The boundary that divides Free State and Lawrence high schools may not be going anywhere anytime soon, but officials who decide such matters are at least willing to discuss alternatives.
Monday night, several members of the Lawrence school board — including two of the three who will remain in office in July — indicated that they’d be willing to entertain options for adjusting or replacing the schools’ lone dividing line, one that has stood for all 14 years since Free State opened northwest of Sixth Street and Folks Road.
The line, which runs along 15th Street and Bob Billings Parkway, sends those who live north to Free State and those who reside to the south to Lawrence High.
“Boundaries are not permanent,” said Bob Byers, a board member who has two years remaining on his term. “We need to quit behaving like they are and move forward.”
The issue came up nearly a year ago, as members of the current board indicated that they wanted to discuss the effectiveness of current boundaries at all grade levels. Of particular note was talk regarding the high schools, where Lawrence High has more students overall, a higher percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunches, and more minority students.
Back then, board members didn’t assert whether the current boundary line was ineffective — only that they wanted to get the discussion going. That official conversation started Monday night.
Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the evening’s enlightening opinions and observations came from board members whose terms end in less than a month:
• Scott Morgan urged incoming members to have a plan in mind before embarking on a plan to change boundaries — any boundaries. “This is an incredible time-sucker,” he said. “Right next to closing schools, it is the thing that lights people up.” Morgan also cautioned against the effects of potential “unintended consequences”; allowing students to choose a high school based upon its academic offerings, for example, could allow students to “go shopping” for a school based on its football or baseball programs.
• Rich Minder wants the district to consider a variety of options regarding attendance. In the past he’s suggested giving students a choice, rather than an assignment, of where to go; different schools also might offer different programs to attract students from all over town, near or far. “If the discussion centers only on boundaries,” he said Monday, “then it restricts the imagination.”
• Mary Loveland, who helped identify and set the 15th Street boundary leading up to Free State’s opening, said she wasn’t sure that the two schools were as balanced today as they were then. “We may have to look at it (as a) ‘blank slate’ again,” she said.
Vanessa Sanburn, who joins Byers and Mark Bradford as having at least two years remaining in office, described creating boundaries that promote equality, safety, efficiency and academic achievement as “a worthy goal for us to look at.” Bradford did not address the issue during Monday’s meeting.
Two of four incoming board members attended Monday’s meeting: Rick Ingram and Shannon Kimball. After the meeting, each said specifics about how to address boundaries would need to emerge from the board’s upcoming goals-setting session, which also would include incoming board members Randy Masten and Keith Diaz Moore.
Ingram and Kimball acknowledged, however, that boundaries — all boundaries — would get plenty of attention from the new board.
“The primary goal has to be to maximize academic achievement,” Ingram said. “You have to start there, then work backward … and boundaries need to be a part of that.”