One thing that Lawrence school officials definitely are not this year is bored.
As if hiring a new superintendent weren't enough to keep them busy, the district also is planning new schools to handle a growing enrollment, trying to determine technology's niche in education and participating in a program that completely overhauls the way schools are accredited.
The district first learned of one of those challenges in February, when Lawrence School Supt. Dan Neuenswander announced he will become superintendent of the Pittsburg school district. Although the local school board is expected to hire a replacement this month, Board President Mary Loveland said the job has not been an easy one.
"I'VE ALWAYS described myself as someone who doesn't back off from a challenge, but in this case I think I almost met my match," she said.
On the other hand, Loveland said, "The positive aspect of the superintendent search is that it makes you stand back and look at what's in the district and in the community that would attract a candidate. It forces you to look at the importance of programs in the district that you think have been valuable."
Board member John Tacha is one person who thinks Neuenswander has left the district in excellent shape for his successor.
"The legacy that Dan's leaving us is an advantage," Tacha said.
He noted that under Neuenswander's leadership, the position of director of student outcomes was created to coordinate the district's move toward "outcomes-based" education. Tacha said that thanks to that move, the new superintendent won't be entirely responsible for the large-scale effort and will be able to "spend more time in the community telling our district's story."
AS PART of a commitment to outcomes-based education, the district this school year became one of 50 districts statewide to pilot Quality Performance Accreditation, the state's new accreditation program. Unlike traditional accreditation that looks at "inputs" such as the number of books in the library and the equipment available in science labs QPA determines a school's accreditation based on student performance.
In addition to achieving student outcomes established by the state, the district will work to achieve a set of outcomes that a Lawrence school panel developed in January.
Loveland said the goal is to spell out what students should be able to do at each grade level and before graduation.
"That represents a commitment to providing 100 percent of the time the skilled and knowledgeable graduates that the community expects from Lawrence public schools," she said.
TACHA ADDED that if students have not achieved the outcomes for their grade level by summer, they might have their school year extended until they do meet the outcomes.
"I think that will help us make sure kids don't slip through the cracks," Tacha said.
The district is looking not only to new programs to improve what it offers students. Bricks and mortar also are being discussed as the district fills its buildings.
The Commission on Mid-Level and High School Education, which has been studying secondary school space needs, and the Elementary School Facility Task Force, which is looking at grade school space needs, are expected to make recommendations to the school board within the next two months.
Board member Tom Murray, who also is vice chairman of the secondary school group, said, "We have substantial facilities needs in the school district, from the grade school up through the high school. Because of that, we need to be very sensitive to how much money we spend."
ONE GROUP working to help the district spend money wisely is the 38-member Technology Committee, which was formed this school year to look at how computers and other technology should be employed in education. The committee is expected to make preliminary recommendations to the board this month.
"We have to take our students and our district into the technology of the '90s and beyond," Loveland said.
Although basic skills in the areas of reading, math and writing will remain important, "We need to prepare children for the world they'll meet when they leave school," she said.
While district officials obviously have their hands full with such things as building issues, outcomes-based education and deciding how to use technology, "Hopefully, we can put all these things together and formulate a long-range plan," Tacha said.