Archive for Monday, February 7, 2011

First Bell: Task force considering more than school closings, consolidations; supporters of dual-language school to show ‘Speaking in Tongues’; Bishop Seabury, Free State grads among Global Scholars a

February 7, 2011


The Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force isn’t all about recommending closure of schools or simple consolidation of schools. There’s also talk of emphasizing professional development for teachers, ridding elementary schools of portable classrooms, and remembering that while relatively small class sizes are nice, there are several other factors that have a “greater impact” on student achievement.

Among them: high-quality classroom teachers, strong student-teacher relationships, full-day kindergarten, early-childhood programs and substantial parental involvement.

Members of the task force plan to meet at least two more times this month, before making their final recommendations Feb. 28 to members of the Lawrence school board. The next meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive.

Task force members are moving closer to consensus on some of the major issues facing the group. When it comes to closures and consolidations, the task force anticipates recommending:

• Closure next year of either one or two of three schools identified for further study: Cordley, Pinckney and Wakarusa Valley.

• Consolidation, within three to five years, of Kennedy and New York schools in eastern Lawrence, and of Hillcrest and Sunset Hill schools in central Lawrence. Students would be expected to attend either new or expanded and renovated schools; the focus generally has been on building a new school in eastern Lawrence, where the former East Heights School now is used by the Boys & Girls Club, and at Sunset Hill, which is considered a large enough site to accommodate expansion.

With such large issues being weighed, it’s sometimes easy for outsiders to forget that the task force is looking at many long-range issues, especially as they relate to the district’s existing and expected financial resources.

All recommendations are to be formulated through a lens that includes a clear view of 12 goals established through months of task force meetings. That’s the vision task force members will be scheduled to use Feb. 14, when they review specific projections and other data related to the potential closures and consolidations.


Also from the task force: One concept that has been discussed in conjunction with consolidating Kennedy and New York schools is preserving New York as something new: a “dual-language” school.

Rich Minder, who is president of the Lawrence school board and co-chairman of the task force, has discussed the concept often, both in small-group meetings of task force subcommittees and during larger meetings of the entire task force.

A group known as Multilingual Lawrence — check its page on Facebook — has been working to raise the profile of such a movement, to create a “dual-language” immersion school in the district. At such a school, each class would have a mix of native English speakers and non-native speakers.

Depending on the school, students would receive anywhere from 50 percent to 90 percent of their instruction in the target language — Spanish, as envisioned by Multilingual Lawrence — and the rest in English, said Kendra Kuhlman, a member of Multilingual Lawrence.

As described by Minder, students throughout the Lawrence district would have the choice to attend a dual-language school, should one be established. The school then would become a magnet of sorts, to draw students and their families into a strong neighborhood without having to live there and to provide investment in an area of town that both needs and deserves it.

Multilingual Lawrence has scheduled a showing of “Speaking in Tongues,” a documentary film that follows four students and their families as their encounter both challenges and delights of becoming fluent in two languages.

The showing is set for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 21 at Liberty Hall, 644 Mass., and a panel discussion is scheduled after the show to address dual-language immersion programs and how such programs could work in Lawrence.


Two students from schools in Lawrence are expanding their horizons at Kansas University.

The students — Jeff Miller, a graduate of Bishop Seabury Academy; and Sarah Stern, a graduate of Free State High School — are among 15 inaugural Global Scholars, a new KU program that recognizes students with demonstrated interest in global and international studies, plans for studying abroad and potential for continued high academic achievement and leadership.

The students come from disciplines throughout the university. Miller is a sophomore in Latin American studies and anthropology, while Stern is a sophomore in journalism and Latin American studies.

As scholars, the two will participate in a three-hour seminar taught during the spring semester; be paired with a faculty mentor with similar interests for the remainder of his or her undergraduate studies; and present research on global and international studies during the spring semester of his or her senior year.

Miller will be paired with John Hoopes, associate professor of anthropology. Stern will work with Melissa Birch, associate professor of business.

