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District gears up for Liberty High

Parents, students await additional answers

IOWA CITY– About 50 North Liberty parents and students attended an information meeting on Nov. 23, held by the Iowa City Community School District, to address questions about the Liberty High School transition.
Matt Degner, the district’s director of schools, presented plans for the new school, then held a question-and-answer session with audience members in the Iowa City West High theater.
Building plans have been drawn and are being put into action: Liberty High School is slated to open at the start of the 2017-18 school year with a 1,000-student capacity. Athletic facilities will be completed by 2019-20, and a 500-student expansion is planned for 2022-2023. At 250,000 square feet, the new facility is projected to cost about $75 million.
With construction underway, district administration is still ironing out the details of what will happen inside the school’s walls. Most questions posed by the public related to students’ eligibility to attend the different high schools, and how the district will ensure equitable opportunities for students who attend Liberty instead of West.
The boundary lines have been drawn for Liberty, but current ninth and 10th graders from North Liberty can still opt to finish high school at West. The district has asked current West underclassmen to return Letters of Intent to the district, indicating whether they plan to attend West or Liberty. Although the forms are non-binding, the letters are intended to help administration make plans for academic and extracurricular programs.
As of the Nov. 23 meeting, about two-thirds of the letters had been returned, Degner said. Results have been consistent as the letters trickle in, so the district will be able make an informed prediction of how many students will attend each school—but administrators planned to wait until December’s board meeting to announce the numbers to the community
Several questions raised at the informational meeting asked what the high school experience will look like for current eighth graders, who will enter West next year as freshmen and be mandated to transfer to Liberty as sophomores. The current eighth grade is the only class that will be required to attend two different schools during their time in high school.
Celia Daniels, an eighth grader at North Central Junior High, said at the meeting she has an older brother who is an underclassman at West. Her brother has decided to stay at West until graduation. However, Daniels will attend West for one year, then switch schools to enter her sophomore year at Liberty.
“I want to stay with my brother,” she said. “I don’t want to be separated from him.”
It’s not the scenario she was hoping for, but current eighth grade students will not be given the option to remain at West.
“That is definitely something we know is a concern for many families,” Degner said in response.
Others in attendance raised concerns about equitable environments at the two schools. If not enough current ninth and tenth grade students decide to go to Liberty, the new school may be lacking in upperclassmen, which would indirectly affect underclassmen’s academic and extracurricular opportunities, as well. One parent said many activities– for example, show choir– are successful at West because a community of parents support it. Breaking up that group weakens the community, and some activities or programs might not exist for Liberty students if there isn’t sufficient interest.
Degner said the district couldn’t provide answers to all the community’s questions during the meeting, since there were still unknown factors at this point in the planning stage.
To acknowledge all concerns, the district has set up a website at www.edline.net/pages/Liberty_HS, dedicated to the Liberty High School transition. The “Frequently Asked Questions” section of the website will be updated as new questions are brought to administrators’ attention.
According to meeting minutes of the Liberty High School Transition Task Force, the district is looking to Ankeny Community School District as a model for the transition. Ankeny, which once had a single central high school, opened a new high school two years ago. As that district prepared to open Ankeny Centennial High School, officials used a website to address commonly asked questions about the change, said Samantha Kampman, communications coordinator for the district.
Ankeny’s site included a feeder system structure chart, breaking down the attendance areas for all schools district-wide. It also included a section for Frequently Asked Questions. As with Liberty, a common theme of questions about Ankeny Centennial was “equity.” Specific questions within that theme ranged from whether both schools would stay in the same athletic conference, to whether special education programs would function the same way, to whether after-school activities might not exist at the new school. The answers online assured parents and students all efforts would be made to keep equitable conditions at both Ankeny schools—similar to the assurances provided on the Iowa City Community School District’s website and during the Liberty information meeting.
Cate Koeppen, of North Liberty, spoke during the meeting on behalf of eighth graders like her daughter. She urged district administrators to engage students and help build the Liberty community.
“I really want to encourage you…to get these kids engaged right now, as much as you can,” Koeppen said. “Give them a real voice and capture all the energy they have…and channel it into excitement for their new school and their new community.”