Lawrence school district considering plan to change Kennedy Elementary into early-childhood facility

photo by: Meeting screenshot/Lawrence school board

Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis, left, announces a plan to turn Kennedy Elementary School into an early-childhood community center next fall, during a Lawrence school board meeting on Monday, March 22, 2021.

Lawrence’s Kennedy Elementary School could soon become an early-childhood community center, meaning the K-5 students currently attending school there would begin learning elsewhere.

During the Lawrence school board meeting on Monday, Superintendent Anthony Lewis announced that the district is considering a proposal that would change the east Lawrence school into a learning center focused on pre-kindergarten students next fall. Lewis said the change would allow the district to expand and enhance pre-K services that currently exist at the school.

“I think we all know and understand the value of high-quality pre-K experience to a child’s cognitive and social development, as well as their success in school and beyond,” Lewis said.

According to a memo recently sent to families, Lewis said if the plan is approved, students attending Kennedy would be moved to other elementary schools where space for more students is available, such as the neighboring Prairie Park and New York elementary schools.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence’s Kennedy Elementary School is pictured in this file photo from February 2012.

Acknowledging that the change would likely lead to “strong feelings” from Kennedy Elementary families and staff, Lewis said the proposal would allow the district to maximize staffing resources and help with the district’s budget, which is expected to see a drop in state funding because of recent enrollment declines.

District spokeswoman Julie Boyle told the Journal-World that Kennedy Elementary specifically had a significant drop in enrollment and has fewer than 200 students currently attending the school.

As the Journal-World previously reported, Kennedy is expected to continue seeing declines in enrollment under the district’s current boundaries. Less than 50% of the building is currently used, and an enrollment estimate found the school would only use 41% of that space by the 2023-24 school year.

Lewis said the district’s budget and program committee has already voiced support for the plan and the district’s boundary committee has begun reviewing the proposal. He said he anticipated the school board would consider approving the proposal during its meeting on April 12.

The district will hold virtual public meetings to address questions and concerns from the Kennedy community on March 30 and April 7.

In other business, the board heard a report on the district’s English for Speakers of Other Languages program, also known as ESOL.

The ESOL program has seen a drop in enrollment of more than 300 students in recent years. According to the report, the district saw a steady increase of enrollment for the services from 2007 to 2016, reaching a high of 874 in 2016. But in 2017, the number of students using the program began to fall, and 521 students were in the program in 2020.

However, ESOL coordinator Kasey Van Dyk said the district was required to ensure that the students who left the program continued to receive screening and support to make sure they make progress.

The board also reviewed a proposed governance manual, which would formally outline the board’s governance and operating procedures.

Some of the changes the board discussed on Monday include installing board leadership term limits, which would limit a board member to serving only two consecutive school years as a board president.

The board is expected to consider approving the manual at a future meeting.

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