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Archive for Sunday, April 25, 2010

School board to plot next moves

Administrators, staff favor middle school reconfiguration

The Lawrence school board may reach a decision Monday night regarding the future of the grade configuration in the Lawrence school district. Ninth and sixth-graders are among those who may be moved to different schools.

April 25, 2010

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Lawrence school district administrators are recommending that school board members on Monday approve plans to change the makeup of the district’s schools for the 2011-2012 school year.

The change would move ninth-graders from the four junior high schools to the two high schools — and move sixth-graders from the 15 elementary schools to four middle schools, joining seventh- and eighth-graders.

If board members approve, the district would take one year to plan the change to address concerns brought up at recent community forums and site council meetings and to help students with a smooth transition, said Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer.

“We believe the time is right for us to move forward for us in Lawrence to have middle schools and four-year high schools,” Bodensteiner said.

Board members at their Monday meeting will hear feedback about two recent forums on the sixth-grade move, during which some parents questioned whether sixth-graders were mature enough to be in school with seventh- and eighth-graders.

Scott Morgan, the school board president who favors both changes, believes there was enough support among board members to move ninth-graders to the high schools — but he’s not sure about the sixth-grade.

On Friday, Bodensteiner discussed why administrators are recommending the changes.

Ninth-grade move

The state’s high school curriculum is four grades, instead of three. Next fall, when Olathe changes to four-grade high schools, Lawrence will have the only three-grade high schools in the state.

“For a lot of our students it’s even hard to envision when they’re in ninth-grade that’s in a junior high, that that really is high school,” Bodensteiner said. “Many of them don’t see the connection of, these grades really are going to count on my transcript.”

Ninth-grade students don’t have access to as many extracurricular activities and clubs in junior high as they would at high schools. Also, it will be easier for students interested in career and technical courses to get involved in them sooner if they are high schools, she said.

The move would allow ninth-graders access to more elective courses, especially during tight economic times. The district cut ninth-grade German for next year, but administrators say they would bring it back for ninth-graders at the high schools because it would be cheaper to offer the course at two schools, rather than four.

Ninth-graders would also get more access to participate in varsity and junior varsity athletics, like other students across the state, Bodensteiner said. If board members approve four-grade high schools for 2011, administrators recommend moving ninth-grade athletics to high schools from junior high in the fall — one year earlier.

A majority of the 40 parents at forums earlier this month supported the ninth-grade change, but some worried about Lawrence High School having enough space in hallways to handle more students. Morgan said that LHS would still be smaller than it was before Free State High School opened in 1997 but that the board could talk about including something for space in a future bond issue that would likely be aimed at upgrading the elementary schools.

Sixth-grade move

A district survey of 50 parents at two sixth-grade forums was split — with 22 parents against the change, 20 parents supporting the move to middle schools, and eight who were unsure.

The parents were concerned sixth-graders were not mature enough to handle being in a school with older students. Some also had concerns that it would reduce the number of students attending the district’s smaller elementary schools, putting some in danger of closing.

Morgan said a district task force would still be studying the district’s smaller neighborhood elementary buildings in the next year.

“I don’t think it would put a great deal of pressure to close any schools that didn’t already have that pressure. It’s not like this will tip it over one way or the other,” he said.

The task force will also look at some smaller elementaries like New York School possibly changing to a magnet school instead of closing.

Staff input

Other than the parent concerns, Bodensteiner said a survey of school staff members who work with sixth-graders was more much more supportive of having four three-grade middle schools.

Of the 75 staff members who responded, 69 percent supported the change and 21 percent said they could support it if certain concerns were addressed.

Chris Bay, Sunset Hill School’s principal, said Lawrence’s current setup has been successful, but the middle school model was designed specifically to handle the developmental needs of sixth-graders. It would also allow the district to be more efficient in how it offers programs, like band and orchestra at four schools instead of 15.

“I would see sixth-graders thriving in an environment where they have more course offerings, more flexibility in a day,” Bay said.

Bodensteiner said the district’s curriculum is divided by kindergarten through fifth-grade and sixth- to eighth-grade. In a middle school, it’s also easier to place students in both more advanced and remedial classes as they need them, she said.

In some of the district’s larger elementary schools, now sixth-graders can prepare to go to junior high schools by moving around to different classes, but that’s not the case in smaller schools. Bodensteiner said middle schools also can be set up to help sixth-graders adjust by giving them a home room but at the same time get more interaction with older students.

“It’s not that we want kids to be older,” she said. “We want them to be able to do what they’re ready to do.”

