Lawrence parents, students begin campaign against school closures with sidewalk messages of support

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Post updated to add more photos at 9:40 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18; article updated Sunday, Jan. 23:

Parents, students, and neighbors on Monday covered sidewalks with chalk messages of hope at Lawrence schools that could face closures.

During last week’s meeting of the Lawrence school district’s Boundary Advisory Committee, Zach Conrad, executive director of data and technology, presented four possible scenarios, each closing or repurposing at least two schools at the elementary and middle school levels. Those schools include Broken Arrow, New York, Pinckney, Woodlawn, and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. Hillcrest was also discussed, but few details were shared about that proposal.


On Monday, parents of students at those schools voiced strong feelings not only about the options that have been presented, but also how they have been presented.

Alicia Erickson, mother of two students at Woodlawn Elementary, said she and other parents were gathering data and organizing in the hopes of at least slowing the process down. She said current decisions were being made in a climate of uncertainty, including enrollment numbers that may not yet have rebounded from parents who waited to send children back to school until they could be vaccinated.

“Closure is a band-aid,” Erickson said. “We would have liked a one- to two-year lead time for the community to participate in planning. This hurts. It makes it feel like our thoughts aren’t valued.”

Andrea Albright / The Lawrence Times Members of the Woodlawn Elementary community chalk positive messages outside the school on Jan. 17, 2022.

Several parents also voiced concerns over how the district could adequately serve high-needs students in larger schools. One mother wondered if scenarios calling for closing Title I schools and moving children elsewhere could potentially skew the percentages that currently qualify those students for the additional support.

The elementary schools on the potential closure list — Pinckney, Woodlawn, New York and Broken Arrow — qualify as Title I, which is a federally funded program providing assistance to schools serving high percentages of children from low-income families. One of the options presented last week proposed combining three schools in a repurposed Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.

“These are the kids who need the smaller schools,” Erickson said.

Sarah Smith is the mother of two children at New York Elementary. Like many children who are served by Title I schools, her 10-year-old son, Micah, struggled with behavioral issues and a mood disorder that were disruptive when he entered kindergarten five years ago.

Smith said the close-knit community of teachers and staff at New York helped establish a plan for her son, who now rarely has problems at school. She said she worried that moving her son to a much larger school could stall the progress he has made.

“He has a safe place here,” she said. “Moving him out of New York would be devastating. This is a culture and a family. I can’t imagine going anywhere else.”

Andrea Albright / The Lawrence Times Charlotte Zensen, 9, a New York Elementary fourth grader, and Ruby Smith, 7, a second grader, chalk messages outside the school on Jan. 17, 2022.

Parents at both schools said their trust in the school board and district administrators had suffered recently. Several people questioned the affects another move might have on students who only recently transferred to New York and elsewhere after Kennedy Elementary School closed to grades K-5 in May 2021.

Jessica “Bird” Weiner is the mother of a kindergarten student at Woodlawn. She said she recently wrote a letter to district leaders outlining the importance of neighborhood schools. She said that although she would be sorry to see any local schools close, it was especially disheartening to lose historic, walkable schools in the city core.

“Our culture is being homogenized,” Weiner said. “Closing schools takes away the personal touch with students and families. Schools get bigger and bigger and the sense of neighborhood goes away.”

Woodlawn parent Sean Wilson said it was unfortunate to be experiencing this potential upheaval after making it through what has already been a tumultuous couple of years. While no decision is easy, he said, none of the current options sounded ideal.  

Wilson said he hoped district leaders could find a solution that would keep Woodlawn’s doors open. With daughters Posey and Wendy in kindergarten and first grade, he said neither had yet had the opportunity for a truly “normal” school experience.

“And yet they still love this place,” he said. “I hope the district can find a way.”

Kathy Johnson, executive director of finance for the district, told the Boundary Advisory Committee that the school board should publish proposals and host public hearings by the Feb. 14 board meeting, and make decisions on closures in late March or early April. Changes would go into effect in the fall.

Andrea Albright / The Lawrence Times Members of the Woodlawn Elementary community chalk positive messages outside the school on Jan. 17, 2022.
Andrea Albright / The Lawrence Times Members of the New York Elementary community chalk positive messages outside the school on Jan. 17, 2022.

Pinckney photos by KD Rudisell; Broken Arrow photos by Molly Adams

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Andrea Albright (she/her), reporter, can be reached at aalbright (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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