Lawrence School board candidates address their desires for achieving an equitable educational experience for all students.
Editor's note: This is the third in a five-part series of stories outlining the opinions of candidates about issues they will face if elected to the Lawrence school board. The seven candidates are vying for four positions. Six of the seven are new to the school board arena. Elections will be held April 6.
By JL Watson
Junior high students at all four Lawrence junior high schools can participate in track and physical education, but Central Junior High students are at a distinct disadvantage. While their peers run laps around tracks, the CJHS students run on grass and cement near a fence at the school. The school does not have a track.
With the advancement of technology all schools in the district are equipped with computers. But while some, like West Junior High, have active computer clubs, others, like Grant School, have computer equipment but no clubs.
Students at Lawrence High School have an auto mechanics class, but no such facility was provided on-site for Free State High School students. Free State students who want to take the class must drive across town to LHS to learn how to repair cars.
The list of inequities goes on, and while it's impossible to create cookie-cutter schools that look and function exactly alike, administrators and school board members struggle with the issue of equity when it comes to materials and programs available to students.
"Equity is an ongoing process," Assistant Supt. Randy Wesemen said. "We have an equity council that meets and examines how the district is doing. We have different staffing ratios for schools based on their incidence of students on free or reduced lunch."
The Journal-World asked school board candidates how they would ensure students an equitable educational experience in the Lawrence district.
Before a solution can be reached, the key areas of inequity must be identified, school board candidate Cille King said.
"We need to figure out what the most severe deficiencies are," she said. "I've been talking to a lot of South (Junior High) parents. They're concerned about the auditorium, the music room and the security in the hallways. Teachers can't even see what's happening around the corner.
"We need to take another look at the way things are and what it would cost to do the improvements that are most needed."
Funding for the additional improvements could come through another bond issue, King said.
"I would support another bond issue to get those improvements, but I'm not sure the public would," she said.
Morgan is looking for equality from Lawrence students.
But that doesn't mean their educational experiences will mirror one another.
"It's important to realize that equality is the goal, but not sameness," Morgan said.
"I get tired of hearing big schools say that smaller schools have more individualized attention and smaller schools that say bigger schools have newer equipment. Everyone is sure that someone else is getting a better deal."
While inequities need to be remedied, Morgan said, no two schools will ever look alike.
"We need to identify what we want kids to achieve and what resources we need to have for them to achieve that," he said. "It's up to the board to make that clear. Some inequities are based on perceptions, so we should be fair, we should be equitable but not demand sameness."
Carmela Sibley wants more time to study the issue of equity.
"First of all I want to see a needs study of where things are not as they should be," she said. "At Central Junior High there is not enough space.
"Is there a possibility of getting land in that area for a new Central (Junior High) and use the building for another purpose, perhaps an Alternative High School expanded program?"
Schools do not need to be identical to be equitable, Sibley said.
"We have children with different needs," she said. "We should look into specialized schools, not exactly a magnet school. One of the things I really want to see is early foreign language. In today's world it's very important. That should start in early elementary. I think Spanish should be the first foreign language students learn. Once they've mastered that by sixth grade, a third language is easy to pick up."
John P. "Jack" Davidson
The professor in retired KU professor Jack Davidson wants to examine the finer points of equity within the district.
"It's a question of people wanting it," Davidson said. "There is a tendency, which I disagree with, to put an emphasis on college prep work only. We need as much emphasis on those students not planning to go to college."
When it comes to technological advances, all students need equal access to the latest equipment, Davidson said.
"All schools must be hard-wired," he said. "I was recently at East Heights and they had 20 new computers setting there. We have to move on down the line with librarians, teachers and students."
Dividing schools, as was the case when Lawrence High School lost students to the newly opened Free State High School in 1997-98, creates inequities at the outset, Davidson said.
"It's like with football," he said. "You have two smaller teams instead of one super football team."
Resources aside, the board must remain focused on the real equity issues, Davidson said.
"We must always remember that children are children," he said. "Just because they live on the east side, their future shouldn't be any different than those on the west side. We have to be mindful of that."
For Loveland, who has been a board member for 12 years, the issue of equity is not a new one.
The answer is to constantly look for new solutions to existing predicaments.
"I suspect, for one thing, we'll pay close attention to the recommendations of the curriculum audit committee," she said. "When you're talking about Central Junior High I would look in the classifieds all the time or drive around that part of town looking for a piece of property big enough for a track.''
When the Pence Nursery went out of business several years ago, Loveland said, she thought the land would work well for a track and looked into the idea, only to find out that the piece of property was too small.
"Our ability to undo shortsightedness of a 1920s school board in 1999 will always be a delicate balance between preservationists and Central Junior High supporters. That's just one example."
Other equity issues are sometimes the result of limited resources throughout the district, Loveland said.
"One of the ingredients of the equity discussions is that every school has perceived equity-type problems," she said. "The more sites you have, the more potential for perceived inequities, therefore, the bigger the challenge. It's important we share the spirit of doing the best job we can."
Every student should have an opportunity to rise to the top of their potential and ability.
Jeff Morrow believes it's possible for the Lawrence schools to achieve such a goal.
"Lawrence is a single community with a shared tax base," he said. "There is every reason to expect a quality educational experience for all our students, no matter which school they attend. Every attempt should be made to see that all facilities are in top-notch condition, and every student has equal access to specialty classes."
Differences in buildings throughout the district are the norm, not the exception, Sue Morgan said.
Those differences are not always a detriment to learning.
"It's not necessarily a negative," she said. "In some cases it's a positive."
While site councils can "custom design" programs that best suit the needs of their students, all students should get the same fundamental components, Morgan said.
"With basic building facilities, we need to deal with capital improvement plans," she said. "There's a five-year capital outlay plan from 1996-2000 with a year-by-year budget with no particulars about the $3 million to $4 million in what capital outlay is being budgeted for. I think we need to have a better handle of what we're going to do with these buildings and when it's going to be done."
Morgan also thinks the board should include the community in the discussions.
"We need closer management and more long-term planning," she said. "You can't use capital outlay for the same thing you use the general fund. We need to be as careful in planning for that as the general fund."