Lawrence school board leader concerned after hearing report on marginalized students

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Board also approves 2023 legislative priorities

The Lawrence school board vice president on Monday raised concerns that Native students are being left behind after the board heard a report on disparities among marginalized groups of students.

The report reviewed initiatives the district has adopted to close opportunity gaps and the outcomes of those efforts over the past year. Seven administrators presented their findings during the meeting.


Cynthia Johnson, executive director of inclusion, engagement and belonging, said the team analyzed performance data from the 2022 Kansas Assessment Program (KAP) to define and target “marginalized students” in the district.

“We went back to our KAP data,” Johnson said. 

KAP defines scoring at Level 1 and 2 on state assessments as having limited and basic knowledge for postsecondary success, while students who score at Level 3 and 4 are deemed as having effective and excellent knowledge for postsecondary success, according to the report.

“We looked at our students that were at a Level 1 and 2, primarily, but also looking at the disparities as you go up to Levels 3 and 4 … Now that we have our SRSS-ie [Student Risk Screening Scale Internalizing and Externalizing Behaviors] data that we just received last week, schools are already digging in and going deeper, looking at those other characteristics or indicators, if you will, that impede students from being successful. And we’re using that definition as it relates in the equity policy.”

The district’s equity policy references “historically minoritized students &/or marginalized identities” as those with identities that have been “historically underserved and/or neglected” by the system of public education.

Board Vice President Paula Vann, a tribal member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, shared concerns that American Indian/Alaska Native students in particular are being left behind, as that was the only racial or ethnic group with zero students who scored a 4 on the 2022 KAP. No Native students scored at Level 4 on the English language arts assessment; only 0.8% of Native students scored a 4 on the math assessment, and 2.8% scored a 4 on the science assessment.

“I feel like I’ve been saying this for two and a half years now — that there just seems to be no visits to our intertribal clubs from our district to talk to those students [about] what those students need,” Vann said. “And the work shouldn’t all be placed on Native American Student Services. We also need to be intentional about reaching out to those students because they also matter, and this data to me looks like we’re ignoring that particular group. I would like to see some work around that.”

Johnson told Vann that the district is committed to meeting with affinity groups to exchange important information. In addition to Native students, African American students, students with disabilities, and ELL (English Language Learner) students were also represented substantially lower at Level 4 compared to other groups identified in the data.

Johnson also said the district is aiming to focus now more on actions rather than conversations alone.

“To the extent of asking more is asking to do things differently,” Johnson said. “We have spent a lot of years having conversations, and you can go back and look at the longitudinal data. We’ve made small gains. It’s time to do things differently and in a new way to make larger gains for our students. It is a professional obligation.”

District administration outlined instructional changes and supportive resources needed at each school level — elementary, middle and high school — to better serve marginalized students.

• Elementary schools: Jackie Mickel, lead elementary principal and principal of Langston Hughes Elementary School, shared that there are “too many” students scoring at Level 1 – many of whom are marginalized students – and “too few” students scoring at Level  4 – with a low number of marginalized students being represented.

Mickel also said it will be important to address behavior and mental health support, staffing challenges and large class sizes.

• Middle schools: Quentin Rials, lead middle school principal and principal of West Middle School, said his focus for the middle schools is to encourage marginalized students to take rigorous courses rather than lower expectations. He also explained the focus should be on catering to students’ different learning styles as well as identifying high risk students for behavior and mental health concerns first and foremost.

Board President Shannon Kimball said the Kansas Legislature has taken steps that are “making it harder for us to gather the information that we need to support our students academically because of the way that they have defined surveys and tests that they think ought to have more hurdles in front of them in order to give them to students.”

Rials agreed and added the board could possibly aid in that issue.

“We are able to have the teachers identify behaviors in students so that us as a building leadership team can collect the data and organize it, but what we lost the ability to do is have the students identify what issues they are having  … so getting that student input about how they’re doing in school — what issues that they’re having at home — so that we can address those is what has been limiting,” Rials said.


• High schools: Bill Dewitt, lead high school principal and principal of the College and Career Center and Academy, shared it would be helpful for teachers to observe each other and share instructional strategies across classrooms. 

Further support needed, he said, includes monthly family workshops to connect deeper with students and their support systems in addition to sharing assessment data directly with student affinity groups in the high schools – like the Black Student Union, Latin American Studies Student Organization, intertribal groups and more.

Kenny St. Pierre, Native American Student Services (NASS) coordinator, also shared updates regarding NASS, including the implementation of tutors at two middle schools and working toward academic support during school days.

Further support needed, St. Pierre said, includes partnerships with area colleges and universities to allow more opportunities for preparation of postsecondary success as well as conversing with Native American students and their families about their needs.

Additionally, district leadership showed data on attendance and behavioral issues, which were broken down by race or ethnicity, as well as restorative practices and mental health resources in place. When addressing behavioral issues, addressing students’ mental and emotional well-being comes first, Mental Health Coordinator Kiley Luckett said.

“One of the things I really wanna do is I want to change the way we are thinking about mental health,” Luckett said. “When we’re talking about behavior in schools, we’re talking about mental health. When we’re talking about attendance in schools, we’re talking about mental health. Mental health is intertwined just like our equity work is, and so focusing on that is a key part of what we’re doing as educators.”

The team will hope to provide the board with a recommendation based on its continued work on these goals no later than March 2023, Johnson said.

In other business:

• Legislative priorities: The board unanimously approved its 2023 legislative priorities for the upcoming session, centering mainly on funding of special education, funding for staff and teacher pay, and support of local control as well as additional asks.

The board began its discussion on the issue at its last meeting, where members agreed the upcoming legislative session will be an “assault on public education,” as one member described it.

Board member GR Gordon Ross said of Monday’s legislative priorities draft, “I thought it did a great job of incorporating the conversation that we had … I’m happy with the document as it stands.” Without further discussion, the legislative priorities were approved 5-0.

The board is scheduled to meet next at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. That will be “to receive an update on the Futures Planning Committee’s work as well as to have an executive session to meet with (Superintendent Anthony) Lewis and talk about a quarterly check-in for his superintendent evaluation,” Kimball said. 

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

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