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It’s hard to believe, but next year Simon is off to kindergarten. Among many other things, that means that this year Matt and I have been going through the school selection process. It is a truly nerve-wracking experience that seems to bring out the absolute worst in many of us, me included. In the last month or so, I feel that my educational priorities and personal values have been put to the test. In certain respects, the results have surprised me. In others, I’m following long-established form.

I’m going to take a few posts to describe the schools, my feelings, and where we’ve ended up (Matt and I are on the same page here), but first I have to describe how the system here works and what makes the whole thing so fraught in the first place. If you live here, skip this. If you don’t, follow me along for a digression into public schools, Jefferson County style. It’s all after the break.

The reason choosing a school makes so many of us anxious and unhappy is down to the district’s Student Assignment Plan. When I was in school, Jefferson County Public Schools were under a court ordered desegregation plan. That plan was intended to address decades of educational inequality within the system. Which is to say that before it was implemented, schools located in largely (or exclusively) white, middle-class and wealthier areas were pretty good and schools in poorer, mostly non-white neighborhoods  were pretty bad.

The wealthier schools had good teachers, low-ish teacher-student ratios, and nice buildings, while the poorer schools enjoyed none of these benefits. What’s more, because of Louisville’s demographics, that meant that many of the failing, understaffed, and undersupplied schools served the city’s African American population. Like so much about race in American history, it was—and continues to be—our city’s shame.

So beginning when I was in first grade, Louisville’s schools were desegregated. Apart from a handful of kids at magnet schools, students went to neighborhood schools for most of their academic career but were bussed to schools in whiter or less white neighborhoods (depending on where they lived) for two years between first grade and high school graduation. Three decades later, this plan was shot down by the United States Supreme Court, which ruled that race could not be used in determining student assignments.

At which point Jefferson County went about redesigning their plan with a goal towards preserving diversity without violating the law. To do this, they created a plan that is complicated and hugely unpopular.

Here’s how it works. School neighborhoods are designated as A-cluster or B-cluster. A-cluster neighborhoods have lower than average income levels, lower than average education levels, and higher than average minority composition. B-cluster neighborhoods feature higher income levels, higher levels of educational attainment, and low rates of minority residency.

Each household in Louisville is assigned a “resides school”, or a neighborhood school. That school is then classified A or B and is grouped with 12 to 15 schools as part of a numbered zone. When you apply to a JCPS school, you rank your four top choices within your zone and are assigned one of them. Two of the schools you list must be A-cluster schools, and the student population in each school must derive 15 to 50 percent of its enrollment from A-cluster areas.

Are you still with me? Cause it gets more complicated. There are also district-wide magnet programs, area-wide magnets, and cluster/zone magnets. The district-wide magnets enroll children from the entire district and have no “resides” kids. The area-wide magnets serve children in specific numbered zones. They don’t have neighborhood kids, either; there’s just more than one of them and which one you may apply to is determined by zone. Finally, there are cluster-magnets; mini-magnets of a sort that are set up in mostly A-Cluster schools to attract parents from B-Cluster neighborhoods.

So, putting this all together, when you apply for a school, you may apply to up to two magnet programs and up to four neighborhood schools. Sometimes, the magnet you are interested in is also a neighborhood school and you list it twice. If you apply for a magnet program, you supply a separate application and possibly a school-specific one as well to the magnet office. What happens next is a matter of rumor, speculation, and no small amount of fear-mongering.

Finally, there’s a bit of a gamble to be made when choosing your B-cluster schools. If you live in a B-cluster neighborhood and want a B-cluster school, your odds are best if you choose your resides school. Otherwise, local resides kids and siblings will get first preference, a certain number of A-cluster kids will also get preference, and you may get locked out.

Also, some magnet programs work on a lottery system and others on scored applications. You have a chance at some magnets if you choose it as your second choice, but others will only consider you if you put it first.

Assuming the Kentucky State Supreme Court does not strike this plan down come April, this is the landscape in which Matt and I are choosing a kindergarten for Simon. I’ll introduce the schools and our reactions to them in my next post.

One Response to “Kindergarten Selection: Part I”

  1. christine says:

    Sounds kinda like the Oakland system. What a headache! I have friends whose kids didn’t get into any of their 6 choices.

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