Lawrence school board recognizes winners of Juneteenth essay contest and more

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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.

Key points — the board:

Recognized the winners of the Lawrence Juneteenth “Good Trouble” essay contest.

↪ Context: Over the summer, students submitted essays for the contest, which was held virtually June 19 in conjunction with Juneteenth celebrations. Janine Colter, president of the Lawrence KS Juneteenth Organization, described the students’ essays as “truly amazing.” The theme of the contest, “Good Trouble,” honored the late United States Senator and civil rights pioneer John Lewis. “I’m honored to be here tonight to listen to them again.”

Third place winner and Lawrence High sophomore Mahaya Strahle delivered an essay titled, “Good Trouble.” “There is no age limit on good trouble.” Strahle highlighted the ways Lewis dedicated his life to the civil rights movement and engaged in “the kind of trouble you could be proud of.” Strahle mentioned Lewis’ service as a Freedom Rider who was arrested 40 times. “Fear should not get in the way of speaking up for what’s right, for it’s necessary to speak your mind, to speak your truth, to break the rules, to get in good trouble.”

In second place winner Yejun Yun’s essay, “The Necessity of Peaceful Protest,” Yun said reflecting on Lewis’ life taught a powerful lesson. “I am obligated to get into good trouble, not as something to be done when I have free energy or time but as a necessary task to better the world.” Fighting oppression with nonviolent means is necessary for “the health of society,” Yun said. The Free State High School sophomore added this about good trouble: “It is a sign problems are being fixed.”

The first place contest winner, Becca Craft, attends FSHS as a sophomore. Craft named examples of People of Color killed by police and others whose lives were impacted by implicit bias, wrongful convictions, racism and gun violence. “Good trouble. The type of trouble that led to the desegregation of schools and restaurants. Good trouble. The backbone behind the civil rights movement. Good trouble. The very thing that formed this country on the grounds of freedom and justice for all. So many people are still fighting for freedom, for justice, and good trouble is being implemented yet again.”

Superintendent Anthony Lewis congratulated the winners for their messages and for the self-motivation required to write the essays during summer break. “I’m super proud of you. You make me proud, you make this district proud and I can tell you our future is really in good hands.”

The full essays can be accessed in the meeting video below at the 11:30 mark.

Approved the construction of an accessible permaculture garden at FSHS.

↪ Context: In 2020, students at FSHS created a permaculture garden proposal. Permaculture is a sustainable method of agriculture “that listens to the land instead of imposing on it,” according to the proposal in the agenda packet developed by Hannah Au Yeong, Iris Dunn, Bryn Perrins, Maya Sabatini, Chloe Stafre and Ethan Wood. 

Board member Shannon Kimball requested the item be pulled from the consent agenda and discussed separately.

“I really appreciate the energy and enthusiasm from the students. They have put a lot of time and effort into research and planning,” noting there had been some “bumps along the way” with the permit process.

Kimball requested the motion include the acceptance of donated materials and labor from Evergy and that storage shed access for gardening tools would be reviewed by Facilities and Operations at a later date.

↪️  Passed, 7-0. 

Added volleyball and football to 7th grade sports at the four district middle schools.

↪ Context: The school board removed 7th grade basketball and volleyball in the 2002-2003 school year due to budget cuts. The board voted at its June 10, 2019, meeting to reinstate 7th grade basketball for girls and boys and add cross-country for 7th and 8th graders in the 2019-2020 school year.

When the district made plans this school year to add 7th grade football to middle school sports, Southwest Middle School teacher and coach Kristin Mallory lobbied district administrators to also extend volleyball opportunities to 7th grade girls. She met with district officials to make her case. If interest and participation follows, the football and volleyball programs will incur no additional cost and use existing allocations. 

In a post to her followers on Twitter on Wednesday, Mallory said, “I am thrilled that (the district) made the decision to move forward with the addition of 7th grade (volleyball) for this year. I believe strongly that many individuals/administrators worked hard to make this happen and I am thankful for their vision and commitment to our students. #girlpower”

↪️  Passed, 7-0 on consent agenda.

Heard a report on instructional methods the district is using to meet strategic initiatives related to student-centered learning from Leah Wisdom, director of instruction and professional development.

↪ Context: In the district’s strategic plan, student-centered learning focuses on meeting students’ unique academic, social, emotional and behavioral needs while decreasing barriers to college and career readiness from preschool through high school graduation.

To deliver instruction, the district uses the Comprehensive Integrated Three-Tiered Model of Prevention — or Ci3T — a familiar acronym but somewhat vague concept to district parents and guardians. Higher tiers require more intensive support. Most instruction and support for students — about 80% — takes place in Tier 1, where the goal is to meet academic, social-emotional and behavioral needs in the classroom or schoolwide settings. Tier 2 involves about 15% of instructional support for groups of students at risk. And Tier 3 is geared toward the highest level of individual students at risk and involves only 5% of instructional support. 

Wisdom said the intent of the three-tiered framework is to ensure equity and access to all students in the district. Engaging in high quality professional learning and growth also comprises the framework. Wisdom shared with the board how the district is implementing strategies for instruction that work best for students and fulfill educators’ needs.

Board member Carole Cadue-Blackwood asked Wisdom to provide some creative examples of effective strategies for engaging students shared among teachers collaborating in the district. Wisdom cited activities such as Socratic seminars or “philosophical chairs” that encourage students to participate.

Other notes:

• Three classified staff members spoke during public commentary in support of a living wage. The recognized bargaining unit for district hourly employees, Personnel Association of Lawrence – Communications Workers of America is still negotiating its contract with the board for this school year.

• Lewis gave the board a briefing on the Summer Learning Extension sessions, which were held in August before the official start of school. Supported with COVID-19 relief funds, the sessions offered small groups of students an opportunity to rebuild their relationships and school connections before the school year. 

Lewis added that the district has begun the process of applying for another round of COVID-19 relief funds and will be polling the community and school district stakeholders with a ThoughtExchange. The district will ask what priorities it should consider in planning for COVID-19 relief funds to support the improvement of student achievement and success and to maintain safe learning environments for all students and staff.

• Board member Kelly Jones asked Lewis to provide a future update to the board on how staffing issues in the district are affecting special education. Jones also asked for a technology update for the Lawrence Virtual School and the reasoning behind its recent move from Zoom to WebEx conferencing tools.

• The meeting included an executive session where the board met in private to discuss negotiations for a fair and equitable contract. No vote followed.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13. 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 6 p.m. Sept. 13 to sign up to share public comments in person or remotely via WebEx.

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