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Lawrence school district’s boundary committee advances new boundaries for LMCMS transition to STEAM magnet school

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The Lawrence school district’s Boundary Advisory Committee decided Wednesday on a set of proposals to present to the public as the district reworks its boundaries to accommodate Liberty Memorial Central Middle School’s transition into a STEAM magnet school. 

The committee selected two sets of proposed boundaries that would redistribute students among the city’s four middle schools. One of the proposals will be chosen as the final plan next month. It also forwarded a secondary boundary plan that outlines where students that are zoned to attend LMCMS would go if they choose not to attend the magnet school. 

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In February 2023, as part of suggested budget cuts, district administrators proposed turning LMCMS into a magnet school. The school board voted in December to approve the transition of LMCMS into a STEAM magnet school next school year. 

The committee was shown three different boundary concepts Wednesday, and will submit two of them — known as 1 and Concept 3 — to public input sessions on the evenings of Jan. 31 at Lawrence High School and Feb. 1 at Free State High School. The committee will meet again before presenting its final recommendation to the school board on Feb. 26. 

Under Concept 1, students who live north of Sixth Street and west of Monterey Way and currently attend West Middle School would be moved to Southwest Middle School. The boundaries for LMCMS and Billy Mills would remain the same. 

Concept 1 boundaries

Ginna Wallace, a consultant with RSP & Associates, which worked on the plan for the school board, said the proposed Concept 1 boundary would balance enrollment in western Lawrence and make better use of Southwest. RSP & Associates is an education consulting firm that has worked with the school district for more than a decade, most recently to help with budget planning and changes caused by school closures and the LMCMS repurposing. 

According to enrollment projections from RSP & Associates, around 100 students would move from West to Southwest under the Concept 1 boundaries.

Concept 3, the other map the committee forwarded, would make several changes to the boundaries:
• Southwest’s boundary would expand east to Monterey Way and northwest to Peterson Road and Folks Road.
• Billy Mills’ boundary would expand northwest to 19th Street and Harper Street and move west to Crossgate Drive.
• West’s boundary would expand south to Second Street.

Concept 3 boundaries

This model would move the main boundaries the most, meaning that more students would shift schools. Enrollment projections from RSP & Associates showed that the enrollment at each school would change, most of them by around 50 students. 

But Wallace said that these boundary shifts would improve the balance of the middle schools and keep them close to a target of 70-75% capacity.

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The committee decided against forwarding Concept 2, which would have moved students within two smaller chunks of West’s boundary to Southwest. This model would have required the fewest number of shifts in the boundaries, which would have allowed most students to stay in the same middle school boundary. But the committee didn’t think that the concept offered as much ability to help keep the capacity of the four middle schools even. 

For students who live in the LMCMS boundary, the committee agreed on a plan that allows those students to stay at the magnet school or attend a school via a second set of boundaries.

Students that don’t want to attend the new STEAM school at Liberty Memorial would be covered by a secondary boundary proposal that would divide the LMCMS boundary between West and Billy Mills along the current northern New York elementary boundary that runs along the river, down Massachusetts Street and across Ninth Street.

This means students who live in the southern half of the current LMCMS boundary (Cordley, New York and Prairie Park elementaries) would attend Billy Mills if they choose not to attend the magnet school. Students who live north of that boundary (Deerfield, Hillcrest and Woodlawn elementaries) would attend West. 

Concept 1 secondary boundaries for LMCMS students who wish to transfer

In discussion on the main boundaries, Lawrence Education Association President Emerson Hoffzales said Concept 3 provides consistency for teachers by helping keep the amount of students even across the four buildings.

“One thing I hear from middle school teachers is that some buildings are like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have so many kids, we don’t have enough staff,’” Hoffzales said. They would prefer “if there’s any way to provide some consistency of where [students] are going, which is what Concept 3 does kind of provide,” they said.

Wallace said that one of the biggest challenges when drawing the boundaries and making enrollment projections is uncertainty about how many students in the LMCMS boundary will choose to stay at the magnet school or move to a different middle school. 

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Lawrence High School Associate Principal Mark Preut asked Wallace to look into one possible change for Concept 3. Currently, the concept extends the Billy Mills boundary closer to Southwest. But Preut was concerned that the area being shifted to Billy Mills is walking distance from Southwest and miles away from Billy Mills. He suggested that instead of shifting the Billy Mills boundary west toward Southwest, it might be extended more to the north. 

Wallace said the consultants would consider the suggestion to see if the plan could maintain the goal of keeping each school at a similar capacity. 

The committee decided against forwarding two alternative secondary boundaries for students in the LMCMS area. Both of these concepts involved redistributing some students from the LMCMS area among all three middle schools, including Southwest in the opposite corner of Lawrence.

Committee members noted that LMCMS has one of the highest rates of students who walk or bike to school, and moving many of them to Southwest could be challenging. 

“There’s not a good way to get from New York to Southwest,” Preut said. 

Multiple committee members brought up other concerns related to the new boundaries such as busing and socioeconomic status but USD 497 Chief Operations Officer Larry Englebrick brought the discussion back to the boundaries and enrollment numbers, saying that other discussions were outside the purview of the committee.

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Cuyler Dunn (he/him), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a student at the University of Kansas School of Journalism. He is a graduate of Lawrence High School where he was the editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Budget, and was named the 2022 Kansas High School Journalist of the Year. Read more of his work for the Times here.

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