Moving next year’s sixth-graders into middle schools looks to open up plenty of room in elementary schools for any number of uses in the future, including the potential for all-day kindergarten districtwide.
One minor problem: cash.
“Parents like it, and it’s good for kids,” said Scott Morgan, a member of the Lawrence school board. “It’s a great combination, but it’s highly unlikely to be implemented. I don’t know where we would come up with the money.”
“But it needs to be talked about.”
No problem there.
Morgan and other members of the Lawrence school district’s Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force are busy discussing enrollment data, building conditions, historical trends, efficiency goals and other matters deemed necessary to determining what shape the district’s 15 elementary schools should take in future years.
Monday night’s meeting expanded into the realm of “best practices,” a lineup of policies, investments and operations shown by researchers to make the most difference in improving education for students in grades kindergarten through 12.
All-day kindergarten made the list. Others included training and retaining teachers, encouraging parental involvement, following a “tight” curriculum and using data to drive allocation of resources.
But the real discussions will start in the coming weeks, as members of the task force — a group formed to help envision how the district’s schools should operate now that sixth-graders will be moving up to middle schools beginning next year — begin to focus on the big picture.
The task force’s four subcommittees will report their findings, and then all two dozen members will try to find common ground through efficiency, history, schools’ physical conditions and how all those factors fit into the concept of “neighborhood” and “community” schools.
“Then everything’s fair game,” said Rick Doll, district superintendent.
That’s also when members will start assigning priorities to the so-called “best practices,” to see not only which ones might work within the operational, historical, physical and political environments in Lawrence, but also perhaps the most important framework: financial.
Last school year, board members cut teachers’ professional development, increased the average class size by one student and made other program changes to slash millions of dollars in expenses from the district balance sheet to accommodate state budget cuts.
More cuts could be on the way this year, making the task force’s priorities that much more important.
“You have limited resources and plenty of options,” Doll reminded members of the task force. “What do you do?”
Answers to that question will come during the coming weeks and months, with the task force’s final recommendations due to the school board by February.