Split developing on whether it’s a good idea to move 9th graders to high school

Lawrence High School Students board buses in this 2009 photo.

A majority of participants in two recent forums supported moving Lawrence ninth-graders into the high schools.

However, school board members are taking note of survey results that show concerns about any move.

Chief academic officer Kim Bodensteiner said during a forum at Free State High School, 20 of 24 participants said on a written survey that they supported moving freshmen into high schools. But at a Lawrence High School forum, 11 of 16 participants were against the change.

More discussions

Lawrence school board members plan to have two more community discussions with parents about moving sixth-graders into middle schools. The forums will be from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the Lawrence High School cafeteria, 1901 La., and 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Free State High School’s Black Box Theater, 4700 Overland Drive.

“There’s a concern for the social and emotional well-being of kids in that setting (at Lawrence High). It seemed it definitely was expressed more clearly in the second session than the first one,” said Rich Minder, the school board vice president.

Board members and district administrators are studying school reconfiguration, including moving ninth-graders into high schools as early as 2011-2012 and also moving sixth-grade students into middle schools with seventh- and eighth-graders. Bodensteiner said after the Olathe district changes from three-year to four-year high schools in the fall, Lawrence will be the only district in the state with three-year high schools.

Bodensteiner said district leaders are studying four-year high schools for its benefits, such as a lower dropout rate due to giving ninth-grade students access to more programs and courses.

But like a majority of those responding at the Lawrence High forum, some parents are concerned about Lawrence High School having sufficient space for another grade. Parent Maureen Murray said the district needs to give the public a clear, compelling academic reason for a change.

“I would like to know what’s broken. What are the deficiencies? What are we trying to fix?” Murray asked board members during their Monday.

Board members aren’t ready to say the feedback from the two forums shows a split among Free State and Lawrence High parents. On the survey, the district did not ask participants to note which schools their children attended or would attend. Bodensteiner said a handful of people attended both forums.

Board member Marlene Merrill said it was most telling that only 40 people participated in the forums — while the district is talking moving 750 students up to high schools.

“That says to me that there is comfort with the discussions that we’re having about moving and not big concerns for what we have proposed,” she said.