J. Graham Brown School

The J. Graham Brown School, usually called The Brown School, is a small public school located in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, USA. It has approximately 750 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, and attracts students (and teachers) from all over Louisville. It is a part of the Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) system. The vision of the J. Graham Brown School is that their “students have ‘reasoned minds and educated hearts’ of self-directed life-long learners. Students are critical, open-minded, and creative thinkers who are willing to take risks and are eager for new knowledge. Students are compassionate, tolerant, and respectful human beings who value cultural diversity and contribute to the community.” The mission of the J. Graham Brown School community is to cultivate critical thinking and foster independence, empathy, and intrinsic motivation within a culturally responsive learning environment.

The school tries to maintain an informal and relaxed atmosphere despite its exclusiveness. Students can call their teachers by their first names, and every other Friday teachers escort the seniors to lunch at a nearby entertainment facility. The school's location facilitates attending on-site college classes, job shadowing, community service, and walking field trips. Other features are extensive community interactions, cross-age groupings, and a highly diverse student population.

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 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 their three tenets of Self-Directed Learning: Independence, Empathy, and Initiative. The academic program cultivates critical, open-minded, and creative thinkers who are willing to take risks and are eager for new knowledge. The 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.


Newsweek magazine listed Brown as one of the "Best Schools in America" in both 2009 and 2010, placing them in the top 4% of schools nationwide. Brown was honored by U.S. News & World Report with a Bronze Medal Award in 2007, 2008, and 2009. , every year Brown School had placed in the top three or four schools across the Commonwealth of Kentucky in both the ACT and the Kentucky Core Content Test. Brown High School was the state's top scorer in the 2009 CATS testing cycle.


The school was founded in 1971, with classes starting in the fall of 1972 in the Brown Hotel at Fourth Street and Broadway in downtown Louisville. Brown was the first "magnet school" in the JCPS district, and it enrolled students from all parts of Louisville as part of the Louisville School System. As the school grew the neighboring Brown Building was rehabilitated to accommodate it. The lower nine stories of the ten-story Brown Building were ultimately used by the school during its first ten years, before it moved to its present location on South First Street, south of Muhammad Ali Boulevard.

The founding director of J. Graham Brown School was Murray State University graduate Martha Ellison, who, during her earlier teaching career, was the English teacher of playwright Marsha Norman. Upon her retirement, Ellison was succeeded by her longtime assistant director, Douglas Proctor. The Martha A. Ellison Peace Green, across First Street from the school, is named in her honor. the principal of Brown School is Dr. Angela G. Parsons.

Although the school has always referred to itself as the J. Graham Brown School, this name did not become official until 2017. The "J. Graham Brown" name appears on the outside of the current building, and its letterhead and diplomas have always used this name, as have the school's alumni and parent–teacher associations. The name change became official at the March 21, 2017 meeting of the Jefferson County Board of Education.

Notable alumni

  • Mac King, magician
  • Brian McMahan, musician (Slint)
  • Will Oldham, musician
  • Peter Searcy, musician
  • Wendy Whelan, ballet dancer (attended)
  • Britt Walford, musician (Slint)