Archive for Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Firm maps out school consolidation group’s proposals

January 31, 2012


Rob Schwarz, a consultant with RSP, warned the community working group tasked with closing elementary schools in Lawrence that they were playing a game of chess. Move one piece, and the rest of the board shifts.

Two weeks ago, the group had forwarded on to RSP seven scenarios for closing or consolidating schools.

At a Monday night meeting, RSP, an educational planning firm based in the Kansas City area, came back with detailed maps on how three of those proposals would change boundaries, population numbers, English as second language clusters and the socio-economic mix of each school.

Langston Hughes and Woodlawn were the only two schools that didn’t see any boundary changes under the three scenarios. And Schwegler’s boundary would only shift under one proposal.

In every scenario, hundreds of the district’s students would end up attending a new school.

“It gives a whole lot of students the chance for a new school experience,” Cordley parent Chuck Epp said. “Put negatively, it moves a lot of kids around.”

The Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group has been asked by the school board to reduce a list of six elementary schools — Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill — down to either three or four within two years.

The three scenarios reviewed Monday were:

• Close New York and Kennedy and build a new school near 15th Street and Haskell Avenue.

• Close New York and send students to Cordley, Kennedy and Pinckney.

• Close Hillcrest and transfer students who speak English as a second language to Sunset Hill.

When considering what schools to close or consolidate, Schwarz said, the group was going to have to decide what to do with the district’s ESL clusters.

Right now, Hillcrest has 187 ESL students, and Cordley has 113. In the proposals to combine New York and Kennedy or to just close New York, the ESL students at Hillcrest would jump to 259. The number of students whose first language is English who live within Hillcrest boundaries would drop to between 50 and 70. That ratio left some group members uncomfortable.

But, other group members also didn’t like the idea of closing down Hillcrest and transferring what they considered to be a model ESL program to Sunset Hill.

Another major factor, Schwarz said, was looking at how much capacity the schools had left and which ones had room to grow.

Currently, Broken Arrow, Deerfield and Sunflower are at or approaching capacity. Then there are schools such as Prairie Park that are far below capacity. All three of the proposals on Monday had the Prairie Park boundary move south to pick up more students in the Broken Arrow school boundary. That was viewed as a positive change by many in the group.

ESL clusters and school capacity are key, Schwarz said.

“Until you address those issues, you are going to have difficulty in seeing what you want to see and ultimately, and you may not want to hear this, what is best for the district,” Schwarz said.

With four more proposals left to review and just two meetings remaining before the board’s Feb. 15 deadline, the group is short on time as it works to make a recommendation.

On Monday, Superintendent Rick Doll said that the group might be able to squeeze in an extra meeting between the deadline and when the school board would actually meet on Feb. 27.

The group will continue discussing scenarios at 7 p.m. Feb. 6.


GardenMomma 6 years, 1 month ago

Can we get information on HOW the boundries would change with each scenario, please? Thanks.

maudeandcecil 6 years, 1 month ago

The maps reviewed last night were just a starting point, something for the group to work from. There was not a clear indication of how exactly boundaries would change, but it did appear if we consolidate 2 schools, one in east and one in central Lawrence there will be major boundary changes for all of Lawrence, save Woodlawn due to the river.

ChristineMetz 6 years, 1 month ago

Each of the three proposals had probably about a dozen or more shifts in school boundary lines. In some cases, schools lost students to one school and gain students from two others. As you can imagine, that would be a very long and complicated thing to write about. The maps that were reviewed Monday aren't online (or else we would have posted a link to them). And the consultants bulked at the idea of posting those maps online, fearing that the community would see them as a sure thing rather than planning tools.

I tried to include where the major shifts in students would occur with each proposals. And, rest assured as the working group begins to narrow down options, we'll provided more details on the ones they recommend.

Thanks for the interest.

Nat_Nar_ 6 years, 1 month ago

Your understanding and my understanding appear very different. The maps provided by RSP had about a dozen shifts the maps are not proposals. There is a huge difference in the two. For example many proposals had two schools closing none of the maps last night reflected multiple shifts across the district from two closures they are parts of the puzzle that the group has to put together, not a whole entity. If people want to read the proposals put out and then look at how the maps realistically reflect those ideas that would be more along the lines of understanding the information. It would be incorrect to say that one map reflected a whole proposal put out by the working group.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

We do know that class sizes have increased at both Broken Arrow AND Sunflower and that if boundaries are not changed, that will only get worse. Both schools are projected to grow over the next 5 years.

