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Liberty High academic, arts and athletic plans unveiled

Liberty High Principal Scott Kibby meets with members of the local media Thursday, Nov. 3, at North Central Junior High. Kibby outlined his plans for academics, arts and athletics at Liberty. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

NORTH LIBERTY– When Liberty High School opens its doors next fall, it will be a comprehensive facility with full course and activity offerings for freshmen through seniors.
That’s the plan at least, said Liberty Principal Scott Kibby during an informal conference with area media Thursday, Nov. 3, at North Central Junior High in North Liberty. With registration coming in January, Kibby said he’s received many questions about the new school and what academics, performing arts and athletics it will offer.
“It has been and continues to be really important to me that Liberty is a full-blown, 9-12, comprehensive high school,” Kibby said. “That’s the overriding theme of the plan.”
One misconception is that Liberty will be a freshman-sophomore “only” building. While freshmen and sophomores in the Liberty High attendance area will be required to attend the new school, juniors and seniors can choose to make the switch from West High to Liberty. Students outside the attendance area can also transfer into Liberty through an application process starting on Dec. 1 and ending in mid-January.
Kibby laid out a program of classes including basic and advanced programs in English language arts, math, science, social studies and world languages (see table), all of which are part of the same program of study offered at City High and West High.
Kibby noted these offerings are the minimum programming Liberty High will offer with student registration driving specific class needs, particularly in the first year. He added if registration for a class is insufficient at Liberty, students would receive additional guidance to either select another class, or could receive options, such as attending the Kirkwood Regional Center at the University of Iowa, distance learning (participating in a class broadcast from another location) or sharing a program with City High or West High. Liberty’s schedule will align with West and City, he added, making distance learning or travel between schools feasible.
However, he stated his preference for keeping Liberty students in-house as much as possible.
“I don’t want them traveling back and forth two or three times each day, that doesn’t seem safe to me,” he said. “And, it’s not the best use of the kids’ time either.”
He acknowledged, especially in the first year or two, there will likely be some inefficiencies such as smaller class sizes and half-time teachers.
It boils down to weighing a cost analysis, he said. By the third year Kibby expects to have all classes up and running across all four grade levels.
“The overriding theme is, we’re going to have a nice, broad AP curriculum, we’re going to have a nice, broad honors curriculum and we’re going to have stuff for ninth- through 12th-graders,” he said. “There’ll be offerings for a full selection of seniors.”

In addition to the core curriculum offerings, Liberty will have a full slate of “specials” encompassing business, industrial technology, family and consumer sciences, art, music and physical education.
Kibby based his class needs on projections garnered from West High attendance data. Based on his assessment, Kibby expects half-time teachers in business, industrial tech and family and consumer sciences.
Other offerings include Project Lead the Way (PLTW), English Language Learners (ELL) and special education courses, which are determined by a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
“When we register, we’ll figure out who those kids are, we’ll figure out what their needs are, and that’s the programming that we’ll have,” he added.
Kibby already has a core of teachers hired, one each in English, math and science, who act in an advisory and consulting role as he makes purchasing decisions to outfit and equip the new school. This core group will assist with hiring additional teachers in January, once the enrollment numbers and corresponding needs are determined. Kibby expects to have all hiring done by spring break.
“That may be ambitious, but that’s my goal,” he said.

Kibby is also ambitious when it comes to fine arts offerings and strives to have something for every student who walks through the doors of Liberty High.
“I want to have a comprehensive performing arts program,” he said. “I know I’ll have a fulltime band instructor, I know I’ll have a fulltime vocal music instructor and I’ll probably have a half-time orchestra instructor.”
The result will be bands. Many bands for different levels and interests from marching through symphonic orchestra.
It’ll be the same for the vocal musicians with multiple opportunities to develop talents and perform. Thespians at Liberty will have the benefit of a brand new theater in which to perform a musical and a play each year.
“The auditorium is gorgeous,” said Kibby. “Its amazing…800 seats and it’s just a fabulous, fabulous facility.”
When it comes to clubs and organizations, Kibby noted it gets a little more uncertain.
The tentative plan is to have speech or debate, a math team, robotics and Business Professionals of America (formerly known as Junior Achievement, or JA). Kibby ran through a list of clubs currently active at West High, such as a jump rope club, a bike club and an anime (animation) club.
Clubs such as those, he said will have to develop on their own.
“If there are six kids that find a teacher that would like to meet on Tuesday nights (as an example) and work on anime, great,” he added. “We’ll figure that out as we go.”
His primary focus for clubs is on competitive organizations to provide an opportunity for students not in athletics or the arts, to have a chance to compete too, nothing that kids connected to school through activities tend to have a better experience.
“Those are just ways to get kids involved. A kid might not be a ‘music kid,’ or might not be an athlete,” he said. “Let’s find other ways we can get kids involved in school.”

