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Lincoln Northwest will not have a senior class when it opens due to lower-than-expected enrollment

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Lincoln Northwest High School (copy)

Lincoln Northwest High School at Northwest 48th and West Holdrege streets will not have a senior class in its first year.

There will be no senior class at Lincoln's newest high school this fall.

On Tuesday, Lincoln Public Schools announced it will limit enrollment at Lincoln Northwest High School in the 2022-23 school year to freshmen, sophomores and juniors because of a lower-than-expected number of seniors who pledged to attend the school in Lincoln's Air Park in its first year.

Incoming seniors who planned on attending Northwest will be automatically reenrolled in their current school. 

Only 41 incoming seniors filed the paperwork to attend Northwest, along with 223 freshmen, 77 sophomores and 78 juniors. That means, as of now, 378 students plan to attend Northwest, well down from officials' earlier estimates of 630 students, including almost 90 seniors.

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While Northwest has been hiring staff for months, the district will determine in the coming weeks how many staffers are needed for next year based on enrollment figures, a number it reevaluates for all schools annually. If that number is lower than expected — especially with no senior classes — staff could be reassigned to another school, officials said.

"We always wanted to open up a full high school but also knew realistically it's difficult for sophomores, juniors and seniors to pull away from the school they're going to because they're involved in activities, they've got their friends and other programs," Superintendent Steve Joel said at Tuesday's board meeting. "But we also know we owe it to our community to be efficient, and we can't do it efficiently and effectively with that low of a number."

Northwest's health sciences focus program — a collaboration between LPS and Bryan Health — will open as planned, but will only be offered to juniors. Freshmen and sophomores can take pre-pathway classes that lead into the focus program.

Whether Northwest will be able to field varsity teams in certain sports — like football —  remains unclear.

School officials will have to gauge interest in sports and other activities and students' skill level when the school opens to determine what levels (varsity and junior, for example) are offered, said Kathi Wieskamp, the district's athletic director.

"We're going to work really hard, but to say we're going to have three levels at every sport and these are what the levels are going to be, we can't do that," Wieskamp said.

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For large team sports — such as football, soccer and baseball — it may mean Northwest will not field a varsity squad if there are not enough students wanting to participate or with the skills required to compete at that level. Other sports, such as track, cross country and golf, have more leeway because students can compete individually and within smaller teams. 

The lower-than-expected enrollment will not alter Northwest's placement in Class B for Nebraska School Activities Association sports and activities, Wieskamp said.

Northwest, located at Northwest 48th and West Holdrege streets, is one of two smaller high schools being built as part of the $290 million bond issue voters approved in 2020. Standing Bear High School, located in southeast Lincoln, will open in 2023. 

The high schools, which can hold 1,000 students, are intended to alleviate overcrowding at  Lincoln East, North Star and Lincoln High, which each have more than 2,200 students.

While LPS has an open enrollment policy for high schools — meaning students can attend schools outside their attendance area — the district will continue a policy restricting transfers at Lincoln East, Lincoln High and North Star next school year.

Transfer restrictions set to continue at overcrowded high schools even as Lincoln Northwest prepares to open

The policy, put in place in 2019, set a Jan. 31 deadline for eighth graders looking to transfer into those three schools. Those schools will also continue to be unavailable for transfers at other grade levels.

"What we're seeing is students are happy with the experience they're having in their home high school. They don't want to leave, and that's understandable," said Matt Larson, associate superintendent for instruction.

Southwest and North Star also started well below capacity when they opened in 2002 and 2003, respectively, but still welcomed senior classes.

Southwest and North Star, built to hold about 2,000 students, only had about half that number of students in their inaugural years. The lower capacity allowed the district to temporarily operate Goodrich Middle School out of North Star and Saratoga Elementary School out of Southwest while those schools underwent renovations.

Officials are encouraged by the size of Northwest's projected freshman class, and if that trend continues, the school should be near-capacity by its fourth year.

Current students in grades 8-10 can still enroll at Northwest by turning in a high school form, which can be found at

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Contact the writer at or 402-473-7225. On Twitter @zach_hammack


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K-12 education reporter

Zach Hammack, a 2018 UNL graduate, has always called Lincoln home. He previously worked as a copy editor at the Journal Star and was a reporting intern in 2017. Now, he covers students, teachers and schools as the newspaper’s K-12 reporter.

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