This ‘lab’ school is a top performer. It wants more students from Fayette, other counties.

Model Laboratory School at EKU

Model Laboratory School superintendent John Williamson speaks about enrollment outside of Madison County and legislation proposed to Identify Model as the commonwealth's lab school.
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Model Laboratory School superintendent John Williamson speaks about enrollment outside of Madison County and legislation proposed to Identify Model as the commonwealth's lab school.

As John Williamson works to shape the future at Kentucky’s only remaining university laboratory school, he hopes families in Lexington and other Central Kentucky cities will send their children across county lines to Richmond’s Model Laboratory.

Williamson, the superintendent of Model since last year, said the public K-12 school on Eastern Kentucky University’s campus no longer has a waiting list and now has space to accommodate students from Fayette and other neighboring districts.

“We accept students from all different counties,” said Williamson. “We’re expanding. We’ve actually added a third section in most of our grades. We are looking for students in Fayette County and Clark County and Garrard County who want to be part of this exciting learning experience, get a world class education and really embark on a learning lab education.“

Although the school is considered public, tuition is currently required. At just under $4,000 per year, Williamson noted that is less than at most private schools in Fayette County.

He said Model, with 735 students expected to be enrolled for fall, offers the same kind of education as students might get at a private or parochial school in Lexington. Williamson said the 25 minute drive from Fayette to Madison County is not that much longer than the one parents might make across town to a private Lexington school.

Administrators at Model Laboratory School and Eastern Kentucky University recently told the EKU Board of Regents that they will try for a second time to make Model the state’s lab school. A House bill sponsored by Majority Floor Leader John Carney, R-Campbellsville, calling for the new role in 2019 was not heard by the General Assembly.

Under that legislation, Model as the Commonwealth’s Educational Laboratory School would have been a showcase for community partnerships and university collaborations and a center for professional learning and continuing education for Kentucky’s teachers. The legislation called for the school to test kindergarten through high school educational practices, assessments, and innovations for Kentucky.

Williamson is hoping that the 2020 General Assembly will approve a similar measure.

He wants to find “a way to be identified as ...a place where new initiatives and programs.., curriculum is piloted and tested before its rolled out, an educational learning lab for the state.”

“We are trying to figure out what would be the best approach for funding and sustainability, for facilities, for teacher training,” he said. “We want to do what’s best for all of the education providers in the region.”

Model Lab, which is more than 100 years old, consistently ranks in Kentucky’s top 10 on state assessments, has a 98. 1 percent graduation rate, and for the Class of 2018, had a ACT average of 26. 1, Williamson said.

The EKU Board of Regents said several months ago that they were exploring Model becoming a charter school, but Williamson said that is no longer the case.

“Identifying ourselves as a charter school, a public school, a private school, a parochial school, would be problematic because in a state university we have to support and serve all of those school types,” Williamson said. “.. .The University needs to be supportive and support teachers and learning in all of those different contexts.”

Williamson said Kentucky Commissioner of Education Wayne Lewis is generally supportive of having a lab school, but Model would have to find some sort of funding mechanism from the General Assembly that would fully fund the school so that no tuition would be charged.

“As a laboratory school on the campus of Eastern Kentucky University, there is tremendous potential for Model to become a laboratory for innovation in curriculum, instruction, and assessment, and a model clinical setting for preservice teachers and aspiring school leaders,” Lewis told the Herald-Leader, “all while providing Kentucky students of varying backgrounds and needs with access to world class educational opportunities.”

A fiscal note on the 2019 bill said EKU’s Model Laboratory School currently receives its funding through tuition payments as well as through a contract with Madison County Schools. Model students are counted as part of Madison County’s average daily attendance in calculating the state’s SEEK base funding formula payments.

The 2019 bill would have shifted Model’s funding to a simple appropriation to EKU outside the SEEK formula, creating Model as its own local education agency and creating a formula to calculate its funding. One proposed scenario recommended in the 2019 legislative session would have resulted in a total of $6.36 million appropriated to EKU to operate Model Laboratory School.