The first Global Scholars also will complete in “Truth in a Global Society,” an interdisciplinary seminar taught by Brent Steele, associate professor of political science. They also will receive a $1,000 scholarship to be applied toward a KU-approved study abroad program.

Miller is the son of Ann and Byron Miller. Stern is the daughter of Joan and George Stern.

— The First Bell e-mailbox is always open:


Kat Christian 6 years, 8 months ago

Why are they always trying to cram so many kids into one classroom? No wander teachers are so stressed out, no wander some kids are getting sub-standard education. Compared to where I moved Lawrence has excellent schools, because they are neighborhood schools, classroom size are smaller. Now they want to close more schools, move them out of the neighborhood and consolidate kids from out of their neighborhood environment to create overcrowded classrooms, more choas in itself and stressing teachers out even more. Let's face it kids suck the life out of adults, it takes a special person to be a teacher, but still they are only human, School boards need to think of their work place environment as well. The thing is after a few years when they come to realize they've made a mistake by closing more schools they end up having to spend More money to build more schools but things just don't get better, by then it is too late to go back, but the dominos just keep falling and things keep piling up and getting worse while School administrators develop more bandaide ways of thinking they are solving the problems...when all the time they should have just left well enough alone. Don't try to fix it if it ain't broken. Will they ever learn?

Mike Myers 6 years, 8 months ago

Your ideas are right on but unfortunately we live in a state that doesn't value education enough to adequately fund small schools. If you are passionate about small schools and small class size you need to contact your legislators and demand that we as a population be taxed at a level which will support education on something less than the Walmart scale. And keep in mind that the money we spend to build schools comes from a separate pot than the money we use to pay teachers and run school programs. The school building money pot is from local bond issues while the school running money pot is from state taxation.

It is hard for some to imagine but closing some small schools and building larger ones will create a more equitable distribution of dollars to students across the district. This is by no means the ideal situation but it is what the state is forcing us to do.

GMom05 6 years, 8 months ago

I will not accept that it is better to shut down my current school and be required to pay more money through a local bond issue in order to build a new school, so that I can drive by my empty building to go further away from my home to my children's new school. It's ridiculous! I cannot understand closing a perfectly sound building to build a new one. If a building has construction or safety issues, possibly, (you could use those capital dollars to fix it though), but closing a building that has nothing wrong with it is senseless. It will only put money in the pockets of the contractor and those architects that work for the district. And someone answer me this. What happens if they close a school or two and then the people of Lawrence rise up and vote NO on a bond issue? What then? We have too few schools and no majority agreeing to pay the cost of a new one. I can tell you I'll be voting NO to any bond issues of that sort. They are not thinking this through. Maybe they think if they close the schools we'll be forced to to vote in favor of it to reduce class sizes. The whole disctrict will go to hell in a handbasket then and that won't look so good on Doll's resume.

GMom05 6 years, 8 months ago

Dual Language school, really? We have to give this serious consideration and close a school based on a totally unproven model? They haven't even tried to implement this in the elementary classrooms at all, yet it's supposed to be given some weight when considering which schools to close? If you want to talk magnet school look at Wakarusa Valley. It should be given more weight than dual language at New York. They have at least spent the better part of the last year implementing their science program. They've written grants and paid for teacher professional development in this area. They've increased the number of field trips and guest speakers, and I've seen mention of several of their big science events featured in the media. I know there's more. Clearly parents and not administrators are behind this push and it makes sense. In this science and technology age we live in, our children had better be able to compete in the global market by having strong skills in science, technology, engineering, and math. They need the foundations for these areas while they are in elementary school. While I am completely aware that North America has more and more Spanish speakers every decade and that a majority of the population may speak it by mid-century, economically we need to be looking at Asia. You cannot argue that a science program has at least as much validity as a Spanish program. To ignore that fact is negligent and just points to certain someones who have their own agenda and will not rest until Wakarusa Valley is swept under the carpet. The existing science program at Wakarusa must be given equal consideration as any potential dual language program at New York. The school board, in good conscience, must evaluate these situations equitably.

