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Lawrence school board approves PAL-CWA contract; hears update on behavior data, restorative practices and mental health services

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

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Key points the board:

• Approved district hourly workers’ first negotiated contract.

Context: In June, the school board voted unanimously to formally recognize PAL-CWA as the bargaining unit for classified employees. Negotiating teams for PAL-CWA and the school district came to a tentative agreement, and union membership approved it Oct. 20. It’s the union’s first contract on behalf of hourly employees, including paraprofessionals, custodians, secretaries, electricians, and maintenance and food service workers.

↪️ Passed on consent agenda 7-0.


• Heard a report on the portion of the district’s strategic plan related to safe and supportive schools. 

Context:  Cynthia Johnson, executive director of inclusion, engagement and belonging, cited challenges faced by the district, including mental, social, behavioral and emotional health needs, staffing shortages, and helping students transition to fully in-person learning and how the district has dealt with the challenges.

Johnson said an emphasis had been made on incorporating student voices this school year, citing the protests by high school students at the June 28 board meeting. The students demanded accountability for abusers and more protection for students and sexual assault survivors.

A group called Amplifying Student Voices was launched, Johnson said. “We’ve had multiple meetings since that time in June. We listened to what students were saying … but there were some things they wanted to see in place and they encouraged us to respond.” She noted that since then, the district’s sexual harassment policy had been revised and training for faculty and staff on sexual trauma and abuse had been instituted. Johnson said training was conducted last week for secondary staff, and elementary staff would be trained next.

Danica Moore, equity facilitator and coach, spoke about equity and inclusion work. Moore conducted microaggression workshops in October. And Kelly Walker, coordinator for Native American Student Services, shared activities NASS has implemented to support Indigenous students and their families. Walker said tutoring for NASS students is available from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Billy Mills Middle School cafeteria. Families can call NASS at 785-330-1607 for more information.

Jose Cornejo, mental health facilitator, presented information about the district’s mental health teams and provided an update on the recent decision by the city of Lawrence to discontinue WRAP (Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities) funding in the school district. Cornejo said the district would continue to collaborate with community partners and strive to ensure WRAP specialists — who work with students and provide therapeutic, skill-building, and supportive services — would continue working in six elementaries, all four middle schools and both high schools. 

“We’ve been assured that program is in place through the school year and Bert Nash is working diligently looking at what funding sources may be out there to continue offering that program not only to Lawrence but to Douglas County,” Cornejo said.

Rick Henry, director of secondary schools, focused on restorative practices and the district’s partnership with Kansas Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution (KIPCOR), which provides training to the school district. “Secondary schools are quickly transitioning to a restorative approach to student behavior. Just as a reminder, a definition, restorative practice is an alternative approach to the more traditional punitive discipline and school culture.”

Jennifer Georgie, student support facilitator at West Middle School, said restorative practices use community and harm circles to build relationships and connections and repair the same among students and staff.  “It’s not an easy task to change our mindset from traditional, punitive to restorative, so it has been a process but I see positive things happening in our middle schools.”

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Zachary Conrad, executive director of research, evaluation, accountability and technology, explained the process for collecting the behavior data presented, as well as the behavior incidents educators record. Examples might include academic misconduct, attendance issues, bullying, discrimination, fighting, theft, vandalism, weapons, sexual harassment, physical violence, threats and alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

The first quarter’s behavior data and breakdowns by race, Conrad said, should be viewed mainly as descriptive data rather than inferential data. “Although we want to look at this data and make some inferences about it, I would caution us for the most part, this is going to be descriptive data and seeing how it’s the first quarter data, it’s the first time we’re using this process.”

Using Broken Arrow Elementary as an example, 60 behavior incidents were recorded with 15 students involved. “What this chart does not show, but an important part of the narrative, is that of those 60 incidents that took place at Broken Arrow, 78% of those are made up by five students.”

Screenshot/USD 497 Behavior data for the first quarter of the 2021-2022 school year in Lawrence Public Schools

For out-of-school suspensions, Conrad said, the incident that justified OSS is not included on the report. “Those are data points we have and we follow up with, so we are able to look at those and follow up with administrators on what that looks like.”

Conrad said the district staff “dives down” in the data for equity analysis. “We want to make sure that, if both of those were consisting of fighting, that they got equal punishments, that there was not a disparity there.”

Board president Erica Hill asked Conrad if staff could supply the board with more detailed and specific data for comparison among groups.

Johnson said the district would be focusing on “drilling down,” disaggregating the data and analyzing the trends. “We want to also focus on identifying any gaps, any type of racial or equity disparities.”


• Approved distribution of net proceeds from the sale of memorabilia pieces of the Lawrence High School basketball court among 27 athletic teams and activities. 

Context: During the board’s Sept. 13 meeting, board members raised equity and Title IX concerns should the entirety of the fundraiser go to the LHS boys basketball team as originally proposed. The board asked LHS administrators to return with a revised proposal in compliance with the district’s equity policies and federal Title IX requirements. Sales have already taken place and the district will distribute $6,500 equally among 27 groups, or about $250 per program.

↪️ Passed on consent agenda 7-0.


• Met privately in executive session for 15 minutes to discuss the evaluation of Superintendent Anthony Lewis. 

Context: The board is required to conduct an annual evaluation of the superintendent by Feb. 15 but also holds quarterly evaluation check-ins with Lewis. 


Other notes:

Six members of the public shared comments about mask mandates and COVID-19 vaccinations. Two Lawrence police officers stood in the back of the room during the entirety of the board meeting.


The board’s next regular meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 8. 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 patroncommentary@usd497.org before 6 p.m. Nov. 8 to sign up to share public comments in person or remotely via WebEx.

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— Tricia Masenthin (she/her), reporter, can be reached via email at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com.

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