Recap: Lawrence school board meeting, June 14

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

The board voted to recognize the Personnel Association of Lawrence – Communications Workers of America as the bargaining unit for all classified employees.

↪ Context: PAL-CWA petitioned the board for recognition as the bargaining unit for all classified employee groups. Examples of classified hourly employees include paraprofessionals, custodians, secretaries, electricians, and maintenance and food service workers. The card check recognition procedure agreed to by the board required a neutral party to verify that a majority of employees in the proposed bargaining unit have expressed that they favor recognition. A memo from the agenda packet says the card check has been completed, and the neutral party’s certification of majority support among the bargaining unit employees was provided May 26.

PAL-CWA Chair Hannah Allison asked the board to vote in favor of recognizing the remaining classified workers in the district as part of the union. Allison told the board having all classified employees represented on one contract will make bargaining their contract more efficient for the board, administration and classified representatives.

“Our union is really important to us because we know that the day-to-day working conditions that we work in, those are also our students’ learning conditions,” Allison said.

↪️  Passed, 7-0.

• The board heard a report from district staff on social-emotional learning and behavioral health programming. 

↪ Context: The report provided information on programs and the benefits the district is experiencing from the initiative. Each of the district’s 21 buildings has a mental health team that promotes mental health services and educates staff on mental health issues. Here is a link to the full report.

Mental Health Facilitator Jose Cornejo told the board the district uses a three-tier intervention approach to evaluate student needs for mental health services and supports. 

“We look at what supports are needed for that particular student at that particular time to help them safely engage academically, socially, emotionally and behaviorally,” Cornejo said.

District personnel teach students at all academic levels social-emotional curriculum and also check in with students to gauge their emotional readiness to learn. For elementary students, a morning classroom meeting might be the avenue. At the middle school level, it’s the advisory period, and by high school, it happens at various times throughout the day.

Counselors, school psychologists, social workers and WRAP specialists, Cornejo said, teach mental health and wellness concepts by educating students at all levels in the classroom about anxiety and depression, for example. Referrals for additional support are available when necessary.

Mental health teams in each district building meet at least every other week, Cornejo said, to evaluate the needs of both students and faculty members. In addition the district partners with community service providers and organizations such as Kansas Suicide Prevention HQ (formerly Headquarters) and Bert Nash Community Health Center, which provides WRAP specialists in district schools.

During the pandemic, the Lawrence Schools Foundation has helped support families with the ICAN Fund, Cornejo said, by supporting 280 families with grocery certificates; $5,000 worth of bus passes in the last 18 months; and $14,000 in support to students and families with personal supplies, hotel rooms and other needs.

Cornejo noted some of the social-emotional and mental health supports the district provided during the pandemic, including adding counselors and social workers to WebEx classroom sessions and the implementation of student support facilitators at each middle school to implement restorative practices.

The countywide Building Bridges partnership with Bert Nash, Cornejo said, fills gaps in mental health support services outside the school day by providing services between 3 and 8 p.m. with the help of federal COVID-19 relief grants through Douglas County.

And at each district high school, there’s a student-led suicide prevention program called Sources of Strength. The Lawrence High School team has trained 8 adults and 14 students, and at Free State High School, 10 adults and 26 students have been trained.

Cynthia Johnson, executive director of inclusion, engagement and belonging, told the board it’s time to restart teaching and learning in the fall.

“What are we going to do now? Things are different. Our lives are different. Society is different. Our world is different,” Johnson said.

Rebuilding relationships will be important, Johnson said, noting some students haven’t been in a school building for more than a year.

“We have been through a lot, and there are steps that have to be in place in order for us to reach the highest level,” Johnson said, noting the trauma and stress of the pandemic will require pre-planning.

Johnson noted faculty, students and families will all need support.

Next steps, Johnson said, include developing a plan to transition all buildings from a trauma-informed approach to a trauma-responsive district. The district will encourage the development of calming rooms and areas in all buildings to help de-escalate and regulate in a safe and supportive environment. This summer, the district has arranged training for staff at Prairie Park, Cordley and New York elementaries on responsive classrooms. At the high schools, restorative practices training for staff will begin in August. The district will also establish student mental health advisory teams to incorporate students’ voices.

“We’re going to ensure that the programming that is taking place at each individual school will meet the needs of that school,” Johnson told the board.

• The board received a report about the transition of students from Kennedy Elementary. 

↪ Context: At its April 12 meeting, the school board voted to convert Kennedy Elementary to an early childhood community center. A report in the agenda packet shows transition tours were arranged for Kennedy students to view their new schools in May. In addition, Kennedy teachers held virtual meetings with teachers from the receiving schools to discuss students’ strengths and potential areas of growth. Staffing decisions for Kennedy employees have been made.

Boys & Girls Club has agreed to implement a morning program at Prairie Park Elementary in the fall to assist families who need before-school care, including former Kennedy students who can no longer walk to school. The program will open at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday. The after-school program will continue.

The district has sent requested data to the city of Lawrence in order to apply boundary changes to the Safe Routes to Schools plans for the receiving schools — Prairie Park, Cordley and New York elementaries. 

The board tabled a memorandum of understanding between the school district and the city of Lawrence for Safe Routes to School.

