The Lawrence school district is out of step with the rest of the country in not having switched from a junior high to a middle school system, a change that could increase opportunities for students, a Lawrence school board member said Monday.
"People have questioned why we're moving the ninth grade," said School Board Vice President Mary Loveland while reporting on secondary school organizational patterns at Monday's school board meeting.
If district voters on Nov. 6 approve a proposed $31 million bond issue for building a second high school, ninth-graders would be moved from the district's three junior high schools to the high school level. Loveland said a grade 9-12 arrangement was one that most school districts already had adopted.
Citing figures from "Schools in the Middle: Status and Progress," Loveland said the country saw a 53 percent decrease between 1970 and 1987 in the number of 7-9 junior high schools. During the same period, the number of 7-8 middle schools increased by 7 percent. The number of 5-8 middle schools increased 47 percent, and the number of 6-8 middle schools increased 160 percent.
"SCHOOLS IN the Middle," published by the National Middle School Assn., also states that only 4 percent of existing 7-9 junior high schools were created between 1980 and 1987. In the same period, 35 percent of existing middle schools were created.
The Kansas State Board of Education considers ninth-graders to be high-schoolers, and students' grades begin appearing on their transcripts at that level. Loveland said an advantage of moving ninth-graders from junior high is that "the entire high school curriculum is available to freshmen that way."
According to the Kansas State Department of Education, only 6 percent of Kansas school districts house ninth-graders at the junior high level. Also, of the seven Kansas school districts having more than one high school, Olathe is the only one without a 9-12 arrangement, Loveland said.
MUCH OF Loveland's information was supplied by Tom Erb, associate professor of education at Kansas University. In 1988, Erb assisted the Shawnee Mission school district in examining the effects of moving ninth-graders from the junior high level to the high school level.
The study found that in the two years following the switch, the number of short-term suspensions among ninth-graders decreased by 42 percent. No other grade showed as big a decrease in short-term suspensions.
"Some of the high school folks felt that the ninth-graders were kept in line by some of the older students," Erb said in recent interview.
The study also found that in the two years following the reorientation, 51.1 percent of ninth-graders were involved in interscholastic sports, up from 29.2 percent before the switch.
"That kind of grade configuration could indeed enhance student participation" in Lawrence, Loveland said.
Mick Lowe, principal at West Junior High School, agrees.
LOWE SAID that presently, the school's ninth-grade basketball teams have a split season. That is, the girls team plays from October through December, and the boys team starts playing when the girls' season ends. Lowe said that without the split season, "You start running into all the problems of having the girls and boys practicing in the gym at the same time."
The problem with the split season, however, is that many school districts are moving ninth-graders to the high school level, where girls basketball doesn't start until December.
"It's becoming increasingly difficult to schedule games," Lowe said. "All of the traditional people we've played have pretty much made the switch. Seaman and Olathe are about the only schools who haven't switched or who are not planning to."
District voters will be asked in the Nov. 6 general election to approve a $31 million bond issue for construction of the proposed high school and a package of improvements at the existing high school. The bond issue also would allow for improvements at Wakarusa Valley and Sunset Hill schools.