Junior highs may see ‘middle school’ name change

Every school in Lawrence — all 24 of them, stretching across all grade levels — will be reorganized by the time the next school year rolls around, as some grade levels leave and others arrive as part of a sweeping reconfiguration already endorsed by the Lawrence school board.

Still awaiting approval: just what four of those schools will be called.

The conventional thinking is that the four junior high schools in the Lawrence school district — Central, South, Southwest and West — will get new names, representing just a few of the visible details that need to be worked out as the junior highs prepare to add sixth-graders and subtract ninth-graders.

“That’s the plan: Central Middle School and South Middle School, West Middle School and Southwest Middle School,” said Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer.

No specific plans have been approved for new signs, new paint or new anything else for the buildings themselves, at least not yet.

“That would be a long-term goal, but we have to look at the cost of doing all that,” she said. “We’ve already advised the buildings to not order lots of letterhead. We anticipate using that up this year and converting it over.

“But at this point we’re more focused with what’s going to happen with kids every day than those icing-on-the-cake sorts of things.”

The district already has a team of committees studying just how to make the middle schools system work, whether it’s regarding facilities or curriculum or scheduling or anything in between. Teachers will need to know whether they’ll remain in what will have been junior highs, or possibly move up with ninth-graders to a high school.

Take schedules. Right now at West, seventh-, eighth- and ninth-graders typically choose classes based on block schedules, a mixture of 45- and 90-minute class periods, depending on subjects and grade levels. Students move from class to class as many as eight times a day.

Myron Melton, now in his eighth year as principal at West, said that next year’s student lineup — with sixth-graders for the first time, and without ninth-graders for the first time — could offer an opportunity to create “core teams” of teachers, offering core subjects in reading, math, science and social studies. Those teams, then, would work together with largely the same sets of students to determine who might need more of a particular subject at any particular time.

The idea: tailor the education closer to a student’s actual needs, instead of by adherence to a student’s schedule.

“It gives teachers flexibility to work that out,” said Melton, who emphasized that students still would be able to enroll in electives involving fine arts, technology, business, physical education and other subjects. “We’re talking about bridging elementary to high school, and this helps us build that transition.”

Such discussions are taking place through the district, on many levels.

Trish Bransky, principal for all of Southwest’s 16 years, said that deciding where to put particular grades would be important: Do sixth-graders move into what is now the pod for ninth-graders, or some other combination?

“Do we all have to move?” Bransky said. “These decisions will be made this year and we’ll be ready.”

Anna Stubblefield, principal at Central, said that such issues would be different inside the building that used to be a high school.

“Central will probably have to be the most creative, because we don’t have wings, or pods, or things like that,” Stubblefield said.

Such changes, whatever form they take, are inevitable heading into next year.

“There are little things we haven’t really talked about. We’re on the big things,” said Melton, at West. “As it progresses, we’ll get into the details.”