The Original Magnet School

Our Program

The J. Graham Brown School, the Original Magnet School,  is a district-wide magnet school for students who thrive in a  Self-Directed Learning environment. Brown enrolls approximately 720 students in grades K through 12. Brown was recognized by the Kentucky Department of Education as a Distinguished school at the elementary, middle, and high school levels.

J. Graham Brown students engage in an aligned college preparatory liberal arts curriculum based on our four tenets of Self-Directed Learning: Independence, Empathy, Initiative, and Innovation. Our academic program cultivates critical, open-minded, and creative thinkers who are willing to take risks and are eager for new knowledge. Our learning environment develops compassionate, tolerant, and respectful human beings who value cultural diversity and contribute to the community. Grade level academic performance and age appropriate social skills are expected for success in this informal educational setting.

For detailed information about Self Directed Learning at Brown, click here:  Self-Directed Learning Framework 

Here are some video examples of the work students at Brown do through Self Directed Learning.


Our Students

Brown School Students . . .

  • Are interested in pursuing the most rigorous academic program available to prepare them for liberal arts study in college. They are developing a strong work ethic.
  • Are willing to take risks and stretch their comfort levels when pursuing academic study. They want to learn to challenge themselves, work hard, and self-regulate their own study.
  • Prefer a smaller learning community where relationships are developed over time with all community members. They want to be known by their teachers, administrators, and fellow students.
  • Want to work in an environment where students support one another in academics, activities, and athletics. They support each other to be better in all things and challenge each other to grow and excel, thus maximizing everyone's potential.
  • Prefer a school culture where differences are recognized and unique talents of individuals are appreciated.
  • Are comfortable around people who are different from themselves. They are secure in their own place in the world and are not uncomfortable with differences found in others.
  • Know they are in a college-ready environment and are supportive of this focus in the educational program.
  • May be average ability students with the desire to achieve at high levels, or gifted students wanting to be challenged. They are ready to learn how to be better students. They are willing to learn how to take on rigor as students and thrive in this environment.
  • Are developing habits of self-direction. They practice self-regulation in completing tasks and do not have to be monitored closely for their study. They can complete homework assignments and long-term projects with little supervision and reminders.  Their parents understand and value learning beyond the school day. Parents have an intrinsic value of homework to strengthen student skills.
  • Value relationships with adults and are comfortable with teachers that challenge them to be the best they can be.
  • Like to be a participant in activities and athletics, and not merely an observer.
  • Are comfortable knowing everyone and being known by everyone in the school community.

Self-Directed Learning/Project-Based Learning Example

Self-Directed Learning/Project Based Learning Example

Our History

In 1972, the J. Graham Brown School opened its doors to students, making it the first magnet school in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, after a year of careful planning by an illustrious task force and its founding director, Martha Ellison. Originally opening in the Brown Hotel with classes held in ballrooms and meetings spaces, the school served students in grades three through twelve. The school was later moved to the Brown Educational Center, and then in the early 1980's to its current location at the corner of 1st Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. It has remained a truly urban school, located in the heart of downtown Louisville, KY.

Martha became the first principal of Brown, and under her leadership Brown strived to establish a learning environment that was considered radical for its time. Our school's original working papers set forth unique and unorthodox goals. Academic goals included teaching students how to think, learn, and adjust to change; stressing critical and creative thinking; challenging and extending student capacities; and stressing academic and personal growth. The school climate aimed to enable rather than stifle, encourage students interactions with peers and adults in a positive manner, and promote high expectations for academic success. School characteristics included cooperative efforts of the school community, open channels of communication, encouragement of students to assume responsibility for their behavior, respect for cultural diversity, and a high community profile. Now, in our 45th year, we still strive for these goals.

Through the passage of time, and the refinement of our public educational system, many of those radical goals set forth by Brown School in its early years can be found within the mainstream of public education. This, coupled with the onset of school accountability movements, helped the Brown School mature into a unique liberal arts educational program, providing a rigorous curriculum that prepares its students for the challenge of college and the obligations of citizenship in our global society. Our small learning community provides Brown students from kindergarten to twelfth grade the unique opportunity to learn and grow where all students are known by their Brown School family. Often, students are working together across grade levels of the school within the classrooms and hallways of our less formal learning environment.

As students matriculate from grade to grade, our self-directed learning environment places more responsibility on the student for their academic, social, and emotional decisions. By the time students graduate, they are not only college ready but they are truly prepared to self regulate themselves in college and beyond. The J. Graham Brown School is a "college readiness only" environment, so all students are expected to maintain grade level academic progress and successfully thrive in an academically stressful environment. All of this is accomplished in a learning environment that nurtures confidence and trust. This unique liberal arts experience is one that helps each individual make a personal connection to the world around them as well as the academic arena in which they study. At the J. Graham Brown School, we are forging "reasoned minds and educated hearts"!