Lawrence school board to consider new high school graduation requirements

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The Lawrence school board on Monday will consider approving new high school graduation requirements that would add a required STEM credit and a financial planning course.

The report was on the board’s agenda for Jan. 8, but board President Kelly Jones decided before the meeting started to delay the report because of worsening weather conditions. (The meeting was ultimately cut even shorter after a reported bomb threat.)

New graduation requirements created by a state task force and approved in November 2022 by the Kansas State Board of Education will go into effect with the Class of 2028 — students who will start as freshmen in August. It’ll mark the first shift in graduation requirements across the state in almost 20 years. 

Local school boards were charged with establishing their own policies that enforce KSBE’s minimum requirements. They can increase the number of units of credit required for graduation or add requirements as long as those minimums are met. 

The Lawrence school district currently requires graduating students to complete 4 units of English language arts, 3 units of math, 3 units of science, 3 units of history and government, 1 unit of fine arts, 1 unit of physical education and 8 units of electives. For graduating classes that attended high school amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the district had reduced requirements to 6 units of electives, on par with what the state required.

Statewide, the ELA requirement will become Communications, with 3.5 units of ELA and .5 units of communications classes such as speech, debate, forensics, journalism or public speaking required. Lawrence administrators are recommending the district follow suit, and possible classes to fulfill the .5 communications credit also include acting or video production.

The state is requiring students to take .5 unit of financial literacy courses. Lawrence administrators recommend adding that course for juniors beginning with the Class of 2028.

The state is also adding 1 required unit of a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering or Math) elective. Lawrence administrators are recommending the same.

If approved, the district will also add Career and Postsecondary Planning as a .5-credit required course for freshmen. It would focus on time management, planning, career awareness, digital literacy and more.

The state will also add the requirement of two “postsecondary assets,” and the completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as requirements for high schoolers to graduate from the district. The two postsecondary assets could be achieved with youth apprenticeships, community service hours, industry-recognized certifications, an ACT composite score of 21 or higher, nine or more college hours, senior projects or exit interviews, and several others.

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Completing the FAFSA is also a new requirement; however, students and families will be able to opt out.

Administrators on Monday will share a presentation with board members that will show the steps administrators took to develop their recommendation, according to the agenda, including collaborating with high school building leadership teams and site councils. 

They also took into account feedback from community focus groups about post-graduation success that they hosted in early November. According to a district report from the sessions, participants said communication, self-regulation, perseverance and critical thinking are the top skills students need after graduation. Additionally, they said graduating students should have work experience, civic engagement, mentorship and life skills courses.

View the report from the community focus groups attached to the agenda item on BoardDocs. Monday’s presentation on graduation requirements is also attached to the agenda item.

In other business

• Memorandum of understanding with Bert Nash: Additionally, the board will hear a report and consider approving an updated MOU between the district and Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center. 

The district in recent years has partnered with Bert Nash to support the WRAP Program, which stands for Wellness, Resources, Access and Prevention (previously “Working to Recognize Alternative Possibilities”). Bert Nash provides the district with therapists and case managers to partner with students and their families in schools. 

According to the agenda item, the district has seen a surge in mental health needs. The district and Bert Nash created a joint statement discussing the urgency of the issue.

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“Our school district is witnessing a growing number of students struggling with a range of mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, trauma-related issues and behavioral disorders,” according to the agenda item. “Partnering with the Bert Nash Community Based Services holds immense promise in mitigating these barriers to learning and personal growth.”

WRAP services for students and their families include prevention, intervention, crisis responses, according to the MOU. Students who need ongoing WRAP services to support their mental health at school could be enrolled as Bert Nash clients.

See the MOU and statement attached to the agenda item on BoardDocs.

• Executive session: Monday’s meeting will begin with a 20-minute executive session, or closed-door meeting, to include Superintendent Anthony Lewis, Kansas Association of School Boards attorney Angie Stallbaumer, Executive Director of Human Resources Kristen Ryan, Executive Director of Inclusion, Engagement and Belonging Cynthia Johnson, and Lawrence High School Principal Quentin Rials. No action is set to follow.

The school board meeting is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 22 at district offices, 110 McDonald Drive. Meetings are open to the public, livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel, youtube.com/@USD497, and broadcast on Midco channel 26. Full meeting agendas are available on BoardDocs, go.boarddocs.com.

To give public comment during the board meeting, sign up before the meeting starts either in person or by emailing PublicComment@usd497.org. Commenters may request to participate by Webex video/phone conferencing.

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Note: This post has been corrected from a previous version.

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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Kaw Valley Almanac for April 22-28, 2024

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