After school closures, Lawrence families grapple with fractured communities, future of school district

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When Melody Alexander and Topher Enneking decided to settle down in Lawrence just more than a decade ago and start a family, they set their sights on a specific neighborhood and school: Pinckney.

Enneking attended Pinckney himself and was determined to raise their family there. The couple and their two children, now ages 6 and 10, quickly got involved with Pinckney and enjoyed walking to school and visiting nearby downtown attractions. The couple felt they were going to be there for a long time. 

“It wasn’t just about the school; it was a whole community of people,” Alexander said. “You know, we’ve met some of our closest friends from standing outside at Pinckney or being at events at Pinckney.”

But after the school board voted to close Pinckney last year in a package of budget cuts, the family is now wrestling with finding a new identity for their school, family and city. 

Since the closure, the roots they built have frayed, leaving their future in the community — the one they’ve known since Enneking was growing up on the Pinckney playground — in doubt. Some families, including Alexander and Enneking, are thinking about leaving Lawrence altogether.

They aren’t the only ones feeling displaced by the board’s 4-3 votes last year to close Pinckney and Broken Arrow Elementary.

In November’s school board election, the communities near the closed schools made their emotions known. Voters in the precincts within the former Pinckney and Broken Arrow boundaries overwhelmingly rejected the two candidates who voted for school closures, Shannon Kimball and GR Gordon-Ross. 

Instead, they championed Carole Cadue-Blackwood, the only board member who voted against closures who was running for reelection, and a group of new candidates running alongside her, including Yolanda Franklin and Ariel Miner. 

In the end, Gordon-Ross and Kimball both won back their seats on the board, but Cadue-Blackwood finished first in the race and Franklin also earned a seat. Gordon-Ross came in third in the race for four open seats, and Kimball held on to win a special two-year term by fewer than 300 votes over Miner.

The results showed how two communities that lost their schools viewed the Lawrence school district differently than others, and how they fought to make their voices heard. 

Cadue-Blackwood and Franklin did not respond to requests for comment on this story. 

‘Difficult decisions’

When the board decided to close the two schools despite community outcry, many families ended up feeling like Alexander and Enneking: betrayed, lost and concerned. 

Parents formed a group called Save Our Schools 497 and organized to speak at school board meetings and public hearings to try and stop the school closures.

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Community members fill the Lawrence school board meeting room, Monday, March 27, 2023.

School board members felt they had limited options. The district needed to cut millions of dollars from its budget and had a slim set of avenues to make up the money. Some community members called for the district to cut administrative positions or try solar energy plans, but administrators and board members said that wouldn’t be enough. 

Kimball described the closures as “some of the most difficult decisions that we’ve had to make as a district and as a community.”


Those difficult decisions — which included cutting 50 full-time teacher positions — and their impacts weren’t lost on the board, according to Kimball and Gordon-Ross. They saw the effects, like the fracturing of the community that Alexander and Enneking experienced, and it made the closure decision that much more challenging. But the financial realities remained. 

GR Gordon-Ross

“Making the decision we did was a necessary part of getting us back to an even foundation to move forward from,” Gordon-Ross said. 

Community members pleaded for the board to preserve their schools, which have played a crucial role in defining their neighborhoods, particularly on the lower-income east side of town.

The district has announced that it is filling two administrative positions it had previously cut as a part of budget cuts in 2022, including naming Woodlawn Principal Jayci Roberson director of elementary schools.

Alexander said the loss of the principal made her feel like she was back at Pinckney all over again. She said that when Pinckney’s former principal, Kristi Hill, resigned in 2019, the school became a target for cuts. She had already grown close with Roberson at Woodlawn.

“The main reason we chose Woodlawn after losing Pinckney was because we were looking for consistent, strong leadership,” Alexander said. “And now that’s gone because it seems our administration has a strong desire to keep taking from children.” 

Kimball said given unlimited resources, she supports neighborhood schools and what they do, but the district simply couldn’t afford to operate the number of schools it had been. Closing the two schools, she said, was just a step in the longer process of setting up the district to bear a continued lack of funding from the state level. 

That reshaping, though, has left many families and communities concerned about what it means for their future in the city and district. 

‘They lost a lot of trust’

As the Broken Arrow neighborhood watched the district move to close its school, Angie West says she and her neighbors began to see their trust in the school board erode.

West has watched her three kids move through three different Lawrence elementary schools but said the community she found at Broken Arrow was by far the best. She bought her house because of its proximity to the school. She loved seeing students walking to school and the community that had formed around Broken Arrow.

Cuyler Dunn/Lawrence Times Broken Arrow students, with their classmates’ signatures adorning the backs of their T-shirts, comfort each other on the final day of school, May 24, 2023.

When the district proposed the closure of Broken Arrow, she attended the public hearings and school board meetings leading up to the final decision to voice her opposition.

“I think that the intense pressure and stress that it’s put on our community is not good for probably any future school board members that were the voting parties,” West said. “I think that they lost a lot of trust in the community.” 

