Lawrence school board hears fresh ideas for boosting BIPOC staff recruitment, enrollment estimates 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:

Heard a human resources report on staff retention and recruitment, including data on staff race and ethnicity as well as efforts to increase diversity among certified teaching staff.

↪️ Context: According to a report in the agenda packet, 34% of the student body in Lawrence Public Schools identify as Black, Indigenous or People of Color, or more than one race. Multiracial students represent the largest category of non-white students at 11.3% with Hispanic students right behind. Among total staff, 85% are white.

In employment categories, classified staff’s racial demographics more closely match student diversity with BIPOC filling 23% of hourly positions, but a large gap exists between students and their teachers. A whopping 91% of the district’s certified teaching staff are white. 

Facilitator of Recruitment and Retention Kaitlin Shulman, a former teacher at Quail Run, discussed how race and representation matter in education. It can have a big impact on success, including building trust and relationships, Shulman said, but staff of color also benefit white students because they access new perspectives from people of color.

At the college level, teacher and staff recruitment is taking place in state at Washburn University, the University of Kansas, Emporia State University and Haskell Indian Nations University. Out-of-state recruitment is being conducted at the University of New Mexico, which has a high Hispanic student population, and Tennessee State University, a Historically Black College and University. Virtual career fairs will also be attended.

Director of Human Resources Ron May told the board paraprofessional openings, especially in the special education program, have been a hot topic. Some of the 45 openings the district has right now are filled with temporary workers, not necessarily vacant. “These are some things we’re trying to work on to turn around,” May told the board.

Sarah Hamlin, assistant director of human resources, told the board that creativity has come in handy during hiring challenges in this job market. Hamlin said they’re encouraging special education teams to think about how they’re grouping students and providing services, as well as encouraging student independence and staff collaboration so all students make progress toward their goals. If staffing impacts progress, COVID recovery services could be accessed, Hamlin said.

Board member Kelly Jones asked if the district was meeting federal requirements for students with Individual Education Plans and requested clarification of how COVID recovery services could be accessed if staffing was short.

Hamlin said there are different ways to provide those services through restructuring and creativity. One way might be summer services provided to meet goals that couldn’t be met during the school year.

“I’m a little concerned about that,” Jones said, noting that challenges in delivering special education services was a problem across the state, not just Lawrence. She recommended staff keep communication open with families in order to meet student goals while remaining in compliance and ensuring safety.

May mentioned some creative ways the district has been experimenting to fill positions for paraprofessionals, student attendants, food services and other hourly positions. He said one new idea has been to have paras clock in with First Student — the district’s provider of transportation — and accompany students on their bus rides, which is otherwise a student attendant’s job duty. Another suggestion was recruiting bus drivers to work in food service positions between morning and afternoon routes.

Internally, Shulman said, retention efforts are focusing on professional development and ways to help boost recognition of staff so they feel valued. Other strategies she shared included listening programs where current employees can voice areas needing improvement, the advent of a recruitment team, the recently board-approved retention payment plan and the possible implementation of a monetary incentive referral program for hard-to-fill hourly positions.

Among retention data provided for the previous three academic years, administrators were the only employment category spanning the school years affected by the COVID-19 pandemic where retention improved. Some good news on the hiring front: 15 classified staff members moved to certified teaching positions this academic year.

Heard preliminary enrollment counts from Superintendent Anthony Lewis for the 2021-2022 school year.

↪️ Context: Enrollment helps determine funding, so the district hoped to gain back students who transferred outside the district during the COVID-19 pandemic. Estimates from the Sept. 20 state headcount show enrollment is up by 73 students at elementaries, 81 at middle schools and nine at high schools. Enrollment at Lawrence Virtual School decreased by 410 students, Lewis said. Although those estimates show a 25% return from students the district lost, he said, the district fell short of its goal of gaining back 50% of them.

Approved a change to high school diploma requirements for the class of 2022 by reducing the number of elective credits by two.

↪️ Context: The temporary change reduced the total of required credits from 23 to 21 and will sunset at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year. A memo in the agenda packet cites the COVID-19 pandemic causing “dramatic change in terms of school schedules, delivery of educational content, quarantining, and method of operating.” The change was also granted to the classes of 2020 and 2021.

↪️ Passed on consent agenda 6-0. Board member Melissa Johnson did not attend the meeting.

Added unified bowling to the Kansas State High School Activities Association competitive sports menu for students.

↪️ Context: Special education students and peer-mentor students outside of the program comprise the unified bowling team. Lawrence High School is a Unified Champion School and already participated in unified bowling before KSHSAA recognized it as a sport. The team will compete within the Sunflower League and across the state this fall.

↪️ Passed 6-0 on consent agenda.

Other notes:

• The board recognized Lawrence High School seniors for their achievement on the PSAT and/or AP exams. The College Board has named Diego Klish a National Hispanic Recognition Program Scholar and Sofia Thomas a National African American Recognition Program Scholar. Find an article about their recognition here.

• A video by LHS students highlighting the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Health Leadership Academy was played. The mentorship program invites high school juniors and seniors to get a boost in careers in health, medicine and biosciences while participating in a paid internship. Admission preferences are given to candidates whose race or ethnicity has been underrepresented in the healthcare profession and those from low-income backgrounds. Students who helped produce the video are Zachary Mička, Sam Mička, Jamari Smith, Reed Parker-Timms and Ryan Hardie. Access the video at this link.

• Ben Wilkerson participated tonight as the student board member.

• Board president Erica Hill has received the Don Volker Leadership Award. Volker helped establish the Leadership Lawrence program.

• Board member GR Gordon-Ross said negotiations with Personnel Association of Lawrence – Communications Workers of America for a contract for classified staff should be nearing to a close. “We’re very close to getting a contract with them. We have another meeting scheduled for tomorrow.”

• Lewis talked about recent changes to COVID-19 prevention measures, including the addition of a testing program for asymptomatic students and staff who might have been exposed to the virus at school to “test out” of 10-day quarantines.

• Lewis said the recent vandalism and theft of property during participation in TikTok challenges is disappointing. “To all of our scholars I will say, ‘We are better than this,’” he said.

• The board met privately during three executive sessions. At the top of the agenda, the board discussed safety measures and the security of district buildings while adhering to the Kansas Open Meetings Act. Two executive sessions at the end of the agenda were to discuss personnel matters of non-elected personnel and contract negotiations.

• A ribbon cutting and celebration for renovations done at LHS will take place at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9. Tours of the school are scheduled for 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. Performances by student groups and prize drawings will also be part of the celebration.

The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 11. 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. Oct. 11 to sign up to share public comments in person or remotely via WebEx.


Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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