Lawrence school board candidate Tyler Palmer live chat
March 23, 2011
This chat has already taken place. Read the transcript below.
Lawrence school board candidate Tyler Palmer will chat live with LJWorld.com users Wednesday, March 23 at 1 p.m. Submit your question in advance below.
Hello everyone. We're just a few minutes away from our online chat with Tyler Palmer, candidate for Lawrence school board. There's still time to submit questions ahead of time, and we'll be taking questions during the chat itself...
Hello again, everyone. I'm Mark Fagan, schools reporter for LJWorld.com and the Journal-World, and I'm moderator for today's chat with Tyler Palmer, one of nine people campaigning for four seats on the Lawrence school board.
He plans to be with us for an hour, answering your questions online.
The general election is April 5.
Thanks for coming in to The News Center today, Tyler...
Hi Mark. Hi Internets. Thanks for having me over for a chat.
Now we'll get to our first question, one that's been asked in each and every chat we've had so far with the eight other candidates...
What are your views regarding a STEM program in schools? How would you go about implementing such a program into the schools?
And for folks following the chat: STEM is short for science, technology, engineering and math.
As you might imagine from my background in psychology, pre-medicine, and computer science, I'm a bit of a fan of STEM. The STEM subjects are some of the most fundamental and important areas of education in modern society and so many 21st century jobs require individuals to be well-versed in these areas.
I would love to see a lot more implementation of STEM programs at earlier levels. Introducing kids to a rich curriculum of this type will not only give them a solid foundation to work from as they advance to higher grade levels, it will also make it easier for them to pick up the more advanced topics in later years after having seen them at at early age.
In order to implement such a program into the school in Lawrence, I would love to see the district partner with KU and take advantage of all the highly skilled students and faculty in these areas. I could easily see seminars and other offerings certainly at the middle school and high school level. At the elementary level, surely there are a multitude of opportunities for undergraduates and graduates to earn college credit for interning/participating in educating the students of Lawrence.
We have a ton of people in the community outside of the university as well that have the necessary skills to participate in such a program. I could see LEAP being able to provide a catalyst and conduit for this type of community/school interaction.
Here's a question that's come up often, in one form or another — and promises to continue to arise during the weeks and months ahead...
Do you support the Task Force recommendations including consolidating six school into four with major reconstruction?
Some background regarding the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force: The all-volunteer group, formed by the board, worked for more than eight months to come up with a vision for the district's elementary school sites and buildings, while recognizing both the community's vision and the district's limited resources... The task force eventually recommended closing one school next year — Wakarusa Valley School — and then recommended pursuing consolidation options for turning a list of six schools into either three or four within three to five years. Schools the task force recommended for consideration for consolidation: Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney and Sunset Hill.
While I applaud the work that the Task Force has performed and value the enormous amount of data and feedback they have generated, I currently see the recommendation as a starting point for the work the board has ahead of it.
Before we start closing schools and put together a bond issue, I would like to see the board produce a roadmap that allows the public to see the directions that we're proposing to take and the reasons and long-term benefits that would be gained, so that we can be sure that we get as large an amount of buy-in as possible to ensure that we can be successful with our long-term vision. I currently just don't think I can support "simply" closing schools without such preparation and planning being in place.
Having grown up being able to walk to the elementary schools and junior high I attended, I understand the huge benefit to the neighborhoods of walkable schools. This is especially true when we take into consideration some of the socio-economic and community issues involved. Closing schools, breaking up those existing school communities, and dispersing them to other schools in the district would certainly cause some strain in the community. Those segments of our population that are less fortunate and have chosen to live where they do because of the benefits provided by proximity to a school would likely be further disadvantaged by the closing process. As we continue to look at drawing in additional folks to our community, new families will certainly be looking for neighborhoods that have schools instead of neighborhoods that used to have schools.
In regard to consolidation, if we put in the time and effort to do the planning necessary and involved the families and other residents of the impacted areas, I might be able to support that kind of change. It builds new schools communities from the old, rather than just tearing down those that currently exist.
Where do you stand regarding Lawrence falling behind in benefits and pay to instructors?
I definitely believe we need to ensure that the district is not only fairly compensating our educators, but competitively compensating them. These are the folks that we're entrusting with educating our students for a substantial portion of the early lives and that will be laying down the educational building blocks that the students will need in order to be successful as they further they education and become productive members of society.
