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.