As the former Athletic Director for West High, Kibby was especially excited to lay out the athletic programs.
Freshman sports kicked off this fall with successful seasons for the Liberty Lightning Bolts with football– the Original or O-Bolts– and volleyball– The Lady Lightning. Winter sports are gearing up with boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, and Kibby plans on freshman soccer in the spring, as well as softball and baseball teams.
Starting the teams before even opening the school was, in part, a strategy to get more kids involved, as well as starting the freshmen (currently attending West High) in the Liberty experience. The Lightning received help from both the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) and the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) in varsity scheduling. Next fall, he plans on offering multiple levels– freshman through varsity– in 16 sports plus cheerleading and dance team.
The school will be independent of any athletic conference for the first year but was accepted into the Mississippi Valley Conference (MVC), home to City High and West High, starting in the 2018-2019 school year. The addition of Liberty brings the MVC to 15 teams and the conference is actively courting athletic programs in the region in search of a 16th squad to maintain balance. If an additional team isn’t found, the conference would have to decide if it wants an 8/7 split between the Mississippi Division and the Valley Division, or perhaps split into three divisions of five teams each.
Teams in Iowa are limited to a set number of games, matches or meets. However, to enable Liberty to find teams to compete with during its first year, both associations are willing to let teams exceed their limit so they can play against the Lightning. The associations made one request of Kibby, asking him to first help teams short of their limit fill their schedules.
While Liberty will have a brand new full-size gym next fall, other athletic facilities such as a football field, ball diamonds and a track have to wait until at least 2019. West High is willing to help by making their facilities available, which will likely lead to some atypical schedules. For example, Liberty football will continue to use West High’s stadium, but “Friday Night Lights” is likely out of the picture due to scheduling demands of multiple squads from both schools until the Bolts have a field to call their own. Such scheduling conflicts and full team schedules would result in most Lightning teams playing on other than the “typical” night for the first year.
“It’s a one-year problem,” Kibby said. “I’m going to get games on odd nights, but it’s a one-year problem. I’m going to do varsity programming, but you’ve just got to wait for it to look like everybody else’s varsity programming.”
Kibby had to get creative, asking for favors throughout the community to find facilities and venues for the Bolts and Lightning. He’s also having a soccer field and softball diamond built behind Van Allan Elementary, next door to North Central Junior High, in North Liberty. The Coralville Sports Complex courted Liberty for soccer matches, and Kibby also has an option in the soccer field at Northwest Junior High, in Coralville, originally West High’s home for soccer before getting their own pitch a few years ago.

Enrollment numbers drive Liberty’s academic offerings and also determine what classification the school’s athletic programs fit into. Large schools such as City and West are classified as 4A for most boys sports and 5A for most of their girls’ programs, while schools such as CCA are in 3A and 4A classes depending on the sport. Liberty will be immediately eligible to compete in state tournaments for the IHSAA and IGHSAU. The school’s 10th-, 11th- and 12th-grade enrollment will determine the class, he said. He looks to start out in 2A/3A and quickly move up to 4A/5A within a few years, as enrollment grows.
While the school continues to be built, Kibby has been busy building the Liberty brand and developing the Liberty culture with help from the Liberty Lightning Athletic Booster Club and the Liberty Parent, Student and Teacher Organization (PSTO). The biggest piece in developing the culture, ensuring Liberty is it’s own unique community and not merely a sequel to West High, will be the staff he hires, he said.
“You want to find people that are excited about being there, that want to build that culture,” he said.
He noted that one of the things that attracted him to the principal’s job was the opportunity to build the culture and the Liberty community.
“That won’t happen overnight,” he cautioned. “It’ll progress as we go.” Kibby is strategically planning his hiring around when the best candidates are available, while studiously scrutinizing data to project his needs. The bottom line for the former math teacher turned principal is assembling an outstanding school with a top-notch staff.
“I want to build an All-Star team,” he said. “I want to build as quality of a school and a staff as I possibly can.”