For such an important mission, I would think we would want to make sure we are attracting and retaining highly skilled and motivated individuals. Salary certainly makes up a large part of what will allow us to draw the kinds of talent to the district that we need to be successful, but let's not forget about other benefits that are critical as well.
Professional development is not just important for educators in order to retain licensure, it provides a way to introduce updated teaching methods into the classroom which will lead to further increases in achievement and better student learning. I agree with the Kansas Learning Network assessment and would like to see the district figure out a way to bring back the learning coaches that were lost in previous rounds of cuts, so that we can reinstate that benefit to our teachers.
In an previous response regarding the task force, you mentioned the need for a long-term vision. The task force took eight months to come up with its recommendations for elementary school facilities. How long would you expect the board to spend creating its long-term vision, and how, specifically, should the board seek out help forming that overall vision?
With all of the work of the Task Force available, the experience of the current board members, and the expertise available to us in district administration and our schools, I would expect the long-term vision to come together a lot more quickly than the process the Task Force went through. With the current budget conditions, it will be imperative for the board to work expediently, but also thoughtfully and deliberately in creating the necessary plans. If the board puts its collective nose to the grindstone, I would hope a substantial part of the plan could be put together before the new board is instated and that we could be well into the community-involvement part of the process before the fall.
In order to put such a plan together, I would like to see the board work together with district administration and some number of educators to create a framework and then use that framework to engage the community via interactions with the school site councils and perhaps a appropriate number of forums/working sessions that allows for wider participation. It is likely that with all the work that has come before, the data from the Task Force, and the general awareness that the community has for the situation, a general consensus will form in short order and we can move forward.
Another question that's come up in earlier chats:
What are your thoughts on how budget transparency can be achieved?
For the past month or so, I've been working my way through the budget information available via the district website as well as the information available from the State of Kansas through the KSDE site and it is not the most readable or understand batch of information I've ever come across in terms of being able to follow the dollars to determine specifically where the funds are being spent, so I can certainly understand the public's frustration with some of the transparency issues. The report put together by the district that introduced the Task Force to the district budget was pretty darn good and useful and I would encourage those interested to check that out as a primer.
To achieve greater transparency, the district and board can work to produce more straight-forward documentation and make it available on the district website. Such documentation would focus on translating important budget issues into a format that is understandable by the general public. There will always be certain aspects of the budget that are simply too complex to boil down into something easily digestible, but we can certainly do better than what is currently available.
Time for one more question... There's been talk among members of the current board of pursuing a bond issue to address needs in elementary schools. What would you support including in such a bond issue, if anything? Any thoughts on whether a bond issue would pass or fail?
If you read through the Task Force physical condition report, the district facilities certainly have some things that need to be addressed to ensure that students have a safe, healthy, supportive environment in which to learn. The report specifically mentions some issues surrounding natural lighting and the benefits to learning that having a sufficient amount of such lighting can produce.
If the board is going to put together a bond issue, I would definitely like to see the needs addressed in that physical condition report taken care of (eg elimination of all portable [which will be made much easier by the shifts of 6th graders to the middle schools], rehabilitation of aged restrooms, plumbing, etc). If we have facilities that can not be sufficiently rehabilitated to provide long-term sustainability, those facilities may need to be considered as part of any consolidation process that is undertaken. The consolidation process itself is likely to require inclusions in the bond for substantial remodeling of an existing facility, or two, or the construction of entirely new facilities.
Whether a bond issue can pass, it appears that the most significant obstacle would be botching the closure/consolidation process. If not handled in a respectful and inclusive manner, the ill will generated by an acrimonious process would certainly doom a bond issue to failure.
Well, that's all our time for today.
Thanks to Tyler Palmer for connecting with us — and, in his words, the "Internets" — this afternoon, to close out our series of chats with candidates for Lawrence school board...
Thanks Mark. Thanks to the online community. It was great to be here. If anyone would like further information, you can find me at http://pfsb.blogspot.com where I have posted my answers to all of the various questionnaires that I've received as well as other information. I can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Education is critically important to the students and the community, so make sure to get out there and vote on April 5th. Advance voting is underway now at the county courthouse.
And many thanks to readers who have sent in questions, and who have been following our chats and other election coverage here online.
Transcripts from all nine completed chats are available for review, in case you need a refresher before heading out to vote.
Advance voting continues through noon April 4. The general election is April 5, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.