Recap: Lawrence school board meeting, May 10, 2021

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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 the district’s new equity policy, which will take effect immediately.


↪ Context: As part of the board policy manual, the purpose of the new umbrella policy is to provide direction for district staff to develop and implement systemwide equity and justice strategies that reduce achievement gaps. The board previously reviewed the policy’s first draft at its meeting April 26 and recommended minor edits, including a request from board vice president Erica Hill for more direct, action-oriented language. Find the policy draft here.

“I believe we took out every ‘should,’” Board President Kelly Jones said. “It now should be a bit more direct and hopefully support the district’s work related to equity and be quite clear.”

At the request of board member Paula Smith during the April 26 meeting, the board also amended the policy to specifically include the district’s Native American Student Services advisory group in the section about meaningful participation with district staff regarding progress. Jones said the requested edit had been made and would also include the Parents of Color Committee and the Equity Advisory Council groups.

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

The board heard a report from staff about the district’s equity plan.

↪ Context: The report provided details about the district’s steps toward its equity and inclusion goals. The topics touched on during the presentation were: a focus on culturally relevant and equity-centered curriculum and its selection process; an update on how district schools are utilizing restorative practices, which are strategies aimed at repairing damaged relationships; training and resources for building equity teams, leadership and staff; and methods the district uses to monitor its progress on equity goals.

Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield explained to the board the tenets of restorative practices: to repair harm, involve the stakeholders who were part of that harm and to transform relationships.

Stubblefield said the district implemented restorative practices at the middle schools first because of a disproportionality seen in discipline data of marginalized student groups, in particular, racial minority groups and students with individualized education plans.

The middle school staff has been trained in restorative practices and all four of the district’s middle schools also employ a student support facilitator for restorative practices.

Parent informational meetings are also part of the process, Stubblefield told the board. Middle school families attended virtual meetings about restorative practices in the spring, and high school families are expected to participate in similar meetings during the 2021-2022 school year.

“It’s important for the families to understand that our approach is different because if something happens to their student whereas they may be thinking somebody should be in ISS (in-school suspension) or suspended, we are looking at alternatives when it’s more appropriate to do that,” Stubblefield said.

Staff at both high schools and the Lawrence College and Career Center will attend training in restorative practices in August.

Leah Wisdom, director of equity, instruction and student services, told the board building sustainability across the school system and strong equity-centered leadership were ongoing goals of the district.

The just-approved equity policy also is an important step in meeting the district’s equity goals, Superintendent Anthony Lewis said.

“Equity is the standard,” Lewis said. “It’s not negotiable. It’s not optional. This work is for everybody.”

  • The board discussed the district’s board policy manual and deferred a vote on its approval until its May 24 meeting.

↪ Context: The board previously discussed the manual at its March 22 meeting. The manual draft, found here, provides guidance about the roles and responsibilities of the board and superintendent team, as well as board procedures in ethics, communications, professional development, performance evaluations, and board assignments, structure and meetings. As discussed during the March 22 meeting, the manual revises the procedures to select the board vice president beginning in July 2022 with the board electing the position by nomination and majority vote of the board.

The manual proposes that, beginning in July 2023, the board choose both the president and vice president by nomination and board majority vote. This would replace the previous practice of the board member with the most votes in the general election filling the president position. It also states that board officers elected at the annual July organizational meetings “serve for one-year terms and may serve no more than two consecutive terms in the position.”

Jones said some community members had expressed concerns about the proposed change, as did board members Carole Cadue-Blackwood and Melissa Johnson during the meeting.

“I don’t want to take the power of the vote out of the people,” said Cadue-Blackwood.

Board member Shannon Kimball stressed the need to finalize the policy so school board candidates running in the fall know what to expect.

Jones agreed to defer the vote on approval of the board policy manual until the May 24 board meeting.

• The board heard special recognitions from district staff for the following: 

West Middle School’s Regional Champion Future City Team, recipients of the national Best Future City Project Plan Award.

Free State High’s Class 6A Kansas State Speech Championship Team and individual Kansas Speech Champions: Timothy Huffman, Emily Bial and Molly Roecker.

FSHS National Speech and Debate Association (NSDA) Academic All-Americans: Audri Gutierrez, Simon Ruland, Emily Bial, John Marshall, Abbey Hossler, Ezra Joseph and Serena Rupp.

Kansas Debate Coaches’ Invitational Coach of the Year Kelly Thompson, FSHS.

Lawrence High NSDA Academic All-Americans: Jake Shew, J. Riggin  and Helen Viloria; and the individual Kansas Speech Champion in Prose, Gretchen Bannwarth.

LHS Kansas History Day State Champions in Senior Group Documentary: Zora Lotton-Barker and Lili Christensen, national qualifiers.

LHS senior Zeke Mayo, recipient of the DiRenna Award presented to the top basketball player in the Kansas City metro area.

Sunflower League Basketball Coach of the Year Mike Lewis, LHS.

FSHS Kansas Music Educators Association All-State Honor Ensembles, listed in the document below.


Other notes:

• Vaccination eligibility expanded: With regulators announcing an expansion of the use of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine to U.S. children ages 12 to 15, middle school students and high school underclassmen are now eligible for the two-dose vaccine. District high schools and the college and career center are offering first dose vaccination clinics onsite this month. With the school year coming to a close May 27, staff said it was unclear whether onsite vaccines could be expanded to middle schools before summer break.

• The board approved the hire of Carissa Miles as principal of Southwest Middle School effective July 1, as part of a last-minute amended personnel report on the consent agenda. Miles currently serves as assistant principal and athletics director at Billy Mills Middle School. Miles will replace Kristen Ryan, who will serve as director of elementary schools next year. 

• In a newly added consent agenda item for consideration, the board approved a resolution of intent to nonrenew a teacher’s contract. A supporting document in the agenda packet says the board finds that the contract for a Woodlawn Elementary teacher should be nonrenewed for the 2021-2022 school year. 

• The board also approved a change to the 2021-2022 calendar. The change will allow incoming kindergarten students to attend their first day of school half-day the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 18, along with incoming sixth and ninth graders. The first day of school for the rest of Lawrence K-12 public school students will be a full day on Thursday, Aug. 19. The calendar shows early childhood students starting Monday, Aug. 23.

The board met in executive session (meaning in private) at the beginning of the meeting to discuss personnel matters. 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.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, May 24. 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 24. Patrons will receive a link to join the videoconference by phone or computer.

Meeting lingo:

• Consent agenda: A list of a bunch of items that are considered “routine,” so the governing board usually makes one motion to approve the whole list. A member of the public or a member of the governing board can request that an item or items be pulled from the consent agenda for discussion before a vote. This vote usually occurs toward the beginning of meetings.

• Executive session: Closed to the public, generally to discuss pending legal actions or personnel matters. The governing board may or may not take action once the public meeting resumes.

• Regular agenda: Items the governing board will generally discuss or hear during the meeting, rather than approving them with no discussion.

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