Lansing Public School students return to class on September 4 and many will be looking at significant changes. A system-wide reorganization plan alters how students are grouped together in an effort to boost academic performance in the face of low test scores and declining enrollment.
The most controversial change involves the district’s 7th and 8th graders--who will begin attending Eastern and Sexton high schools. Sandra Noecker has been a key reorganization planner. She’s also Sexton’s new principal. WKAR’s Mark Bashore spoke with her about the changes.
MARK BASHORE: Seventh and eighth graders attending Sexton will occupy what’s called “the annex”—a separate, one-story structure next to the main building. The only inside space they’ll share with older students is in the cafeteria, but at different times. Noecker admits the change created concern for parents.
SANDRA NOECKER: We have put into place ‘safety nets’ to make sure that the students have middle school staff to work with, support folks and someone they can contact with any kind of concerns that may, or may not, rise.
BASHORE: Let’s take a trip over to the annex where these 7th and 8th graders will be so you can show me how this will work.
NOECKER: Sounds great.
BASHORE: We’ve taken a seat in what’s going to be an 8th grade science classroom pretty soon. Tell me Sandra, what have parents said about the plan? What’s been the general feedback you’ve been getting?
NOECKER: Initially their concerns had to do with mixing with the older students and, you know, the parental issues that would rise, and they’ve been addressed for the most part. And the calls I’m getting now, I don’t hear concern. I hear a need for details—‘When are you going to offer the orientation?’’ Specific information needs is what I’m hearing.
BASHORE: At Eastern High School, the 7th and 8th graders will be part of the same building, but they’ll be occupying a different floor, so a different approach there?
NOECKER: Eastern has a large third floor and what they’ve done is to create a house within a house. And that house will be the place for all 7th and 8th graders. It has one entrance, one access point which will be monitored to assure that only 7th and 8th grade students are on that floor.
BASHORE: Have you managed to convince parents of the younger kids that those kids will be safe and secure here then?
NOECKER: I believe so. The bus issue seemed to be the one that was the most troublesome from the perspective of most of the parents that I’ve spoken to. And at this point, we have students—7th and 8th graders—riding their own bus. And we’re going to have a rally next week and bring them all together and any of the other issues that come up, we’re going to have a very strong parent-teacher association so that we can have everybody be a part of the solution.
BASHORE: Patty Seidl, the president of the Lansing Schools Education Association—the teachers’ union—said the challenges in the reorganization this fall will be here (Sexton) and at Eastern High School. I’ll quote here. She said “It’s going to require strong leadership at the building level and strong interventions. Absolutely that has got to be a goal.” Do you agree?
NOECKER: I absolutely agree with Ms. Seidl. The challenges that we face are over and above the typical ones because we are bringing together not only younger students with older students, but we’re brining together middle school teachers and high school teachers. And they look at life a little differently. So it’s going to be very exciting to bring together these two different educative groups and make sure that we work more closely together to prepare students for what has been traditional high school. So she is correct and it will require strength in leadership and follow through.
BASHORE: The drop out level in Lansing is still pretty high at the senior high level. Will this approach help that?
NOECKER: The research has shown that this approach is absolutely going to make a significant difference in a positive way. When you bring in younger students—7th and 8th graders—they have an opportunity to connect more to their high school. They have a head start, so to speak. And the research has shown that it does improve graduation rates significantly.