Recap: Lawrence school board meeting, April 26

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The Lawrence school board met Monday at district offices. Here are the items from our preview and what happened with them, plus some additional notes.

Outcomes from our preview:

The board approved an agreement between Lawrence Virtual School and Baker University to provide online dual credit courses in the 2021-2022 school year.

↪ Context: The district started offering concurrent courses to students at Free State and Lawrence high schools with the University of Kansas through the Jayhawk Blueprint partnership in the 2019-2020 school year, but the program has been limited to “brick and mortar” students. Concurrent classes are college courses for juniors and seniors that count toward high school graduation requirements and college credits toward a degree program.

The partnership with Baker University will provide eight courses in an online, asynchronous format, meaning the classes can be accessed when convenient for the student. The deal makes LVS the first virtual school in Kansas to offer dual enrollment credit courses, according to superintendent Dr. Anthony Lewis. At a cost of $113 per credit hour, participants will pay between $339 and $452 per course.

“Students can get a feel for these courses while they’re still in high school,” Dr. Lanie Fasulo, concurrent credit coordinator at Baker University, told the board. “What we want them to do is be able to explore the different options before they get into the college arena, if they’d like.”

↪️  Passed, 6-0. Board member Melissa Johnson did not attend the meeting.

The board accepted the review of the district’s equity policy with recommended edits.

↪ Context: As part of the board’s policy manual, the purpose of the new policy is to provide direction to develop and implement systemwide equity and justice strategies for the district. The agenda memo says, “In order to disrupt systemic racism and other forms of injustice that profoundly (impact students’) current and future quality of life, our goal is to advance educational equity by applying a systemic change framework to school governance and resource allocation.”

The proposed policy directs the superintendent to implement systemwide equity and justice strategies for district schools and requires the superintendent to report progress and outcomes at least quarterly to the board and equity committees.

↪️  Passed, 6-0. The board took edits into consideration and will review the final recommendation for adoption at the May 10 board meeting.

The board heard a report from staff on the FSHS plan to launch its redesign project during the 2021-2022 school year.

↪ Context: Redesign plans, as part of a statewide initiative, consider input from students, teachers, parents and the community to make learning more personal, engaging and student-focused.

In 2019, the board gave approval for four district schools to participate in the Kansans Can School Redesign Project: Broken Arrow, Deerfield and Hillcrest elementary schools and Free State High School. The program is sponsored by the Kansas Department of Education. Due to the pandemic, the district’s schools chose not to launch redesign this academic year but have used it instead for planning.

Michelle Salmans, an FSHS teacher and co-pilot in the redesign process, told the board the pandemic prompted the team to try new strategies.

“In a weird way, the pandemic set us up to try out things we were already talking about doing and thinking about doing,” Salmans said.

One of the successful pilot redesign features has been Super Flex Wednesday, Salmans said. Students are given flexibility in how they use their non-instructional time and are asked to set a goal. The flexible work time also gives teachers the opportunity to teach individual students or small groups and provide learning assessments.

Other notes:

Included in the agenda packet was a report on the number of homeless students attending school in the district and the supports provided to families and students in transition. The report included students living in foster care and group homes.

A memo in the agenda packet defines a child as homeless if they are “without a fixed, regular and adequate nighttime residence” and can include families sharing housing due to loss of housing or economic hardship, children with a public or private place not designed for regular sleeping (such as a public park or a vehicle), and unaccompanied youth barred from living with or choosing not to live with their families.

The report shows the number of homeless students has declined in the last two academic years from 123 K-12 students during the 2018-2019 academic year to 96 students in the current school year. The numbers have fallen, staff explained in the report, due to the moratorium on foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kelly Walker, newly hired Native American Student Services coordinator, invited the community to attend a virtual evening with Jessie Taken Alive-Rencountre, a Hunkpapa Lakota author from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

Taken Alive-Rencountre, the author of three books, will read her children’s book “Pet’a Shows Misun the Light” during the event, which takes place from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, April 30. The book is about compassion for others and is the recipient of the 2017 Great Plains Emerging Tribal Writer Award.

The event will be followed by a discussion and author Q & A. Join the WebEx event by clicking here.

The student board member made a comeback at the board meeting. Representing Lawrence High School was senior Jelani Ragins.

The board met in executive session (meaning in private) at the beginning of the meeting to discuss potential litigation. At the end of the meeting, the board entered another executive session to discuss negotiations for a fair and equitable contract. No action followed either session.

Big bills:

Before the regular board meeting executive director of finance Kathy Johnson led a budget work session. Johnson gave the board a budget update, including information about utility costs from February’s bitter cold spell. Johnson told the board the district’s gas bill came in at $498,000. An average gas bill, Johnson said, is about $54,000 a month.

Board president Kelly Jones and board member Shannon Kimball asked staff about exploring the matter with legal counsel as other school districts have.

Whether the district succeeds in having the bill’s amount reduced, Johnson said, the funds to pay the bill would have to be set aside from this fiscal year, which ends in June. Lewis said staff would continue to look into the issue and return to the board with more information.

Johnson also gave the board guidelines for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief grants (known as ESSER funds). Johnson said district staff would submit an application for ESSER II funds as soon as possible. The grants could bring $6 million to the district to support teaching and learning in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district’s summer learning program would be funded with a potential grant of $475,000. The funds also would pay for ongoing personal protective equipment; air purifiers and filters; indoor air quality studies; and instructional, learning and social-emotional supports. Johnson said that if funded, the grant also would be used for a health services position that could help ensure the district’s compliance with COVID-19 mitigation and give nurses and health assistants more time to focus on student needs within their schools.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, May 10. Find the board meeting’s agenda and related documents here.

To submit written public comment or to participate via WebEx, email before 5 p.m. May 10. Patrons will receive a link to join the videoconference by phone or computer.

More coverage:

April 25, 2021: Preview: Lawrence school board meeting, April 26

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