Archive for Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Good timing

Academic factors should be the prime mover of any decision to change the configuration of Lawrence schools.

October 28, 2009


Moving ninth-graders into Lawrence’s two high schools may or may not be a good idea, but there’s no time like the present to take a serious look at this proposal.

This is not the first time this idea has been studied in Lawrence, but always before, what should be an educational decision was strongly tied to financial issues in the district. Talk of moving ninth-graders was raised as the district faced a possible bond issue and was viewed as a possible way to avoid building another junior high.

Now, when no bond issue or new schools are on the table, is a good time for school administrators and board members to take a serious look at the educational pros and cons of moving ninth-graders into Lawrence and Free State high schools.

Lawrence reportedly is the only district in the state that has traditional three-year junior high schools serving students in seventh, eighth and ninth grades. By state standards, ninth-graders are considered high school students. They are starting a four-year high school curriculum and working to fulfill high school graduation requirements.

In years past, some parents have expressed concerns about ninth-graders being emotionally and socially mature enough to mix well with high school upperclassmen. Partially because of modern cell phone and computer technology, that concern seems less valid today. Youngsters are exposed to so much information throughout society, it seems unlikely they are going to be shocked or disturbed by anything high school would throw at them.

The advantages and disadvantages of moving ninth-grade athletes into high school venues are bound to come up in this conversation, but we hope it won’t be a major factor in any decision. The primary driver to this decision should be what is in the best academic and developmental interests of the district’s ninth-graders. The main focus should be whether they would benefit from moving to the high schools where they would have more curriculum and activity choices.

Numbers that school board members received this week indicate the district’s two high schools could handle the additional students, but some accommodations might be necessary to handle, for instance, lab space for additional sections of biology, which most often is taught in ninth grade.

School board members need to look at many factors before moving forward on this issue. Moving ninth-graders to the high schools might not be the best action for Lawrence, but board members shouldn’t be afraid to make a change if they are convinced that it has educational benefits for Lawrence students.


in123 8 years, 7 months ago

Now is the time that we should be looking at why USD 597 has chronic budget problems (cuts), can't pay their teachers competitive salaries, and is not trusted by many in the city. The ninth grade / freshmen class is a classic example.

From January 31, 2007 article: The school (Southwest Junior High), which was built to handle up to 500 students, is now the largest junior high in the city, with 653 students. The new addition will help Southwest have up to 750 students.

South Junior High School, which has an enrollment of 591, and West Junior High School, which has 580, also will be able to have 750 students when their construction projects are finished later this year. Central Junior High School, which has 443 students, will be able to handle 600 students when its addition is finished.

Every junior high in the city was expanded although enrollment remains flat other than the virtual school. The ninth grade issue was known then. Now that project is complete, the administration proposes moving students out of these expanded facilities to the high schools and some accomodations may be needed (expansion).

Once again USD 597 finds a way to build while enrollment does not increase. I am sure the responses will start that it is capital money, not operating money and so forth. You can call the money whatever you want, but it still comes from the same place, taxpayers!

USD 597 has taken penny wise and pound foolish to a new level -- those pounds have morphed into excess facilities.

Ken Lassman 8 years, 7 months ago

by the way, in123, you surely meant USD 497, not 597 ;>)

My recollection from the chorus of comments from previous articles is that the folks who are pushing this change do not have any clear evidence that the educational status of Lawrence schools is being hindered in any way when compared to other grade arrangments. The overwhelming cry seems to be coming from folks who just want Lawrence to fall into line with all the other districts in the state. I would venture to state that no valid research can be done in Kansas that compares the two arrangements if Lawrence is the only district left; perhaps someone can dreg up some older studies that were done midway through the transition that might be relevant, although so much has changed in the intervening years, it might not be relevant to today's and tomorrow's needs.

Also, if it ain't broke, why fix it? Having 3 kids, myself, and one of my parents having gone to Lawrence schools, it seems that we've lots to be proud of, and I remember fondly back to 9th grade as being a great year in my school career simply because we were at the top of the heap. Why trade this for being at the bottom of the heap in high school?

Finally, it seems that one of the strengths of the Lawrence system ( I guess that's a good term since nobody else is using it anymore) is that we have more experience with it than anyone else in the state!

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