CharlieDunn 6 years, 1 month ago

Sunflower is overcrowded BECAUSE THEY CLOSED WAKARUSA! Ask Wakarusa and Sunflower parents how that "consolidation" worked for their kids. Very minimal savings, which the district has yet to study or at least release a study of the savings, major disruption to a community centered around its school, and now, large numbers of kids in classrooms.

I would really love to see a savings study regarding the Wakarusa closing, and an in-depth look at what the closing has done to the quality of education for both Sunflower and former Wakarusa kids.

Kookamooka 6 years, 1 month ago

Every single teacher in the district should be ESL trained as they are in other districts. Knowing how to adapt curriculum and differentiate for those students, benefits ALL students. IF you think broadly, ALL students are learners of the English language. There are more creative ways to deal with the problem than keeping them in one location (which is actually an old fashioned idea) ESL students enrich whatever school they attend by being bilingual and having unique cultural connections. I attended the McRel workshop on teaching teachers how to address the needs of ESL students and if some professional development money from USD 497 went to sending one teacher from each school-they could teach the other teachers. It's just solid educational theory.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

But, spreading kids out is NOT good for kids. Here is what breaking up clusters would do a) make kids part of a minority group in their new school b) reduce the possibility that a child new to this country will find a friend in his/her new school who can serve as a peer translator

AND doing ESL well takes more than a "workshop" it takes time, experience, and mentoring from teachers who have experience.

AND ESL in Lawrence is just a fundamentally different animal than ESL in most communities. ESL in Lawrence means a polyglot, not a cluster of Spanish or Vietnames, or Koran speaking children.

AND ESL education is expensive. You need all the classroom teachers to be qualified AND you need additional specialists to supplement the classroom teaching.

And "all kids are English learners"- REALLY are you SERIOUSLY making the point that teaching your kid and my kid to read is the SAME as teaching a child to read who grew up in Russia, China, Korea, Japan, Mexico, Sri Lanka? Spare me.

TNPlates 6 years, 1 month ago

Yet there are like 80 ESL eligible children in our district who don't get ESL education. Why? Probably multiple reasons unique to individual families, but one that I've heard is the parents want their child to go to their neighborhood school so they know the kids in the neighborhood, and not be bussed off to a school further away. Many of our Elem. schools don't offer ESL and EVERY school should offer it.

Perhaps for some languages, a small cluster should be offered, but for languages like Spanish and probably others, there are probably enough children in most school boundaries where they wouldn't be alone.

And like Kookamooka notes, ESL education is good for all students. There are low SES students in our district that enter school with very low language schools. Getting these students up to speed language-wise is a similar process in getting non-native speakers up to speed. They would benefit from ESL-trained teachers.

We need to quit treating ESL clusters as a sacred cow and have a district policy on how this is going to be offered in the years ahead. Doll stated that ESL would be offered at more schools in 5-10 years, perhaps even at the expense of the cluster. The Board needs to officially adopt a strategy and keep that in play during this consolidation process. To not address it and offer a solution, will end up not being a solution, but another issue that will need to be addressed down the road.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

So, let me see if I understand your logic. We should uproot the entire school system so that we can better meet the needs of a small number of families? This doesn't make sense. I too know at least two families that have rejected ESL services and have done so because their children are more accurately described as bilingual, not ESL (parents were born in another country, children born in US and have been in English speaking preschools since they were very young). You have an anecdote and I have an anecdote, which of us is right? Should we make decisions that affect the entire elementary school system without an effort to systematically asses the real need.

I will repeat again that ESL is DIFFERENT here. What we know about ESL education comes from prototypical big city model in which you have a geographically localized ethnic enclave. Many big cities have "Korea towns" or locals where first generation Mexican American families live. Or, waves of immigration that have hit cities at the same time (e.g., Vietnamese immigration in the 80's). ESL education at Hillcrest and Cordley means that in one class you have children from Japan, Korea, Palestine, Russia, Mexico, India, and Saudi Arabia.

Some of these children walk into a classroom speaking little to no English. In this case, a cluster is helpful (to both child and teacher) because you might have another child who has been in the US longer who can act as a peer-translator, knows your customs and your frame of reference. In addition, the cluster offers you a sense of community with other kids who are going through that sort of adjustment.

You also seem to be under the impression that ESL education is about conversational English ("getting kids up to speed"). Spoken language is only the first step in ESL education. Reading and writing skills come later and represent an ongoing educational challenge, which is ESL kids are considered to be "at risk."

ESL clusters are not a "sacred cow" they are an educational program that works. Breaking them apart will cost more money, and will achieve no pedagogical or economic goal.

