Next school year, students at Riverside School will no longer be divided into classes according to grade level. They won't receive letter grades, and students will spend a lot of time being taught by other students rather than the teacher.
Riverside School Principal Donna Osness says the planned changes will improve the educational process tenfold. But Lawrence school board member Tom Murray isn't convinced, and he's disturbed that such a "radical" new plan was not brought before the school board before being implemented.
Starting in the fall, Riverside students will be placed into one of three classes that combine grades one through three, or else they will be placed in one of three classes that combine grades four through six. Kindergarten classes will not be combined with other grades.
Osness said that among the advantages of such multi-age groupings:
The school will have better control of classroom sizes. Rather than having, say, 28 students in a fifth-grade class and 18 students in a fourth-grade class, the students will be more evenly distributed among multi-age classes.
Teachers will have three years to get to know students instead of just one.
Students will get to meet more people. In a school like Riverside that has just one class per grade level, students move from grade level to grade level with just one group of peers. In a multi-age class, new students will be coming into the classroom each year.
Older students will be able to help younger students. Osness said the school already has done such "peer tutoring" this year, and it boosts a student's self-esteem when a teacher asks a student to help somebody else.
OSNESS SAID the Riverside staff began studying multi-age groupings in December 1991. She said the staff visited schools using similar plans in Derby, Wichita, Iowa City, Iowa, and Columbia, Mo.
But Murray has reservations about the school's plans, and he doesn't like the way they were brought about.
"I have served on the board for nearly two years but was not informed until a few days ago that this experiment was being conducted within our school district," Murray said this morning at a press conference. "There has never been a formal report on this presented to our board of education in any public meeting."
Murray said he discovered Thursday that New York School also would put a similar plan into place in the fall.
While the multi-age groupings appear to be a "done deal" at both New York and Riverside, "this must not be put into any of our other grade schools until all concerned citizens in this community have had the opportunity to determine whether or not it has any realistic chance of working," Murray said. "This is an absolutely radical change in the way that we handle grade-school education in Lawrence, Kansas."
MURRAY SAID four of Riverside's teacher have requested to be transferred out of Riverside next school year. Osness said only three teachers have requested transfers. She said she had encouraged teachers to request transfers if they thought they'd be more comfortable in a traditional classroom setting.
"It's important when you're starting this new program that you have a faculty that's committed and involved," Osness said. "The teachers have worked hard and diligently to prepare this whole program, whether they plan to be here next year or not."
Osness said that New York School also will have multi-age classes in the fall and Cordley School is considering the change.
Osness said that about 20 parents have been aware of Riverside's new direction for months by serving on the school's Site-Based Council. An informational meeting for Riverside parents was held Thursday night.
DENNIS LOEWEN, who has two children at Riverside and a preschooler who will start there next year, said he has some reservations about the plan.
"It's an experiment," he said. "I don't think what's wrong with the school system is the school system. I think it's the way society has gone."
Still, Loewen said, he does not plan to transfer his children out of Riverside.
Osness said she didn't feel obligated to present the school's plans to the school board.
"We still will be meeting all the district requirements and following all of the district curriculum objectives," Osness said. "The only thing we're changing is our delivery model and our instructional model."