She, and many of her neighbors, took that concern to the polls. She said she couldn’t vote for Kimball or Gordon-Ross because she felt they had aligned themselves more with district administration than students and families.

“I get that we have to have financial security and that potentially these financial issues that we’re going through were made a decade ago,” West said. “But it’s the responsibility of the people who are sitting there now to take ownership of that and not just lay blame.”


Kimball and Gordon-Ross said they weren’t surprised that voters near Broken Arrow and Pinckney didn’t support them in the election. The decision was necessary, they said, but they didn’t expect it to make them popular near the schools. 

“I tried to focus my campaign on issues relating to the district as a whole and what my vision was going to be over the next four years,” Gordon-Ross said. His districtwide message seemed to resonate across the city, he said. But he understood why it didn’t in the neighborhoods around Broken Arrow and Pinckney.

Shannon Kimball

Kimball said the cuts came with a set of goals, some of which the district has already made progress on. She’s glad the district was able to provide raises for staff, whose wages for years stagnated below similar districts’. 

“I want to make sure that we honor the reasons why we felt like those tough decisions were really necessary,” Kimball said. 

The work to help improve the district, Kimball said, certainly includes the communities around Broken Arrow and Pinckney. Whether those communities are ready to reopen that relationship so quickly is less clear. 

Maren Bradley, whose two kids attended Pinckney, said she feels she has a good relationship with the board. After all, their goals are aligned: pursuing the best education for kids in Lawrence. 

But after the closures, she couldn’t support those candidates in the election. 

“I just could not bring myself to vote for somebody who did not understand what a devastating effect that would have on her community,” Bradley said of Kimball. 

Maya Hodison/Lawrence Times Pinckney Elementary School community members comfort each other after the final dismissal of students on Wednesday, May 24, 2023.

Bradley has been involved with the Pinckney community since 2019 and was active in the parent-teacher organization. Her family deliberately chose to live in the area so they could walk more and rely less on fossil fuels for transportation. 

Bradley said her family is already involved with their new school, Hillcrest. She is the president-elect of the PTO, and she now organizes carpools with other families. 

But not everyone, she said, has had the same luck. 

“We’re just looking for silver linings here in our household,” Bradley said. “And I think we’ve found plenty of them. But I feel for and I really am trying to keep an eye out for those people who do not, who are not able to do that.”

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The influx of students to Hillcrest has created a new identity for the school. That shift is a microcosm, multiple parents said, of a shift happening across Lawrence. 

The board has closed Broken Arrow, Pinckney and Kennedy elementary schools in the last few years. 

All three of those buildings are on the east side of Lawrence, where schools were more densely packed together and total enrollments were smaller. This layout was the basis of the cuts made by school board members who said there was a need to operate fewer buildings across the district. 

But those neighborhood schools were the reason many families chose to live there in the first place. 

This divide was at the heart of Bradley’s voting decision. She feels residents on the east side of Lawrence better understand the poverty conditions that many students face at those schools. Many students at Pinckney, Bradley said, would come to school to use the showers or bring their clothes to school to wash them in the washers and dryers there.

“A lot of times you’re just not going to have that knowledge base of, you know, what actual poverty in our district really looks like,” she said. “We’re always probably going to vote for who we think represents us the best.”

The district still owns all three of those closed buildings but is using them for different purposes: Pinckney is home to the Community Transition (C-Tran) program and therapeutic classrooms; Broken Arrow houses Native American Student Services; and Kennedy is now Kennedy Early Childhood Center.

‘What do we want to do?’

Kimball and Gordon-Ross said they hope to continue working to improve the district. For Gordon-Ross, that means making decisions that he believes are in the best interest of the entire district and creating a long-term path for growth.

Kimball said she wants to work on a new strategic plan informed by the community. She said she heard people’s call for better communication and wants to ensure that the district is doing its best to let people see the good. 


“If people in the community knew, you know, all the good things that I know about what’s going on in our school district, they would be so proud of the work, and of our kids and of our staff,” Kimball said.

Bradley said her family is ready to keep moving forward. She’s looking forward to continuing to have her kids at Hillcrest, which hosts one of the district’s main English as a Second Language sites. This already has led her children to express the desire to learn a new language.

But the impact of the school closures won’t be leaving her mind anytime soon. 

“I certainly hope for, above all, an equity focus,” she said. “And really paying attention to and tracking the sort of ramifications that closing these neighborhood schools has had on the children who attended them.”

Some families, disillusioned by the closures, have left the district and moved to other places, or are considering doing so — including Alexander and Enneking. 

They chose their home and community because they wanted their children to experience the same school that Enneking grew up in years ago. 

But now that the school is closed, they wonder, what is keeping them here?

“Honestly, we’re one of those parents or families that are trying to make that decision of, what do we want to do?” Alexander said. “Do we want to keep our kids in a district that we don’t have faith in?”

August Rudisell / Contributed Photo Artwork in the window at Pinckney Elementary in early 2022 calls to “Save are school” and says that “Pinckney is the best.”
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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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