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Lawrence school district graduation rates have increased, accreditation report shows

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High school graduation rates in the Lawrence school district increased last year, adding onto its gradual improvement over the years, a new accreditation report states.

The outside accreditation report, which Lawrence school board on Monday voted unanimously to approve, assesses various aspects of the district, including social-emotional factors, kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study, high school graduation and postsecondary success.

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The district on Feb. 1 hosted the Kansas Education Systems Accreditation (KESA) Outside Visitation Team (OVT) as part of its required annual accreditation process. The OVT then provides a written report to the Kansas State Department of Education and the Accreditation Review Council.

Chief Academic Officer Patrick Kelly predicted during Monday’s school board meeting that the final result will be given to the district in a couple months, and he said he’s confident that the district will once again be accredited.

According to the OVT report, the Lawrence school district is overall achieving well. High school graduation rates have remained the same or increased since 2016, improving 5.4 percentage points from 2021 to 2022.

Though graduation rates amongst each racial subgroup of students have increased from 2021 to 2022, disparities across racial groups persist, board Vice President Paula Vann said. 

“My concern is that when we are pushing students out the door that they are not necessarily where they need to be,” Vann said. “I just want to be mindful of that — that when we’re highlighting it, just to talk a little bit about those student achievements and where students, just as a reminder so it’s constantly on the board’s front mind. For me, I would like to hear how that correlates with the graduation rates and what that looks like for students walking out the door.”

This chart from the report shows graduation rates from the last five years, including racial breakdowns: 

USD 497

The report also said community partnerships, student programs and initiatives, equity and inclusion work and other aspects are strong points for the district. Kelly said the district is doing “outstanding” equity work and is surpassing other districts in Kansas. The district adopted an equity policy in 2021.

“Our OVT team is very impressed with our equity work,” Kelly said during the meeting. “Here in Lawrence, we think it’s what everybody should be doing. Outside of the district, it is not happening across the state, and I think we’re a model for many other districts on our equity work.”

Areas of improvement recommended by the OVT for the district include kindergarten readiness, individual plans of study, and the need to select a program for social-emotional learning. The district is currently in the process of purchasing Panorama Education and Educator Perceptions and Insights, which may help with that social emotional learning piece as the district will be able to survey students through the platform, Kelly said.

View the full report at this link and the summary of the report at this link.

In other business:

• Capital improvement plan: The board also approved the CIP with a 4-3 vote, with board members Shannon Kimball, Paula Vann, Erica Hill and GR Gordon Ross voting in favor and Kelly Jones, Kay Emerson and Carol Cadue-Blackwood opposed.  

Interim Chief Operations Officer Larry Englebrick and his colleagues presented an annual report on capital outlay expenditures during this year as well as the allocated budget for the three years to follow. The district’s capital outlay fund is primarily funded with tax revenues from the mill levy, or property taxes, which then fund the upkeep of school facilities.

Jones shared her reasoning for voting against the plan as the sole board member who voted against a recent budget decision to switch from Macbooks to iPads for high schoolers. The purchase of iPads is a project listed in the capital improvement plan.

“The iPad I find to be less functional, and I have concerns about its application within the classroom and the continuation of the digital divide,” Jones said during the meeting. “I am not going to vote in support of the capital outlay.”

View the capital outlay presentation included in Monday’s agenda at this link.

The board also approved a 2023-24 calendar with five-day student weeks and signed a resolution encouraging the Kansas Legislature to support adequate public school funding and not divert tax dollars to private schools. Read more about those agenda items at this link.

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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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