It’s hard to draw many conclusions about broad public opinion based on feedback from 40 people.
That’s how many people attended two recent forums, held at Lawrence and Free State high schools, to discuss the possibility of moving Lawrence ninth-graders into four-year high schools. Participants at both forums were asked to complete a written survey about the plan being considered by the Lawrence school board. At Free State, a sizable majority, 20 of 24 participants, favored the move. At LHS, 11 of the 16 participants, were against the move.
The opposition at LHS apparently was based largely on the social and emotional issues associated with putting 14-year-old freshmen into high schools with 18-year-old seniors. That concern certainly shouldn’t be dismissed by school board members, but other schools apparently have found it manageable. After Olathe makes the move to four-year high schools in the fall, Lawrence will be the only district in the state with three-year high schools.
There are obvious academic advantages to physically moving students to high school at the same time they begin pursuing a four-year high school curriculum. It’s true that high school freshmen and seniors are at different levels of maturity, but the influence of the Internet and modern communication means that today’s ninth-graders are far less sheltered than their counterparts of a generation or two ago.
Parents also questioned whether LHS was large enough to comfortably accommodate the new students. The enrollment at LHS is much lower now than it was before Free State was built, but no one wants to go back to the previous level of crowding.
As one parent correctly pointed out, the district shouldn’t move ninth-graders unless there is a compelling academic reason to do so. It seems unlikely that the move will save the district much, if any, money, so providing students a better educational opportunity should drive the board’s decision.
Board member Marlene Merrill surmised that the fact that only 40 people showed up at the two forums was an indication that district patrons are comfortable with the idea of moving 750 ninth-graders into the high schools. She could be right, but it would be a mistake to assume too much.
The board probably needs to do more to explain and gather input on the possible move, but parents also need to do their part. If the 40 people who attended the two recent forums don’t accurately represent their views, the rest of the parents in the district will have little right to complain if the plan moves ahead without their concerns or support being considered.