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Archive for Thursday, October 26, 2000

Educators hope to learn at east-side school

Former superintendent to examine problems, make recommendations for improvement

October 26, 2000

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A traditionally low-performing and rundown east-side school will be the target of a comprehensive study aimed at fixing the problems.

Results of the study, which will be conducted by former Lawrence Supt. Dan Neuenswander, could serve as a model for improving other city schools.

"I think all our schools have got to be equally pleasant places for children to learn in."

Jack Davidson, board member

"I'm looking forward to working with the staff there," Neuenswander, of Baldwin, said Wednesday. "To any extent that I can, I'd be glad to assist."

During the next several weeks, he will meet with parents, students, teachers and administrators, review testing data and results of a new opinion survey. Then, late this year, Neuenswander will make recommendations to the school board.

Supt. Randy Weseman said the goal was to determine what resources the school needs and what changes should be made.

East Heights, 1430 Haskell Ave., traditionally performs near the bottom among elementary schools in the district on standardized tests in reading, writing and math. Three-fourths of the school's students are of "low socioeconomic status." In addition, the school building is in need of repair.

"This is not, in my mind, an appropriate educational facility for these kids," Weseman said.

Neuenswander, who will volunteer his services, was Lawrence's superintendent from 1984 to 1992. He was a superintendent for 27 years, including stints in Garnett, Ottawa, Pittsburg and Bartlesville, Okla. He has worked part-time since retiring as a school-improvement consultant.

"When you've been in that environment for as many years as I was, there's some things that don't change much in terms of what it takes for an organization to successfully teach children," Neuenswander said.

The comprehensive review has the support of East Height's principal, Laura Blevins, as well as several school board members.

Central questions go beyond bricks and mortar, Blevins said.

"How are we using our personnel? Are we using them as effectively as we could be? Or could we use more?" she said.

She said Neuenswander was a good choice because he had knowledge of the school and had been absent from the district for eight years.

School board member Leni Salkind said extensive evaluation of East Heights, and potentially other schools, was warranted. An audit of district operations concluded schools weren't adequately meeting needs of low- and high-performing students. Assessment results at East Heights have been a concern, too.

"This is a place where we want to target," she said. "I think it's a great idea. It's a nonthreatening thing."

Board colleague Jack Davidson said more attention had to be paid to schools that need additional resources to be successful.

"I think all our schools have got to be equally pleasant places for children to learn in," he said.

Sue Morgan, another board member, said the district recently added staff at the school. But there might be a need for more teachers, counselors, reading specialists or special education staff.

"Our philosophy in this district is that all children can learn," Morgan said. "It's going to take different types of resources and probably more of them."

Weseman said it might be possible to enlist other retired district staff to work on improvement projects.

"There's a lot of talent out there," he said. "It's something, depending on how it turns out, we could use at other schools."

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