The item was removed from the consent agenda due to concerns raised by board members Shannon Kimball and Carole Cadue-Blackwood.

↪ Context: Safe Routes to School is a national program that aims to improve walking and biking for kids. Since 2019, community stakeholders have gathered input to develop mapped routes and strategies for walking and biking citywide. An MOU is necessary, according to a memo in the agenda, to formalize how the school district and city will work together on the initiative and establish a working group between plan updates, the first of which will occur in 2025. Find the Lawrence plan here.

Kimball said the wording of the proposed MOU raised concerns. She said she was concerned the language of the MOU would obligate the district to implement curriculum programs, start clubs at schools and assume the burden of funding of crossing guards.

“I have not seen in our budgeting process or curriculum planning process that we are prepared to do all those things,” Kimball said.

At its June 7 meeting, the city’s Multi-modal Transportation Commission tabled a recommendation to the City Commission of a proposed School Area Traffic Control Policy after commissioners voiced concerns. A report shows recommendations to remove 10 current crossing guards (two related to Kennedy’s closure of K-5 classrooms), add two and maintain 11 of 23 existing crossing guards. Two crossing guard locations are slated to be maintained and re-evaluated during the 2021-2022 school year. Find the report here.

Kimball said after seeing the proposed School Area Traffic Control Policy and the possible elimination of nearly a dozen crossing guard locations, she questioned if the proposed policy supports student safety.

Jessica Mortinger, transportation planning manager for the city of Lawrence, answered questions from the board. Mortinger said the goal of the MOU is to bring together the formal group and begin forming relationships.

Mortinger said the parties could work together on the language of the MOU.

Board president Kelly Jones said she valued the work of the Safe Routes to Schools plan for the safety of students and higher quality of life for Lawrencians.

“I think we can come to an agreement after we just look at these specific areas and discuss them further and see where you guys are at and where we are at,” Jones told Mortinger.

↪️  Motion to table the issue passed, 7-0.

The board met in separate executive sessions (meaning in private) to discuss personnel matters and negotiations for a fair and equitable contract. No action followed either session.

Below are some other noteworthy items from the consent agenda. Items on the consent agenda are considered altogether in one vote unless a board member or the superintendent requests that an item be removed and voted on separately.

The board approved the launch of “flex mod” scheduling at Free State High School for the 2021-2022 school year.

Context: 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. Flexible modular scheduling gives students options of additional study time and choices for activities by breaking up school days into smaller time periods, according to a presentation about redesign during the April 26 board meeting.

The board approved a contract with BG Consultants to start engineering a construction plan at Liberty Memorial Central Middle School.

↪ Context: LMCMS administration has identified the area between the school and 14th Street as an area of concern for student safety. The plan will make modifications to the pick-up area in the parking lot on the north side of the building. The board also approved use of donation funds from the Durham Family Fund for the engineering and permitting of the project. Construction costs for the project and bids would come back to the board for later approval and would also be paid with Durham Family donation funds.

↪️  Passed on consent agenda, 7-0.

Other notes:

The board approved a personnel report as part of the consent agenda that included the following:

  • The resignations of Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield, Lawrence High School Assistant Principal and Athletic Director Nick Wood, Virtual Education and Lawrence Virtual School Director Monte Westfall, and Cordley Elementary principal Scott Cinnamon, who are leaving their positions June 30. According to separate news releases from the school district, Stubblefield will fill the superintendent role at Kansas City Kansas Public Schools; Wood plans to devote more time to his family, and LHS will begin a search immediately to fill the position; Westfall plans to pursue other professional opportunities while Superintendent Anthony Lewis works with the executive leadership team “to evaluate how best to fill the position … given that it is late in the hiring season”; and Cinnamon plans to pursue other professional opportunities.
  • The appointment of Rebecca Reaver as interim principal at Cordley Elementary effective July 1. According to a news release, Reaver is a fifth-grade teacher at Cordley and has worked in Lawrence Public Schools for 20 years.
  • The appointment of Kathryn Branson as interim principal of West Middle School effective July 1. Branson will replace Brad Kempf, who has accepted an interim assistant superintendent position with Emporia Public Schools. According to a news release, Branson has worked at WMS for 28 years, serving as assistant principal and athletic director for the last nine.

Lewis said the district is aware of the online petition by current and former Lawrence Boys & Girls Club staffers regarding concerns about pay, student-teacher ratios, training, safety and equity, which the Times reported last week. Lewis said the organization is actively investigating the issues. “The district is confident that any action the investigation finds necessary will be taken,” Lewis said.

Lewis acknowledged June as Pride month. “Lawrence Public Schools is a diverse community of learners committed to maintaining safe and inclusive schools for members of the LGBTQ+ community. So to all of our staff and families, we see you and we appreciate you,” Lewis said.

Lewis said the district learned today that its grant application for Elementary and Secondary Emergency Relief funds, known as ESSER II, was approved by the state. The grant will provide funding in response to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, June 28. Find the board meeting agenda and related documents here. Watch the live board meeting via livestream here or tune in to Midco Channel 26.

Email before 5 p.m. June 28 to sign up to share public comments in person or remotely via WebEx.

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