Synjyn Smythe 6 years, 8 months ago

"The existing science program at Wakarusa must be given equal consideration as any potential dual language program at New York. The school board, in good conscience, must evaluate these situations equitably." But teachers could be given free housing, at taxpayers' expense at Delaware Commons! Do any school board members have a financial stake in what happens at Wakarusa?

GMom05 6 years, 8 months ago

Ahh! Not that I know of. Perhaps someone should look more deeply into potential conflicts of interest of this nature...

singitagainSam 6 years, 8 months ago

What are the recommendations for something other than school closure/consolidation - the issues that the Task Force is "talking about"?

Wouldn't sound long-range planning of educational programming preclude any discussions of school closure/consolidation?

It is pathetic that our district administration only sees short-term - that's what got us into this mess in the first place. Or do they really care to do something right?

GMom05 6 years, 8 months ago

Yes, one would think they'd be considering all the options. Unlike last year, no one has seen the long spreadsheet that listed all the possible ways to save and how much it would save. This year all the administration has produced is a table called "Per Pupil Costs" seemingly showing how much it takes to keep each school open (mostly related to salaries) with a mysterious category at the bottom called "Capital Cost Avoidance." What's that you ask? That's how much money they don't have to pay from the Capital Fund if they just go ahead and close the school right now. You know they want to hang on to those funds. They'll need them to build that big box school out on the east side of town.

Synjyn Smythe 6 years, 8 months ago

Common sense dictates that high-quality classroom teachers, indeed, every classroom teacher, will do better in classes with less kids. It is obvious that stronger student-teacher relationships will be formed in smaller group settings. Full-day kindergarten, indeed, learning and relationships at every class level are enhanced by smaller class sizes, even early-childhood programs. Even parental involvement is enhanced by classrooms with fewer kids!

The Benefits of Smaller Classes, what the research actually shows:

Wouldn't it be nice if the ultimate recommendations were actually based upon what research shows?

GMom05 6 years, 8 months ago

Unfortunately, those that make the decisions will only point to someone else's research to substantiate their position. But speaking of research, I have also heard that the size of the school overall is even more important than the classsize. In fact, I believe this is what Admin told us last year as they were raising class sizes. 'Don't worry about crowded classrooms'! What I recall was that there was a benefit to having smaller schools over all even if the classrooms themselves were 'crowded', by whatever definition you use. So, not only are they going to leave us with crowded classrooms, they are going to close our schools, consolidate, and leave our children without an ounce of room in the halls, playgrounds, or cafeterias either. Remember too, every school that closes is more missed opportunities for the children to be 'stars.' One less star of the spelling bee or geography bee, or any other award or recognition they will now have to compete twice as hard for. One less time to lead the pledge of allegiance or read the morning announcements. Less and less opportunities in a big school to stand out in the crowd, to feel special or self-confident.

kugrad 6 years, 8 months ago

" I have also heard that the size of the school overall is even more important than the classsize. In fact, I believe this is what Admin told us last year as they were raising class sizes. "

  • Wrong on both counts. The administration did not say that. Research does not support that view. Most school size research involves high schools. Some involves middle schools. Almost none involves elementary schools. Since class size research is virtually ALL about elementary school (and early elementary at that), and school size research is virtually all about high schools, there would be no research comparing the relative effects of class size vs. school size.

I personally think there is something to smaller elementary schools, and probably smaller high schools as well, but my thoughts and intutions are not research-based.

Steve Jacob 6 years, 8 months ago

My standard post on this topic is this city is not growing in population, just gaining in age, so less schools might be the best option with shrinking budgets.

GMom05 6 years, 8 months ago

I'm guessing neither one of you have children in the elementary schools at this point. Are you really ok with having to pay a bond issue for a new school after they've closed a well-functioning school?

Mike Myers 6 years, 8 months ago

And you would be wrong there G. My two will be consolidated on the east side. I've just taken the time to get a bit more informed. Perhaps if you did as well you might be able to construct a better argument for Wak. The convincing argument for retension there is future residential growth in that area after some zoning and utility issues are changed (i.e. lot size and sanitary sewers).

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