Archive for Friday, April 2, 1999

COMMUNITY CONFERENCE SETS GOALS FOR DISTRICT

April 2, 1999

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Lawrence schools keep in touch with Futures Planning Conference goals.

It took a three-day intensive conference to get nearly 100 community and school leaders to closely examine the future of the Lawrence public schools.

Now, in the wake of the Futures Planning Conference, the real work begins.

"We have to make certain we stay on task," said Supt. Kathleen Williams.

Immediately following the conference, Williams and Sandee Crowther, director of evaluation and standards, put together a multimedia presentation for the public.

As part of the presentation they identified common goals that the conference participants chose as the top priorities for education in Lawrence.

Williams and others involved in the conference have wasted no time in working toward the goals set by the group.

Williams has already met with Karen Gallagher, dean of the School of Education at Kansas University. Part of the conference commitment was to build a stronger relationship between Lawrence public schools and local universities, including Haskell Indian Nations University, KU and Baker University.

Gallagher plans to use Williams and Crowther's presentation to show KU faculty what the conference included.

Gallagher participated in the conference and was so impressed that she and her staff are planning a Futures Planning Conference for the School of Education later this year.

"I thought it was a powerful process," she said. "The role of the School of Education in working with the schools was brought up a lot. We need the same kind of process to see how it fits together. We have a lot in common."

As many as 580 KU students observe, volunteer and student teach in Lawrence schools each year.

More alternatives

One part of the conference centered on the need for alternative programs for students who do not perform as well within a traditional classroom.

Special services director Doug Eicher has met with junior high principals and counselors from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center to talk about possible in-school programs at the junior high level.

"We're looking at crisis management, truancy and dropout," Eicher said. "We're looking at programs that work for students without having to remove them from school."

Alternative education programs are not new. The Lawrence Alternative High School offers regular classes and extra-curricular activities for a limited number of students who do not want to attend classes at either Lawrence High School or Free State High School. The idea of bringing the concept to younger students is new.

"We're trying to be real cautious as we explore this possibility," Williams said. "How can we best do this on-site?"

Eicher and counselors from Bert Nash are writing a federal grant request to help fund possible programs.

Staff's important role

Another goal of the conference was to hire and retain highly qualified staff.

"We want to recruit staff that reflects the ethnic and cultural background of our students," Williams said.

To do that, the Lawrence schools will have to remain competitive with surrounding districts, many of which offer a higher salary, according to Marcia Bond, director of human resources.

"We really are facing a teacher shortage," she said. "The competition to keep and recruit staff is tough."

While there are not specific plans yet to overcome the competition, offering signing bonuses -- as other districts have done for new teachers -- has been shot down in Lawrence contract negotiations in the past.

Concept of community

Perhaps the planning conference topic that received the most attention was the idea of comprehensive schools that contain facilities for lifelong learning, Williams said.

Williams has already met with city and county officials -- including City Manager Mike Wildgen, Assistant City Manager Rod Bremby, Mayor Marty Kennedy and County Commissioner Charles Jones -- to talk about expanded collaboration among the schools and county and city governments.

"We may talk about a redesign of the Free State High School pool," Williams said. "The city, county and (school) board meet quarterly, and the proposal now is to change that. We want to meet more often."

Computers coming

The final goal, increased technology, is also coming into play. In February, shortly after the Futures Planning Conference ended, Randy Weseman, assistant superintendent, attended a technology conference in Chicago.

"We're continuing to integrate technology into the curriculum," Weseman said after returning from the conference. "Specifically, multimedia instructional systems that are accessible to all students."

The school board has also approved funds for additional computers purchases, and a Gen Why grant is providing computer technology to students in the district's four junior high schools. The Gen Why program teaches junior high students the finer points of computer programs so that they can help teachers train other students.

"The wheels are turning," Williams said.

More meetings to discuss goals outlined at the conference are scheduled for this month.

-- JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is jwatson@ljworld.com.

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