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Housing the new kids on the block

Touring the Lansing School District’s reconfiguration plan


New floor plans have been established at Lansing Eastern and Sexton high schools to accommodate the seventh and eighth graders that will be moving in next year as part of the district’s new reconfiguration plans.

The blueprints were presented at a Lansing Board of Education informational study session Thursday.

The reconfiguration plans change the entire layout of the district, with 12 schools being converted to pre-kindergarten through third grade; five schools becoming fourth through sixth grade; and two of the high schools, Eastern and Sexton, becoming seventh through 12th grade. Everett High School will be converted in 2014 to add seventh and eighth graders. 

At Eastern, seventh and eighth graders will be housed in their own wing on the third floor of the building. The wing is a hallway of 18 classrooms and lab space specifically laid out for those grades only. Students in the wing will have two science labs, an art room, a computer lab and a band room.

The wing will have a locked security door, blocking off the wing to other students, and a public safety officer will monitor the stairwells, said Brian Ralph, chief operations officer for the district. 

“A lot of input from staff and listening to parents” was the starting point when developing the plans, Ralph said. “After that we looked at the building and tried to find space that was desirable and amenable to those desires and objectives.”

Parents have expressed concern at neighborhood meetings about their kids’ safety and making sure students have fair access to school facilities. District officials have reiterated that the move to seventh through 12th grade in one building would be like creating a “school within a school.” Younger students will not be sharing class space, the gym, the lunchroom or even the hallways at the same time as older students. 

Along with saving the district money by closing buildings, administrators say the new configuration is designed to reduce dropout rates and improve student performance. 

A study posted on the district’s website, “The Interaction Effect of Transition Grade to High School with Gender and Grade Level upon Dropout Rates,” concluded that the dropout rates for both boys and girls were lowest in high schools when the transition happened in seventh grade. The study also says that dropout rates increase when there are more school-to-school transitions. The study found that the “school within a school” concept helps improve student performance by essentially reducing school size — creating a more focused learning environment. 

Lansing school board member Peter Spadafore is confident that the plans will put parents at ease. He said in an email that the plans “serve as evidence that the administration is working tirelessly to ensure that all steps are being taken to ensure student safety and address the concerns of parents.”

Color-coded identification badges are still in the planning process, Sandra Noecker, former principal at Otto Middle School and the leader of the Transition Advisory Group, said at Thursday’s meeting.

The Transition Advisory Group is made up of staff members from Eastern, Sexton, Otto and Pattengill Middle School who are responsible for creating a transition plan for the seventh and eighth graders. Families have been involved with discussions about the district conversions.

Middle school students going to Sexton will have classes in the “Annex” — a separate building next to the high school. Ralph said the Annex was formerly used for ninth graders and is “underutilized,” which made it an easy decision.

Seventh and eighth graders at Sexton will have the same amenities as their peers at Eastern, but some of their lab space will be located in the main building of the high school. The labs are not deep within the bowels of the school — they’ve been placed at the closest points between the Annex and the rest of the school. Staff will escort students to those labs as well as the cafeteria across the school.

“They’re creating their own little culture, they’re calling it their ‘house,’” said Superintendent Yvonne Caamal Canul. “You know, there’s a certain amount of trepidation right now, but it’s because it’s an unsure thing. But the kids are going to love it and the teachers are going to love having them and that’s what we want — happy kids.”

Logistics still need to be settled before the new grades are able to move into the building next year. Bus routes, bell times, cafeteria and gym scheduling all need to be worked out, but Ralph said those will be determined in the coming weeks. 

Both the wing in Eastern and the Annex at Sexton are expected to have their own administrator, public safety officer, counselor and behavior specialist, Noecker, of the transition group, said.

The idea of the seventh and eighth grade areas is to give students the “shared family experience,” she said. 

As of right now, the plans for the high schools are what parents can expect for their students next year, Spadafore said, adding that while there might be some slight tweaks, overall, the plans should remain unchanged.


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