Oh and be honest here. What Doll said is that the district has no plans to break up cluster sites and that in 5-10 years, there MIGHT be another neighborhood site.

Dawn Shew 6 years, 1 month ago

ESL is not about a building. There is no proposal to end ESL clusters, and the charge is for the change to occur in THREE TO FIVE years. If we can't move a cluster to a different physical structure, with three years of planning, without it staying successful, then I think that's a fault of the program (and maybe even the folks who are trying to protect it by refusing to believe it can not be successful in any other formation.)

To say that we are going to keep one school because we don't want to spread an award winning program (therefore multiplying the number of students who would come into contact with that program)-- and yet cram over 500 low SES kids into one school from NOT award winning schools.... well that just doesn't make any sense.

I think it's time for folks to end the protectionism and think about what's best for all kids involved.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

But, there is no good reason TO move it. It works where it is. It is cost efficient where it is. The kids and teachers like it where it is. Do you think that you can move an entire program without negative unintended consequences? The ESL cluster at Hillcrest is 200 kids. The literature cited in the task force document demonstrated that consolidating kids to a bigger school was associated with progressively lower math scores over the next three years. And these were affluent English speaking kids. I think we have lost sight of what is best for kids.

I think you are asking the wrong questions here. The question is not which school we should close, the question is why should we close ANY school.

Ask Doll and ask the district why we NEED to do this?
Rational for consolidation: Cuts from Topeka have made it impossible to fund the schools Fact: The district ended last year "in the black" by somewhere over a half a million dollars.

Rationale for consolidation: Growth is on the West side of town and we have excess capacity on the East side of town. Fact: The population on the East side of town is GROWING, not shrinking. Over the next 5 years, HIllcrest, Pinckney, Cordley, and New York are projected to GROW

Rationale for consolidation: Per pupil costs are too high in smaller schools Fact: Small schools with large populations of "at risk kids" actually generate more money from the state than is spent at the school (because of weighted funding). These East side schools fund themselves AND THEN SOME.

Rationale for consolidation: Consolidation will "save" money Fact: Consolidation saves money ONLY if you increase class sizes (look what happened at Broken Arrow & Sunflower after Wakarusa was closed). If you want to maintain smaller class sizes, then you don't save much money at all.

The question is not which school to close the question is WHY CLOSE ANY SCHOOL?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

To maintain a superb system parents must remain active which means we cannot allow school boards to dictate what will be. As taxpayers we are also the most important stakeholders who elect school boards to carry out our wishes not the other way around.

Our founding fathers wanted to insure Democracy for our country. Benjamin Franklin created the public library, the purpose being no citizen will be secluded from public knowledge. He also founded the public school, the purpose being no citizen will be without a basic education.

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

Before spending or asking for additional tax dollars to build or repair buildings USD 497 best wait until they know what exactly is transpiring in Topeka. Our buildings can be rehabilitated over a 3-4 year period on current property tax dollars which is a respectful approach.

USD 497 taxpayers need to think of nurturing our teachers which has not been adequately addressed in some years. Some kind of a pay increase method may need to be a matter for consideration should the legislature open those doors.

Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

We don't need two tax increases. If any tax increase presents itself it should be applied to salaries. This demonstrates the exercise of good judgment and/or common sense… can we say prudent?

Richard Heckler 6 years, 1 month ago

Don't forget USD has more than $20 million USD 497 tax dollars on the table for the ill conceived sports project. That $20 million couldn’t have been spent at a worst time. Always let the voters decide how reckless or not we wish to be.

Knowing how to nurture tax dollars is an art.

Voters and taxpayers are the primary stakeholders no matter what. That's right without we taxpayers there could be no tax dollar spending. Some USD 497 taxpayers do not condone the reckless decisions and spending of the past.

What makes we voting taxpayers the primary stakeholders in any new building/construction or rehab project? Each one of us spend thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars in this community without which USD 497 would be nothing. Yet we are cast aside under the facade that none of this is any of our business.

Godot 6 years, 1 month ago

Option 1 - build a new school at 15th & Haskell?

How long ago was it the district gifted the existing school building at 15th & Haskell to the Boys & Girls Club?

JGr 6 years, 1 month ago

The proposal is to build a new school on the southeast corner of 15th and Haskell. There are two houses there that they would like to buy and then level. The East Heights building would remain intact for B&GC.

