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Many of us agree that public schools have evolved into daycare to allow parents to be free to go to work while students get academic work done, get fed, monitored, mentored, seek mental health support and more. Our teachers and school workers wear many hats these days, and in modern society, schools are a big part of the proverbial “village” that it takes to raise a child.
The ways our local public schools are restructuring and evolving can seem scary on the surface, but we have everything we need to support the changes that are coming. We have so many great resources to draw from in our community, and with some thoughtful adjustments, we can gracefully rise to conquer the coming challenges together.
Imagine if USD 497 adopts the proposal to move to a four-day school week (imagine the rest of this article is written in all capital letters to yell and be heard over the roar of “yay” from the kids, lol) while also closing some school buildings to reduce costs. Of course, the school board can restructure how it puts students in front of teachers and how it economically uses its buildings.
Maybe year-round school will allow us to reduce student-to-teacher ratios — and spread out school breaks, while we’re at it. We are not a farming community anymore, so why hang on to the old-fashioned academic schedule that was created to allow for children to be free to work on the family farm?
But the school restructuring being proposed gives us the opportunity to consider wider changes in all the ways that we use the resources controlled by or available to the school board.
We have a (free!) city bus system to help move people where they need to go around the city. Why not use it more? The schools could stay open longer during the day to allow for the slower pace of using public transportation, or could somehow be flexible about how they count attendance hours for state and federal requirements.
For example, time spent in a library or museum or playing sports could count academically as school-sanctioned independent study. Students could come and go at times that work for them, and parents and caregivers would regain time spent driving their children around town, which would reduce traffic and shrink after-school car pickup lines. A policy and resource shift like this would address transportation issues that we will soon face when public school choice policies change in Kansas.
Programs such as the Boys and Girls Club, Lawrence Parks and Rec and perhaps some new types of private businesses could fill in childcare needs. Our city library, museums, and rec centers could restructure to gear up for an increased number of visitors coming to their establishments and offer new types of programs. Restaurants would benefit from more customers and perhaps a more even flow of business, instead of the current sparse weekdays and overfilled weekend days.
We could pay for it with creative accounting and documentation, at the school and school board level and in our city organizations. Also, Lawrence is past due for donation checks or civic projects sponsored by our wealthiest residents. For example, community local mega-developer Doug Compton could fund a project to convert empty school buildings into childcare facilities, and pay to staff them. Or, KU coach Bill Self could use the proceeds from his multimillon-dollar lifetime contract to create or fund a community cafeteria program that provides or pays restaurants to feed teenagers lunch.
As the school board considers fundamental changes in the school schedule and building usage, this is a moment of great opportunity. As the ways of the new world awaken here in lovely Lawrence, we must stay focused on our gifts, talents, and resources to work together to prepare, adjust, make space for and welcome the future.
— Tresa McAlhaney is a Lawrence Times board member and parent, caregiver, teacher, mentor, and activist who is passionate about building a new world that supports and nurtures people and our environment. During the green seasons, you might see her outside harvesting medicinal herbs, and she probably knows of a plant friend that can help you, if you’re ever looking for one. Connect with her for parent, relationship, or personal mentoring at tauntiecoaching (at) gmail (dot) com.
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