The future of English as a Second Language programs is among dozens of factors being balanced as an advisory group moves closer to recommending which Lawrence elementary schools should be consolidated in the name of efficiency.
“That is something to consider,” said Vanessa Sanburn, vice president of the Lawrence school board. “In the whole long list of pros and cons for consolidation, that’s another of the pieces to fit together.
“There’s not a lot of clarity, and there’s no right answer. It’s nuances, and it’s complicated. There are a lot of things to weigh.”
The fate of ESL services is among several major issues being discussed by members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, a panel that includes representatives from six elementary schools identified by the Lawrence school board as candidates for potential consolidation: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.
The working group is charged with recommending a plan that would trim the list of six schools to three or four within the next two years. The report is due to board members by the end of January.
Two of the schools on the potential consolidation list, Cordley and Hillcrest, also happen to be the district’s two “cluster” sites for ESL programming, drawing students from throughout the district to receive specialized services that ESL students require.
About 40 percent of Hillcrest’s students actually live within the school’s attendance boundary, while the rest come from elsewhere to receive instruction in conjunction with ESL services.
Because district officials previously have indicated a desire to provide ESL services at all schools in the district, not just at cluster or in selected neighborhood schools, members of the working group have been left to wonder just how to consider Cordley and Hillcrest in their deliberations.
Are the schools going to remain cluster sites, or should they be considered just like other schools as working group members look into the future to recommend which schools should be expanded, renovated or closed?
Turns out that depends.
Working group meeting today
Members of the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group will meet today to consider additional school-consolidation options.
Members are scheduled to review ideas forwarded by subgroups representing Cordley and New York schools.
The schools are among six identified by the Lawrence school board as candidates for consolidation within the next two years. The others: Hillcrest, Kennedy, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.
The working group meets at 7 p.m. today at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive. The group’s recommendations are due to the school board by the end of January.
“The long-term plan is for students to be in their neighborhood schools and to have all the services they need right there,” Sanburn said. “However, it does take time to have that capacity in all our neighborhood schools. …
“Certainly, we can’t gear up tomorrow and have every school be a neighborhood ESL site. Obviously, we have to plan for the clusters to remain.”
Kim Bodensteiner, the district’s chief academic officer, agrees that the district should expect to retain ESL cluster sites for the foreseeable future.
“Do I think, within the next year or two, we’ll eliminate cluster sites and go entirely to neighborhood ESL?” Bodensteiner said. “Probably not.”
Providing ESL services requires having ESL-trained and -certified educators, and such training takes time and costs money. All licensed professionals at both Cordley and Hillcrest already are certified.
The programs at Cordley and Hillcrest also have built up over time, to the point that families in other countries look forward to sending their kids to school upon arrival in Lawrence. Representatives from the two schools emphasize that their neighborhood communities extend far beyond their traditional boundaries, taking in a larger, diverse community that only becomes stronger because of the instruction and relationships built through education.
On the working group, representatives of both schools have emphasized their buildings could be expanded and their programs strengthened through consolidation: More students could be brought to their respective campuses, to benefit from the established programming and relationships spurred, at least in part, by sharing classrooms with ESL students and the benefits they provide.
Others have suggested that ESL programs could be moved, intact, to other schools, ones that may have more room or space for expansion.
Again, Sanburn said, there is no “right” answer. The district wants to offer ESL programs in all elementary schools remaining after consolidation, just as such programs already have been extended into all middle schools and both high schools.
Questions about when or how remain unclear, and that means drawing any conclusions about plans will be left to all members of the working group, as they mull consolidation scenarios.
The working group will provide recommendations, Sanburn said, and then board members will be responsible for acting upon them.
“You’ve got to look at what you’re losing and what you’re gaining and really weigh the benefits and losses and determine which plan is best for achieving our mission, what’s best for all our kids,” Sanburn said.
The working group meets at 7 p.m. today at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.