Liberty Memorial Central Middle School will become a STEAM school next year

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Liberty Memorial Central Middle School will become a STEAM — Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math — school beginning next year.

Lawrence school board members during their meeting Monday unanimously approved the change with a vote of 7-0. Before the vote, the district’s Middle School Redesign Committee members gave an update on their work to restructure or repurpose LMCMS.

The STEAM school will be available to all students who reside within the LMCMS boundaries as well as any students in sixth through eighth grades, both within the district and outside of district boundaries, who deem the curriculum and instruction at LMCMS best for their learning needs.

Chief Academic Officer Patrick Kelly previously said that as long as preferred schools have availability, current LMCMS students who are not interested in attending the themed school will be able to transfer under the district’s open transfer policy. He predicted LMCMS will have the capacity to accept any students interested in attending next year.

District administrators had suggested restructuring or 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.

The STEAM school idea was then introduced to the board during the Sept. 26 meeting, where board members learned the top student respondents in a district survey said they were most interested in STEAM-based careers.

Since the Sept. 26 update to the board, the committee has divided into working groups and toured schools, attended STEAM professional development events and met with potential partners.

Committee members told the board Monday that the STEAM curriculum could be broken down into three sections. “Core time” is a block of time that incorporates learning English language arts, math, social studies and science standards; “inquiry” is teacher-facilitated and student-driven, so teachers will act as guides to help students solve problems; and “elective opportunities” will also be available.

During their classes and studies, they’ll be able to explore career paths, such as a pilot, meteorologist, NASA engineer, graphic designer and several others.

Students at the STEAM school will also have fine arts requirements. Sixth graders will take two-week introductions to band, choir, orchestra, art and theater, then select one of those focus areas. They’ll then continue with that focus area through seventh and eighth grades.

The regular middle school course schedule includes math, English language arts, social studies, student success, science, physical education and two additional electives. As opposed to that, the Middle School Redesign Committee recommends the STEAM schedule include student success, core time, inquiry, fine arts and physical education.

Committee members shared some of the professional development they have completed in preparation for the possible change — for example, focused, one-week courses in which they complete some of the projects that they’ll be teaching students to complete next year.

Kelly clarified that extracurricular athletics will still be offered to students at LMCMS next year.

Transportation for students who live outside of LMCMS’s boundaries who wish to attend, or for those who live within the school’s boundaries who transfer elsewhere, was not discussed Monday as part of the committee’s report.

The committee’s next steps include branding, engaging with and informing families and community members regarding the change, staffing and enrollment at the school, and building community partners for the school.

The change from LMCMS’s current model to a STEAM model will go into effect at the start of the 2024-25 academic year.

“I’m super excited about the work that you’ve done,” board Past President Shannon Kimball said to the committee on Monday. “And I thank you because this is the kind of flexibility and different thinking about teaching and learning that really has the potential to transform education for our students.”

Lawrence school board members discuss a plan to make Liberty Memorial Central Middle School a STEAM school during their Dec. 11, 2023 meeting. (Screenshot / USD 497 YouTube)

In other business

• Board says goodbye to two members: Monday’s school board meeting marked Erica Hill’s and Paula Vann’s final meeting as board members since their terms have come to an end. (Read more about Hill and Vann’s farewell in this article.)

• Additional salary raise opportunity for teachers: As part of the consent agenda — a list of items that are generally approved with one vote, unless a board member or the superintendent asks to discuss an item — the board on Monday approved a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between the district and its certified teachers union.

Lawrence Education Association (LEA) came to an agreement with the district to propose an additional opportunity for teachers to have horizontal movement, meaning pay increases for teachers who achieve additional certification or levels of higher education. The MOU solidifies that agreement.

With an additional February 2024 processing deadline, teachers who earned credentials this school year could earn a midyear salary increase. Qualifying teachers who are unable to make the Aug. 20 processing deadline could also have an additional opportunity to see horizontal movement during the second half of their contract year.

The horizontal movement in the 2023-24 contract will conclude on June 30, 2024. View the MOU attached to the meeting agenda item on BoardDocs.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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