The Kansas City Public Schools Board of Directors appears poised to reopen Lincoln Middle School, relieving overcrowding at the elite Lincoln College Preparatory Academy and reversing an unpopular decision made during rightsizing.
The building was shuttered in 2010 along with the rest of the district’s middle schools, with sixth through eighth graders moving into the high school. Now that building, which holds 1,025, is over capacity with a wait list to get in. Moving middle schoolers back across the street would allow the district to add about 500 seats by 2023, at least half of which would need to be filled by new-to-the-district students aggressively recruited from charter and private schools.
Although it’s not quite a done deal – board members will vote next week – the district has gotten a resounding “yes” from the community, says Natalie Allen, spokeswoman for the district.
“Lincoln SAC, which is their advisory council for that building, sent us a letter that talked about how much they really wanted to see the school expand,” Allen says. “You’re hearing parents come out and talk about the importance of their students having a little bit more elbow room.”
Opening Lincoln Middle for the 2019-20 school year would cost an estimated $14.9 million dollars, plus an additional $1.4 million to upgrade the track and field at the high school across the street.
“We’d be looking at bundling them,” Linda Quinley, Chief Finance and Operations Officer, explained during a presentation to board members. “That’s an efficiency standard for us.”
The cost is on par with what the district spent to reopen Central Middle and Northeast Middle in 2014. Athletic field upgrades for the adjacent high schools were also a part of those projects.
In recent years the district has walked back on its decision to combine middle and high schools under one roof.
Helen Ragsdale, a class of 1949 graduate, former teacher and one-time school board member who voted against the closure of 26 schools back in 2010, voiced her support for Lincoln Middle Wednesday night.
“Lincoln produces young, productive citizens,” Ragsdale told current board members. “Middle school is an essential part of that.”
Municipal Court Judge Ardie Bland, a class of 1988 Lincoln graduate, was one of Ragsdale’s students.
“Teachers at the junior building – that’s what we called the middle school at the time – really helped instill a culture of excellence that prepared us to go across the street to the high school,” Bland said.
But not everyone is in favor of reopening Lincoln Middle. Danielle Dispenza’s children attend Hale Cook Elementary. She says she’s done her best to support the district, but she can’t get behind the idea of adding seats at a school not open to all.
“How do I know my own children will test high enough?” she asked board members.
Board member Matthew Oates also expressed concern with Lincoln’s admission standards. The plan to reopen the middle school calls for accepting 5 percent of students on a provisional basis. Those students would get targeted help to boost their test scores, but Oates questioned whether that was enough.
“Across the country, you’re seeing colleges and universities taking a more holistic approach to admissions,” Oates said.
Still, he cautioned board members “not to let perfect be the enemy of good.”
The board is expected to vote Nov. 1.
Elle Moxley covers Missouri schools and politics for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.