Liberty Memorial Central Middle School could switch to science, technology and arts curriculum; district leaders say there are no plans to close it
photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World File Photo
Liberty Memorial Central Middle School could switch to a special science, technology and arts curriculum in the future, but a district leader said Tuesday that officials aren’t thinking of it as a “magnet school,” and that there are definitely no plans to close it down, either.
At Tuesday’s Lawrence school board meeting, Patrick Kelly, the district’s chief academic officer, gave the board an update on plans to “repurpose” the middle school and change its curriculum. The board voted in February to repurpose the school by the start of the 2024-2025 school year, partly as a way to attract more families to the district and alleviate a decline in enrollment.
That decision in February was part of a broader conversation about district facilities that eventually led to the closure of Broken Arrow and Pinckney elementaries. But Kelly said Tuesday that there wasn’t any danger that LMCMS would go down the same path.
“I want to be clear,” Kelly said. “There has been no mention of closing this school at all. That narrative is out there, and we wanted to start off by saying what a great facility this is.”
While LMCMS won’t be closing, it will likely be changing its curriculum offerings significantly, Kelly said. He said a committee that included middle school staff from across the district had been compiling data on how LMCMS could be repurposed, and that the district was considering offering a curriculum in the “STEAM” fields, or science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics.
Superintendent Anthony Lewis said he was excited by that possibility.
“We know that our math scores typically dip at the middle school level,” Lewis said. “But I think about science and how expansive that technology can be, and engineering, and expanding on the arts and math. That’s really exciting.”
Kelly said that the school wouldn’t technically be a magnet school if it changed its curriculum — he said the committee had “not really thought of this as a magnet school” and that the idea that it would be one “may have come from earlier conversations.” The school would still give priority to students who lived in the attendance area for LMCMS, Kelly said, but there would be capacity to accept transfers if students from other parts of town found the new curriculum appealing.
“We’ve heard things about ‘is this a magnet school?'” Kelly said. “Really, we have the capacity at Liberty to take every student that goes to Liberty right now, and then some. So if students saw this as a real draw for them, we could take those students on.”
It’s not clear whether there would be a special application policy for transferring to LMCMS; Kelly said no such thing had been developed yet, and that “we may be using our own transfer policy as it currently exists.”
Kelly also said that students and families who didn’t want the new curriculum would still have a clear path to transfer out.
“We have an open transfer policy, as long as there is capacity at our other middle schools,” he said. “If Liberty isn’t the right situation for them and they’d like to go to a different middle school, they could put in that transfer.”
Once the repurposing is complete, Kelly said, the district hopes it will be just as successful as another recent school repurposing project: New York Elementary School’s Montessori program, which currently has a lengthy waiting list.
“This is important when we think about what is attractive, and we’ve had a lot of success with our Montessori program,” Kelly said. “Are there other things we can do like that that will attract students to the district?”
The final decisions on how LMCMS will be repurposed won’t be made until the end of 2023, and as the conversation goes on, board member Bob Byers urged the community to keep an open mind about the changes and not react with suspicion.
“Most of us have heard people in the community talk about the fear, or that there is a secret plan by the board that we’re closing and just not telling people,” Byers said. “We’re still going to be part of the community. Central is still going to be part of the community.”
In other business, the board:
• Reviewed and unanimously approved a final draft of the district’s 2024 legislative priorities.
Among other things, the district will be asking legislators to push for the repeal of SB 180, a new state law that prohibits transgender people from using restrooms, locker rooms and other public facilities that align with their gender identities. Board member Kelly Jones said SB 180 “conflicts with our equity policy.”
• Unanimously approved, in its consent agenda, up to $15,000 to install a shade structure at the playground at Hillcrest Elementary School. An additional $15,000 was raised via private fundraising efforts.
• Received a presentation on the district’s Capital Improvement Plan funding allocations through the 2026-27 school year.