J.B. Atkinson Academy in Louisville earning its name
It’s a traditional public school, more or less, that runs like it’s a charter school. And, much more.
Truly, it is an academy.
I had a chance to visit the J.B. Atkinson Academy in Louisville about ten days ago, and I can happily attest that this up and coming educational center in inner city Louisville is much more than an elementary school.
For example, several of the building’s classrooms are dedicated to the University of Louisville’s school of education. Student teachers from U of L take their classes in Atkinson, not on campus. This way, future teachers can learn a methodology one day, observe a working professional using the method in a real classroom the next day, and then practice it themselves with real students a day or so later.
U of L professors also hang out after class at Atkinson, doing research in a real school setting while meeting collegially with the regular teachers in the school. The chance for enrichment in both directions is paying benefits in Atkinson’s performance and the improved ability of U of L to provide a new, better prepared group of teachers in the future.
Atkinson’s guiding educational philosophy is ahead of the pack. Under Principal Dewey Hensley, the school started to focus its young students on college and careers long before Senate Bill 1 finally defined that as the proper statewide goal for all our schools.
This mural over the entrance to Atkinson’s gym makes it clear where Atkinson’s staff intends their kids to go: first to middle school, then to high school and – finally – College!
After kids walk under this mural to enter the morning motivation meeting with Hensley and his staff, the students get quizzed on what year their grade will enter college. Every year group, from kindergarten to the fifth grade, knows their answer.
Hensley runs those morning startup meetings like a sales manager psyching up his team to go out and really be productive. He talks about how important learning is, lacing the discussion with a vocabulary lesson on terms like “dendrites” and “synapses.” A kindergartener responds, talking about the occipital lobe in the brain, sounding like he really understands the term. Wow!
This school shreds the notion being pushed by some charter school opponents that regular public schools can’t do what charter schools do.
One reason charter schools outperform with disadvantaged kids is that they run a longer school year. Hensley went out and got a grant, got support from his teachers and a progressively thinking union representative, and now he runs a longer year for kids that need it, too. He even runs classes through the summer for the most challenged kids, another charter school activity.
Stay tuned for more on this school. Atkinson is making strides in a number of areas and – perhaps even more importantly – is up front about looking at data and evidence to confront head on those areas where they still need more work.
Atkinson shows that ideas that improve regular public schools are available and can transfer from charter schools. Just as charter schools are proving, Atkinson shows that if a school gets the right leadership, staff, and support, that school can start to make it happen for kids. But, some tough decisions have to be made, and people must be willing to confront their short-comings to make it happen.
More on that later.