Kansas City Public Schools is considering reopening Lincoln Middle School in an ongoing effort to attract families back to the district.
The middle school closed in 2010, but as Lincoln College Preparatory Academy consistently tops U.S. News and World Report’s list of best high schools, it has become a destination for middle-class families whose kids attended West Side charters for elementary school.
But now the elite 6-12 school is overcrowded, as students complained at a town hall in the spring. KCPS spokeswoman Natalie Allen says enrollment for the 2017-18 school year stands at 1,022 for a building with a capacity of 1,025.
More than 80 students have been wait-listed.
“We know that Lincoln as a school does very well,” Allen said Thursday, a day after the Board of Education announced it was exploring the feasibility of reopening the middle school. “Obviously we want to expand offerings at a school that we know is working if the community and Board of Education are on board.”
Honor Christensen found out on the last day of seventh grade that she wouldn’t be returning to Crossroads Academy, the charter school she had attended for the last three years, in the fall.
Her mom, who was volunteering at the school that day, popped into Honor’s classroom to tell her she’d been accepted at Lincoln.
“‘So basically, get contacts for anyone you want to stay in touch with,’” Honor, 14, recalls her mom saying, “‘but you are going to Lincoln for sure.’”
At first, Honor didn’t want to change schools.
“I’ve never been in a big school,” says Honor, who was homeschooled before coming to Crossroads. “I did not want to leave my circle of friends. To be honest, I was really scared.”
Honor’s mom, Courtney Christensen, says she knows families that have “a kid at Lincoln and two kids at Paseo and another kid at Faxon and some of their kids were homeschooling.”
She and husband, Adam, didn’t want that for Honor and her two younger siblings, Patience and Justice.
“That’s really daunting to me as a parent to figure out how to give them that autonomy but also keep our family relationship intact,” Courtney says.
The family could have stayed at Crossroads – the downtown charter is adding ninth grade this year – but Courtney wasn’t sure she liked the idea of the kids going to such a small high school. She worried they would miss out on extracurricular activities and specialized classes.
It was Patience who first brought up the possibility of transferring schools. She’d heard Lincoln had a robotics team, which she thought was “pretty cool.” Honor agreed, but she quickly forgot the conversation.
“I think it was a week or two later. My mom (brought it back up), and said, ‘It probably won’t happen, but how would you feel about going to Lincoln Prep?’” Honor remembers.
She started to warm up to the idea a few weeks ago, when she got a cell phone for her 14th birthday. Suddenly she didn’t have to worry about losing touch with her friends at Crossroads.
Her mom also convinced her it might not be a bad thing if she and Patience were no longer at the top of their class.
“We could learn from some of our other classmates instead of a lot of the time it was us teaching our classmates,” Honor says.
Courtney says it’s stressful enough having to choose a school when a child enters kindergarten.
“You hit that same wave of anxiety when high school hits because the stakes are higher,” she says.
'A true high school experience'
Still, it wasn’t an easy decision to leave Crossroads. Courtney says her family really liked the school, and they wanted to make it really clear they weren’t leaving because anything was wrong.
Kirsten Brown, the founding principal at Crossroads High School, says she’s focused on providing a “true high school experience” to students.
But Courtney is skeptical the school can do that with an inaugural class of 35. Honor used to play violin, but without an orchestra, the family had to make time for lessons after school. Now Honor might take the instrument back up.
KCPS Supt. Mark Bedell also worries about being able to give students a true high school experience in the city.
“The experiences kids are getting in Shawnee Mission or Blue Springs or any of those districts are just not possible here,” Bedell says.
When he took the job last year, Bedell promised to work with the charters that compete with KCPS for students. But with more charter schools expanding into entire K-12 systems – like Crossroads, Academie Lafayette also has plans to open a high school – the district is getting more aggressive about recruitment.
Next week, the district will hold enrollment fairs “encouraging families to do the right thing for their children's education by coming back to KCPS.”
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.