Archive for Sunday, April 16, 1995

PERRY-LECOMPTON DISTRICT SHIFTING ELEMENTARY CLASSES

April 16, 1995

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Sweeping changes are coming for students in the Perry-Lecompton school district.

When Kevin Wade's son finishes second grade next year, he'll be among a distinct group of Perry-Lecompton students.

Thanks to a reconfiguration plan passed last week, he'll be one of 26 first-graders in the school district who attended kindergarten at one school, moved to another this year for first grade and will ping-pong back for second grade in 1995-96.

The turmoil of two moves in three years and no consecutive years at the same school wasn't cause for celebration for Wade and other parents in his position. Then again, the plan's architect wasn't crowing about the changes, either.

"I wouldn't want anybody to think this is an ideal solution," said Henry Murphy, Perry-Lecompton school superintendent, who created the reconfiguration in January. "There are no ideal solutions."

Beginning next fall, five of the district's six schools will be reshaped as follows:

  • Williamstown and Grantville elementary schools, attended by first- through fifth-graders this year, will house only fifth- and sixth-graders.
  • Perry and Lecompton elementary schools, which house grades K-5, will lose their fifth-graders to Williamstown and Grantville but continue to enroll grades K-4.
  • Sixth grade, currently taught at Perry Middle School along with grades 7 and 8, will be transferred to Williamstown and Grantville.

Murphy said the plan wasn't born of necessity.

Rather, he said, it was an effort to better use district space and finances, prepare for projected enrollment increases and provide equal education opportunities for children districtwide.

In 1989-90, enrollment was listed at 907. Today, the head count stands at 1,092, a 20 percent increase.

Murphy said space was becoming especially strained at Lecompton because of development northwest of Lawrence. Completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway, the northern portion of which falls in the Lecompton district, would likely bring development that would affect the school district, he said.

Another road project, the Oakland Expressway in eastern Shawnee County, promises to bring more students to the district.

In addition to restructuring classes to provide more space, Murphy said, the district was able to do away with combination classes and foster interdisciplinary studies and teacher sharing at the middle school.

The plan passed on a 5-2 vote of the school board, over emotional objections from Williamstown and Grantville parents.

"I think they are shipping our children around like cattle and not really solving any problems," a Williamstown first-grader's parent wrote on a recent survey of the plan. "I think we need some board members who have children that are going to be shipped here and there. Then maybe they could see things like we do."

Wade, a Grantville resident and board member, said he voted against the plan, primarily because of constituents' concerns. He said his neighbors' complaints touched on busing, costs and quality of education, among other factors.

"They're mainly concerned about losing the community school," he said. "There's still going to be a school and kids in it ... but there's a feeling that when the neighborhood kids and kids from the country are going to school in your town, it just gives you more of a sense of community."

Some parents worried that the plan was a stopgap measure that would be followed by more shakeups when a permanent solution was found.

How long will the plan be in effect? No one knows, Murphy said.

"This isn't meant to be a solution that solves our problem," he said. "We realize that at some point in time we'll have to build. But the question is, where do you build and what do you build?"

Wade said he would have liked the district to answer those questions before enacting the reconfiguration plan.

"I think we might have been better served to hold off, do the best we could this year and maybe the year after, and try to get a bond issue," he said. "If we try for a bond issue and the voters say, 'No, we don't want to do this,' then we know the cards we've been dealt and we can react accordingly."

Wade stressed that, although he was against the plan before the board vote, he believed supporters were acting in students' best interests and had "every intention of supporting" the plan in the future. He said he hoped district patrons also would band together behind the reconfiguration.

"If you don't work together, you're not going to get anywhere," he said.

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