Liberty Memorial Central Middle School is on track to potentially transition into a school focused on STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — next year.
The middle school redesign committee, working to plan LMCMS’s redesign or repurpose, on Tuesday gave the Lawrence school board an update on their progress.
“Our ‘why’ is that what we’re doing right now is not enough,” said Laura Leonard, committee member and LMCMS English language arts teacher. “And so we need to look at something different, something beyond the traditional middle school schedule and middle school idea so that we can help make certain that all of these students that are attending Liberty Memorial Central are high school, college and career ready.”
Beginning in April, the committee has met 11 times thus far. Members include three administrators, one counselor, 10 teachers and one recently added paraprofessional. Teacher members represent several school subjects from each of the four middle schools.
District administrators had suggested repurposing LMCMS as a themed or magnet school as part of recommended budget cuts back in February. Lawrence school board members, however, voted to delay any changes and instead establish a committee to spend a year investigating the idea.
Chief Academic Officer Patrick Kelly said he wanted to clear up misunderstandings that LMCMS may be closing, saying that’s never been a part of the plan and it won’t be moving forward. He also said though potentially redesigning LMCMS to a magnet school was included in earlier conversations, that model is not being considered now.
During spring 2023, committee members worked to identify their purpose. Then throughout the summer, they spent several meetings considering current data and additional information they felt was missing. Their current goal throughout the fall is to continue analyzing data from survey and focus group responses and find common themes.
The committee received 492 responses to a family survey and 236 responses to a staff member survey, according to the report members gave the board on Tuesday. One result the committee found was that the top student respondents are most interested in STEAM-based careers. Committee members surmised LMCMS may best serve students by centering STEAM.
“Our takeaway from this data alone is that our student voices are saying STEAM-based instruction,” said Amanda Peterson, committee member and Southwest Middle School orchestra teacher.
Data results in the report also show students will be most benefited by project-based learning, which prioritizes working with hands, problem-solving, listening, teamwork and more.
Board Past President Shannon Kimball inquired about the district’s boundary advisory committee and its role in ensuring middle school students have options next year.
Chief Operations Officer Larry Englebrick said the boundary committee is currently organizing to begin meeting in late November. As board President Kelly Jones explained, the boundary committee will be charged with creating best options for current LMCMS families ahead of the school’s change — similar to when New York Elementary School added a Montessori program.
Regardless of what happens to LMCMS, Kelly said current students attending there, who will still be in middle school next year, will be able to choose whether they want to stay or move to another school. As long as preferred schools have availability, students can participate in the district’s open transfer policy. Kelly added that he predicts LMCMS will have the capacity to take any students interested in attending next year.
There was no discussion of transportation Tuesday.
Board members expressed excitement for the future of LMCMS, and some became emotional. They praised the committee for its work so far.
“I understand you don’t have the meat on it yet, but at least the skeleton is there, and it sounds like where most of us would want to be,” board Vice President Bob Byers said.
Byers also recommended the committee host public-facing events to interact with the community at large about plans for the school. Jennifer Schmitt, committee member and LMCMS principal, said that’s “on our radar,” and the committee may consider hosting events this coming spring.
The middle school redesign committee’s report Tuesday was for informational purposes, and school board members were not asked to take any action.