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 1 month ago

Exactly!!!! Why do they need to build a new school? I had thought that one plan was to close NY and Kennedy and merge them at East Heights. I believe that plan came from Pinckney. I understand the role that B&G Club plays in Lawrence, but they have several locations all over Lawrence. To my knowledge, Wakarusa stands empty. And what about the gym at Centennial? I don't believe they need that for a virtual school........

OutlawJHawk 6 years, 1 month ago

The virtual school is now at Wakarusa. Centennial now stands empty except for a few district staff using offices there...

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 1 month ago

Centennial is almost right in the middle of town. Perfect location for B&G Club to rent space :)

sinkorswim 6 years, 1 month ago

The East Heights (not B&GC) site is not big enough...

rtwngr 6 years, 1 month ago

With the existing school buildings available, I don't see any need to build. How long would it be before the new building was geographically or demographically obsolete? No, we don't need new taxes and we don't need new buildings.

Once again, I must agree with Merrill, (that tasted awful coming out of my mouth) the money would be better spent on salaries than buildings.

Nat_Nar_ 6 years, 1 month ago

Just to let everyone know all proposals are available at the district web site under consolidation working group. The maps viewed last night were only parts of some proposals not the whole thing and not even finished on the bottom it said "Work in Progress".

If you really want to see the maps as the group gets them come to a consolidated working group meeting.

Any questions as to why certain ideas are coming out of the group could be answered by reading the proposals, I believe.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

And, I thought we were just picking on the low SES, at risk kids so that Langston Hughes could get all day kindergarten. These projections now show that they disrupt the workings of almost every school in the district!

Good news: Your neighborhood school will remain open. Bad news: Your kid doesn't go there anymore. Oh and Your welcome Langston Hughes.

neddardstark 6 years, 1 month ago

langston hughes doesn't have an all day kindergarten program

KrampusLawrence 6 years, 1 month ago

The plans are to implement full day kindergarten in all of the schools. . .this includes Langston Hughes. The money saved by closing one elementary school in central or east Lawrence will help pay for this program at Langston Hughes. This is according a a report by the district to the school board.

toosense 6 years, 1 month ago

Wake up Lawrence! Reducing capacity now in the name of efficiencies WILL result in the need for brand new schools sooner than necessary. YES we can get leaner, but we'll also be meaner!

wolfy 6 years, 1 month ago

Let’s not be misled here. What the board is considering are cost-shifting, not cost-saving, scenarios. In light of recent data, it is clear that any plan to close schools is necessarily a plan to raise taxes for new school construction. It is disingenuous (and coercive) for the board to seek taxpayer buy-in for an “operating-expense savings plan” knowing full well that they are going to turn right around and ask for a tax hike to fund new capital investments necessitated by that plan. It's time to reframe the debate.

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 1 month ago

Why does nearly every plan call for the closing of New York and hardly any other school? Sure it's in a rough part of town, but the building is beautiful (probably one of the prettiest schools if you've never seen it) and is not run down (at least from the outside). The neighborhood is upset that they are likely going to lose their school and have a bus station taking over (see Channel 6 news for that one). I say keep the schools the way they are (maybe adjust boundaries to take pressure off of Broken Arrow) and use money to fix up our existing buildings. As others have said, the district won't save money by closing more schools anyway. And they really should ask former Wakarusa Valley kids how they feel in their new schools and how they would feel if forced to move again. Also, what will new elementary populations do to the middle schools? Will Central suddenly become empty and South and West be overflowing?

neddardstark 6 years, 1 month ago

yes new york is a beautiful building....I think the problem is that it is extremely underpopulated, thus operating costs are disproportionate to the # of students it serves

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 1 month ago

Close to downtown and in good condition... Why would the district want to give that up? Cordley and Pinckney are in desperate need of repairs and Broken Arrow is bursting at the seams thanks to closing Wak Valley. NY is not the oldest current building, but it is the oldest continuously run school in town. Langston Hughes went there!!!!! Sorry, my boyfriend was a student there, and his opinions have been rubbing off on me.

Dawn Shew 6 years, 1 month ago

They are on the block strictly because they are the smallest, with less than 200 kids. Running a school at that number is inefficient, and the site is small and not ideal to be built out for a larger number of students.

spiderd 6 years, 1 month ago

Interesting that you say it is on the block "strictly" because they are the smallest (actually currently 3rd considering you want to also disect the ELL program). So I would surmise that considering projections have them as no less than 5th smallest (and still growing) within 5 years that you would consider them off the block? Especially considering schools of lower SES are noted in the task force report as being ideal for smaller status, it appears to be a no-brainer on this one.
And hasn't that school passed AYP consistently and even won academic awards? How do you think the families that are moved from that environment to one that is currently not passing AYP are going to feel about that? I imagine they're going to feel discluded from the all kids definition you trumpet. Do you understand what I'm getting at? Or are you actually more biased than you pretend to be?

