District ponders moving ninth-graders to high school

Lawrence High School technology teacher Charlie Lauts, left, works in an introductory course Tuesday with Keenan Wycoff, a sophomore. Lauts believes moving ninth-graders to the high school would especially help students going down career and technical education paths.

Upcoming discussion

The Lawrence school board will discuss school reconfiguration at its 7 p.m. meeting Monday at 110 McDonald Drive.

Lawrence High School career and technical education teacher Charlie Lauts wants ninth-graders in her classes.

It will help enrollment for elective classes and help students fit in all the requirements they need for graduation, she said. It will also help those students who are going down the career and technical education pathways, which have been recently changed by the state and have plans that start in ninth grade.

Lawrence ninth-graders attend the city’s junior high schools rather than high school. “Having them here in high school to start those (classes) and give them an extra year to complete a pathway is a total advantage at our end of the world,” Lauts said.

Reconfiguration, or moving grade levels to different buildings, has focused on moving sixth-graders to a middle school with seventh and eighth grades, and moving ninth-graders to the high schools. The Lawrence school board is set to get the pros and cons of changing the system from district administration at its meeting Monday.

As for Lauts’ students, some of them are worried about squeezing another class in the building.

“We have teachers patrolling hallways to make sure kids keep moving because otherwise you can’t get through,” senior Josh Russell said. “You add another 150, 200 kids, there’s no way we’re going to be able to move around the school.”

But Lauts has seen a packed house before.

“I taught here in the mid-’90s when there were almost 1,800 kids here,” Lauts said. “It was a zoo, but we all survived.”

Some teens see the advantages of a four-year high school.

“I think there’s a lot more freedom in high school, and I think as a freshman you should be a part of that,” sophomore Cameron Solko said. “But I don’t think we’re fully mature enough to handle high school yet.”

At Quail Run School, sixth-graders change classrooms and have multiple teachers in order to prepare them for junior high.

“They handle it beautifully,” sixth-grade teacher Barb Thompson said. “They really like it because they feel more grown-up. They also need to be responsible for their materials and their work, and this makes them more responsible.”

While Thompson believes sixth-graders are ready for a middle school environment, it needs to stay true to how a six-through-eight building should be set up.

“They’re in teams and they have core teachers and the teachers are all aware of them and know them as individuals,” Thompson said. “I would not want to see sixth-graders moved up to the junior high-type situation.”

Her students are torn about moving to a middle school system, even though the Lawrence district is the only one in the state that still runs seventh- through ninth-grade junior high schools.

“I’d rather be in middle school because then you have lockers and more space and you’re better prepared for seventh and eighth grade,” said sixth-grader Rebecca Moran.

But classmate Josh Kallenbach would rather keep sixth grade in elementary buildings.

“(Junior highs) have a lot of larger kids that are more mature than you,” Josh said. “You need another year to mature before you go.”

LHS math department Chairwoman Pam Fangohr isn’t necessarily against adding ninth-graders but wants to make sure such a move is carefully planned before it’s implemented.

“I think there’s really some facility issues and some manipulation of what would the math classes look like — where would we go on our plan period?” Fangohr said. “We’re sure hoping that if they do make a move like this, it’s really well thought out.”

The school board will hear from staff about reconfiguration — including cost savings and the possibility of making the change next fall — during its Monday meeting.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.