostat, bank on schools closing for the heat.

"We have a feeling we can get them here, we can keep them cool while they're here, and we can get them home expeditiously, so in most cases we will not cancel," Berman said.

Tough times may continue for schools across the country. but JCPS isn't going to let it rain on its parade of students returning Aug. 17.

"A new school year is cause for celebration and this year is no different," Berman said.

In fact, officials have been able to commit new resources this year. The first deals with clearing the air.

"It will focus on reducing pollution around our students through what we're calling the healthy lungs at work - no idle campaign," Berman said.

Just as the name implies: turn if off. If you're picking up, dropping off, or simply waiting for your student, officials don't want your car idling, which not only harms the environment, but often leaves a cloud of toxins that kids may breathe.

Vegetables and fruit are also big stars, as lunchtime gets a new spin on healthy.

"We received $311,000 to provide a daily variety of fresh fruit and vegetables," Berman said.

Getting kids more active is also a big push this year. In fact, each middle school will have someone overseeing a wider variety of sports.

Officials say they won't let the curtain close on arts programs, and beefing up technology in the classroom is also front and center. There's also a new investment in people this year.

"A very exciting initiative for us is a graduate teacher residency program designed to prepare physics, chemistry, and math teachers for high-need positions in JCPS," Berman said.

That has a college classroom right in the middle of an elementary school. Students from Western Kentucky University will be part-time in that specialty classroom, and part-time in a classroom with kids.

And despite anger after shuffling around where some students ago, don't expect that to change; in fact, JCPS officials say they have honored 90 percent percent of parent requests.

"This is part of a commitment that we have and that the community has in sustaining diversity in our community and in building one community that has one collective focus," Berman said.

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