First Bell: School board chats continue this week; task force member dissents from plan to close Wakarusa Valley; Pat Grzenda retiring after 34 years in pool, gyms

A few education-oriented items from around the area, and beyond:

The chatting continues.

Tuesday at 11 a.m., visit to participate in — or follow along with — an online chat with Marlene Merrill, one of nine people campaigning for four available seats on the Lawrence school board.

Merrill’s chat follows one from Monday morning involving Rick Ingram, here at The News Center. In all cases, candidates answer your questions for an hour.

I serve as chat moderator, posting questions for candidates to answer — taken from questions submitted in advance and during the chat itself.

Anytime up until and through the chat, you can send in questions you’d like to see answered. Just follow the link posted alongside this story.

While you’re at it, send in some questions for upcoming chats, too. We’re continuing to get chats scheduled with all nine active candidates.

The general election is April 5.


A member of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force doesn’t agree with the “consensus” recommendations that are making their way into discussions during tonight’s Lawrence school board meeting.

Of particular concern: a recommendation calling for Wakarusa Valley School to be closed next year.

Greg Hough, an attorney and Wakarusa Valley parent, had outlined his concerns in a letter delivered to his fellow task force members, who met for eight months to come up with “a community vision and plan for the school district’s elementary facilities that reflect the varied community and educational values and how to best reflect those values given the restraints of current and anticipated district resources.”

Hough maintains that the task force missed the mark.

“Closure of a grade school is an extreme remedy,” Hough wrote, in his memo. “It may be justified to solve economic issues within the district; to solve facilities issues at that school; or to solve community-related issues within the district. The proposed closure of WVES does none of the above. For all of the above-stated reasons, I respectfully dissent.”

His full memo is available for download, using the link to the side of this story. Such issues are likely to come up during tonight’s discussion of task for recommendations at the Lawrence school board meeting — 7 p.m. at district headquarters, 110 McDonald Drive — and again March 28, during a formal public hearing to consider closure of Wakarusa Valley for next year.


Pat Grzenda, an adaptive physical educator in the Lawrence school district, has been named one of seven master teachers of Kansas by Emporia State University. Grzenda works at various schools each day, helping students with physical disabilities participate in physical education classes.

A teaching and coaching powerhouse is retiring this year, after more than three decades in Lawrence schools — in the pool, in gyms and certainly in the lives of students and families that she’s helped.

Pat Grzenda, an adaptive physical education teacher for the district, is set to retire effective May 25.

Monday night, the Lawrence school board is scheduled to formally accept her plans to retire, as outlined simply in a memo: “The Administration recommends that Patricia Grzenda’s request for early retirement be approved by the Board of Education with sincere appreciation for her 34 years of service and devotion to this community and its schools.”

The one-line description doesn’t quite do her career justice.

As an adaptive physical education teacher, Grzenda helps students with physical disabilities participate in physical education classes. And she’s been both a stalwart educator and coach.

Among her honors:

Kansas Master Teacher, 2004.

• Lawrence Master Teacher, 2003.

• Legacy Award, Lawrence school district and KU Credit Union, 2002.

• Merit Award, National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association, 2001.

• National Coach of the Year, National Federation of High Schools, 1998

• Kansas Coach of the Year, Boys Swimming, 1997, 2001.

When named Kansas Master Teacher by Emporia State University, here’s how she described her teaching philosophy:

“I am blessed to teach students with mild to profound cognitive and physical disabilities. … In the area that I teach, it is imperative that we find the student’s strength(s) and build on that strength.

“It is often difficult to find even one strength in, say, a student with a severe cognitive disability who uses a power wheelchair and is fed through a gastric tube. But, there are strengths there, to be sure. That student desires and needs to be successful at his or her level each and every day of their life.

“Those strengths are certainly going to look different for each child, and it is my responsibility as their Adaptive Physical Education teacher to find that strength and build on it. In the area of physical education, it is our task to promote the health, strength, and physical fitness of all our students. It just looks a bit different for the students that I serve.”

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