Monday’s meeting starts at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

Comments

youngjayhawk 3 years, 12 months ago

Yes, 9th graders to HS; Yes, 6th graders to MS. Why not implement this next year? Seriously, WHY does it take a year to do this ... ah, job justification of the administration personnel ... gotta have something to keep 'em busy!

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windchimes 3 years, 12 months ago

don't forget, $250,000 per year in interest charges on the new athletic fields / this depletes general revenue does it not?

while the larger $16.9 million for the fields comes from Capital Outlays.....the interest charges come out of general revenue do they not?

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jpgs 3 years, 12 months ago

There have been a number of comments that suggest that USD 497 is top-heavy with management. Has anyone done a comparison with other districts and have any numbers on how the administrator/teacher/student ratios compare to other Kansas, Big 12, and US cities of similar population? If so I'd like a pointer.

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windchimes 3 years, 12 months ago

cutting teachers but adding assistant coaching for athletics.......that's USD priorities, ask them about ass't coaches at the meeting!

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windchimes 3 years, 12 months ago

along the way, the latest reports are that the Athletic Field projects have cost $16.9 million to date and counting with $2.5 million in 10 year interest charges.

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Iam Tired 3 years, 12 months ago

"Of the 75 staff members who responded, 69 percent supported the change and 21 percent said they could support it if certain concerns were addressed."

This is the same staff that was told not to discuss potential school closings by administration. It is hard to imagine that they now feel free to express any opinion that deviates from the administration. Their rumor mill is already aware of the consequences of doing so.

There are 740 sixth grade students and 31 sixth grade teachers (http://www.usd497.org/AboutUs/SchoolBoard/Agenda/2009.10Archives/documents/20100111StudySession/ClassSizeElePgB6toB10.pdf). Sixth grade teachers can only account for a maximum of 41% of the survey if, and only if, all sixth grade teachers participated. Without knowing the actual demographics of samples the survey really has no meaning.

The only demographic given is "school staff members who work with sixth-graders." For all we know it could have been heavily weighted by principals and janitors at over crowded schools. The in-house survey, and administrations' interpretation, has no validity unless they share the actual survey and demographics.

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jubilee 3 years, 12 months ago

The question and the vote should not be about reconfiguring schools. The question needs to be "What is the best educational model for Lawrence that Lawrence can afford NOW?" Second to that question is, "What model should the district move to in the future, when funding might be better?" The public deserves to know what programs WILL be offered if reconfiguration occurs not what MIGHT be offered. How much will it cost? Moving 9th graders to the high school will NOT lower the DISTRICT per pupil cost significantly unless schools are closed or more students are added.
The Board voted in favor of smaller school size for elementary students. The advantages of smaller schools should be given to students across the district (http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/jan/25/small-schools-benefit-students), at least until the administration can present a comprehensive plan for education across the grades, across the curriculum with an accompanying budget. Measurable goals and objectives should be set to ensure accountability.
Our current configuration is working great for the majority of our students (even those 9th graders who don't know they are in high school, they still perform at or above the state 9th grade average!) ---it shouldn't be voted away without a concrete plan with measurable objectives to be approved in its stead.

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1614kentucky 3 years, 12 months ago

Plotting is right and behind closed doors more than you will ever know.

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oneeye_wilbur 3 years, 12 months ago

Two ill conceived bond issues continues to move Lawrence further into a desperate situation. Hire Dr. Covington from KCMO.

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boltzmann 3 years, 12 months ago

"The move would allow ninth-graders access to more elective courses, especially during tight economic times. The district cut ninth-grade German for next year, but administrators say they would bring it back for ninth-graders at the high schools because it would be cheaper to offer the course at two schools, rather than four"

So it seems German is being held hostage to get approval of the four-year high-school plan.

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xeniahawk 3 years, 12 months ago

Cut teachers, cut schools, leave an ineffective and misguided administration in place, cut programs and float another bloated tax bond proposal to the taxpayers. What a farce. You would think Scott Morgan was a Washington politician, the way he acts. Who votes for this kind of leadership?

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waswade 3 years, 12 months ago

Administration and the Board have no clue what teaching is really about.

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Benjamin Roberts 3 years, 12 months ago

"Morgan said ... that the board could talk about including something for space in a future bond issue that would likely be aimed at upgrading the elementary schools."

That is how we ended up with two stadiums. They floated a bond issue to "construct additions to and renovate, furnish and equip existing junior high and high school(s)" and padded it enough to build stadiums.

Morgan is telling you what is coming. A third high school, or 9th grade wings, can be expected soon after the reconfiguration: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/did_i...

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cato_the_elder 3 years, 12 months ago

"Plot" is indeed the correct word. Third high school, here we come.

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