East record enrollment

Students pass between classes at East High School, where enrollment surged past 2,200 in 2018-19. Main hallways are designated for students to flow in a certain direction, with students heading the opposite way limited to a single-file line.

As Lincoln continues growing, its schools will need the latitude to respond and adapt to future expansion.

Credit the community members serving on a Lincoln Public Schools advisory committee for brainstorming a plan allowing for such flexibility. Recommendations that break the standard mold for aligning grade levels and building size have merit in this booming district.

In particular, two of the proposals – schools serving students from kindergarten through eighth grade and two smaller high schools that can be expanded to accommodate growth – are new to Lincoln.

Different school districts in Nebraska take different approaches to grade configuration. Some have split the traditional elementary grades into separate buildings, calling the one for older students an intermediate school. Some middle schools start at sixth grade, while others start at seventh. Until the previous decade, a handful in the Omaha area even served ninth graders.

LPS has a history of creativity in times of need. East and North Star high schools also housed middle schoolers for years after they opened. These setups handled overcrowding in middle-school buildings and capitalized upon high schools well below their capacity.

The committee’s plans for K-8 schools represent a continuation of that utilitarian approach, not to mention fall in line with more recent research indicating the transition from elementary to middle school can be hard on many students.

Furthermore, the unique needs of different regions of Lincoln highlight the need for such leeway.

Physically separated from the rest of town by the airport and a floodplain, far northwest Lincoln has just one school, Arnold Elementary School, with long drives to attend Schoo Middle School and North Star. Meanwhile, students in extreme southeast parts of the city are miles from their assigned high school, whether it’s East or Southeast. Despite their differences, both are growing swiftly.

Building smaller comprehensive high schools in both areas would reduce transit time for students in these regions while better positioning LPS for the inevitable strains that come with such rapid increases in enrollment. Expanding these buildings, which would be the seventh and eighth public high schools in the city, would be cheaper than constructing another shortly down the road.

These plans aren’t set in stone; the suggestions of the six subcommittees exceeded the forecast $250 million to $290 million bond issue district officials say wouldn’t raise the tax rate. Though the school board will have the final say on what’s included, the work of the citizen committee appointed by Superintendent Steve Joel carries weight.

Still, the new ideas offered by more than 100 community members who volunteered to help steer the future of Lincoln Public Schools hold promise in light of the city’s steady expansion in all directions.

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