And I want to see your site development degree.

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 1 month ago

Most of the East Lawrence schools are small. That's how they were built back then. The larger schools have only come about since the 1960s (I'm guessing) because of the baby boom. Schools built in the 90s and now are massive compared to the schools from the 1920s and before. Just because a building is small doesn't mean it can't still be used (and even improved). My school district in Pennsylvania went through in the mid-90s and redid all of the older schools (most 60s and 70s-era). They expanded and updated the existing spaces without having to build a new school since the early 90s. They also closed one school out of four in a close area. In regards to Lawrence, elementary schools really shouldn't have more than about 400 students. At that age, school is about building relationships in a small community. Sure, NY is small, but other schools in the district are nearing capacity. A better use of NY than closing it would be to increase it's numbers to help alleviate other schools. They will lose some of their charm at being a small, little family, but they would get to keep their school. Accepting a few more is better than losing what you have.

buffalo63 6 years, 1 month ago

All of the current school sites, except Sunset, are too small to build a school for 500 students (which Doll says makes it efficient).

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

New York is projected to be over 200 next year and close to 250 by 2016/2017.

Please check your facts and stop repeating myths.

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 1 month ago

We also can't forget that an entire grade level was removed from all of the elementary schools this year. Without 6th grade, all of the schools lost some students. Does this mean that our schools aren't growing still? Of course not! We now have more room to grow, except for Sunflower and Broken Arrow with the closing of WV.

neddardstark 6 years, 1 month ago

I completely agree with you...unfortunately the suburbanization of the west side has left east side schools in an awkward position. I wish they could find something to do with NY school that would prevent it being mothballed and deteriorating from non-use. Someone suggest a while back that they should move the district offices from its current local on McDonald Ave--which I think is being rented-- to the NY building, which the district owns, in order to save money and keep the school in working oder should we ever find ourselves with a population large enough to reopen it as an actual school. I seriously doubt they would even consider something so drastic, but I hate to think about what will become of the facility if ceases to serve the surrounding community.

also, I don't think Langston Hughes attended NY school in its current incarnation--the building as it is now was built after he left Lawrence. Ironic though, that the building named after him is one of the least diverse in the district..

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 1 month ago

No, he wasn't a student in the current building, but he attended the old New York school, I believe. Different buildings, same name, same pride :)

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

Must I "needle" you for repeating Task Force myths?

It is not true that the "suburbanization" has hurt the East side. The FACT is that this year WEST side schools, Langston Hughes, Quail Run, and Deerfield had substantial declines in enrollment (and yes this accounts for the loss of 6th grade). Moreover RSP projects additional future declines in these schools and substantial growth on the East side.

LadyJ 6 years, 1 month ago

If Prairie Park is far below capacity, why not send some of the Kennedy kids there and the rest to New York? For that matter, why is Prairie Park "far below capacity"?

neddardstark 6 years, 1 month ago

That's a good question..I imagine its because PP is considerably further from Kennedy and NY than the latter are from each other; it would be "easier" to send kids from NY, which I believe is also extremely far below capacity, to Kennedy, Cordley, and Pinckney, which are relatively close by.

As to why PP is far below capacity, I bet its the exact same reason NY is far below capacity: they are "neighborhood" schools set in neighborhoods whose demographics no longer include the volume of children the school was originally built to support.

aryastark1984 6 years, 1 month ago

Please, please check your facts. This is not a matter of opinion. There are real numbers out there and they just don't support your statements.

These neighborhood are GROWING!!!!

maudeandcecil 6 years, 1 month ago

NY is not far below capacity & RSP projects growth in its catchment. The NY building is on the small side & could use a few extra classrooms. It will likely have about the same number of students as KY, PY, & CY catchments within 5 years.

To P.Park, it has excess capacity because at the time it was built, the district & the city thought there would be more housing there. The administration's preferred elementary model is a 3 section buildings; I'm sure they thought that a development near K-10 would support a 450-500 student school. Maybe someday it might, but it seems unlikely in the near future.

kuguardgrl13 6 years, 1 month ago

Is the district really considering how the city will grow in the next 5-10 years? They seem to think that the growth will be on the west side when other sources project equal or more growth on the east side. Families of all economic and ethnic backgrounds are coming here. Also, what effect will changes at the elementary level have on the middle schools? High schools?

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