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Students, parents ‘blindsided,’ ‘scared’ by closure of Shelby County’s Big Picture Learning Academy

For students of Big Picture, the environment has been more than just a different way to learn: for many, it’s the one place they feel they can flourish.
Published: Apr. 14, 2022 at 12:01 AM EDT
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SHELBY COUNTY, Ky. (WAVE) - On the morning of March 23, Shelby County parents began receiving text messages from their high school students informing them that their high school was closing – for good.

Those teenagers attend Big Picture Learning Academy, a Shelby County Public Schools alternative campus with a capacity of 110 students. The program provides students with smaller class sizes, flexible scheduling, and internships to expose them to a variety of career options.

Parents received an email from Superintendent Sally Sugg shortly after the students were told, informing them of the decision and offering the following explanation, in part:

Students like Kerrigan Aldridge say the message from the principal is not enough.

“Give us a reason, a real reason,” Aldridge said. “And tell us why you didn’t tell us earlier why it was closing and how you came to this decision.”

For Big Picture students, the environment has been more than just a different way to learn. For many, it is the only place where they feel they can thrive.

When sophomore Josh Gibson considers moving to a large, traditional high school next year, he said his anxiety rises.

“Big groups make me really anxious,” Gibson said.

For Matthew Alexander, attending Big Picture might have saved his life.

“My eighth grade year was probably the most miserable year of my entire school history,” said Alexander. “So much so that frankly, had I not decided to go to Big Picture, I’d probably be dead.”

He’s not the only one. The mother of another student said before Big Picture, she was deeply concerned for her son’s mental health.

“Our son was severely bullied at another area middle school,” Marisa Motley said. “When your husband says to you that he is worried that our child is going to hurt himself, you know you have to pivot.”

At this point, both parents and students are confused as to how the decision was reached in the first place. They say they had no idea it was coming, and in fact, no school board agenda this year has mentioned Big Picture Learning Academy.

WAVE News reached out to all five members of the board for comment on this report. Four said “no comment,” and the fifth did not respond.

Superintendent Sally Sugg’s office said she was unavailable for an interview before air and declined to comment further than the district’s previously released statement, which can be found in its entirety below.

The Shelby County Board of Education will meet on Thursday, April 14 at 7 p.m.

Dear Big Picture Learning Academy Families,

We are writing to you to share important information regarding the Big Picture Learning Academy for the 2022 - 2023 school year. We want you to know that we are proud of all of our Big Picture Scholars. BPLA has led the way in many areas that have helped shape our concept of education in Shelby County.

The Shelby County Board of Education and Leadership have decided to discontinue the Big Picture Learning Academy program for many reasons. First, we are duplicating efforts at BPLA, Collins High School, and Shelby County High School. All high schools now have an advisory in place and work-based learning opportunities including internships for their students. Next, by integrating our BPLA students back into their home schools, students will strengthen their academic opportunities by experiencing coursework five days per week instead of three, as the current Big Picture model prescribes. Also, by attending classes at their home school, students will have more opportunities to enroll in Career and Technical Education courses, visual and performing arts classes, Advanced Placement courses, and other electives which are currently difficult to schedule within the three days per week academic model. The Shelby County Board of Education works to be good stewards of our resources, and we feel that our students’ educational experiences and opportunities will be enhanced at their home schools.

Shelby County Public Schools has learned many important lessons from the Big Picture Learning Academy program which we have applied at all of our schools in the district. We will be communicating with you soon regarding optional learning opportunities for your students. All families are invited to a parent meeting on Monday, March 28th at 6:00 pm at the Blair Center next to Southside Elementary to learn more about how students will transition back to their schools or to other programs within the district.

Thank you for sharing your students with us. We look forward to working with you as we make this transition.

Sincerely,

Dr. Sally Sugg, Superintendent

Susan Dugle, Chief Academic Officer

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