First Bell: Students at West pour donations into water projects for Africa; superintendent seeks ‘credibility’ for consolidation working group; column addresses teacher compensation

Students at West Middle School have given up enough milk, soda, juice, coffee and sports drinks to pump $356 into efforts to provide safe drinking water for people in Africa.

The students accomplished their mission through the H2O Project, which calls for people drink only water for two weeks — then set aside the money that normally would be spent on other beverages, and instead donate it to an organization committed to drilling wells and otherwise helping people in Africa get safe, reliable access to clean water.

This year’s drive, led by math teacher Cory Kramer, fell short of last year’s $1,800 effort, but the students still managed to place their enjoyment behind the needs of others.

“Anything’s better than nothing,” Kramer said Monday, outside his classroom.

Next door, fellow teacher Matt Frost — who had organized last year’s collections — offered his colleague a little cover.

“I probably didn’t add it up right,” said Frost, who teachers civics and government. “I rounded up.”

Last year’s drive at West, when added to collections from students at Free State High School, amounted to $4,500.

This year’s totals aren’t in yet, but the combined donations will make their way to Africa to help people get the water they need to survive.

Brenda Koinis, the project’s founder and director, sees that all donations are directed to organizations to make clean water a reality. She gives an example of providing $3,000 — enough to dig a typical well, one that could serve a village of 300 people for 10 years.

“That’s $1 per person per year,” she said, from her home in Texas, where she’d started the project a decade ago. “It’s a pretty simple sacrifice, for a short period of time, that saves someone’s life.”


Rick Doll, superintendent of the Lawrence school district, promises not to “stack the deck” when making appointments to the new Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group, the group that will be tasked with coming up with a plan for consolidating the district’s 14 remaining elementary schools into either 11 or 12 within the next two to three years.

He pledges to strike a “balance” through membership, appointing 27 volunteers to represent Cordley, Hillcrest, Kennedy, New York, Pinckney, Sunset Hill and Woodlawn schools as the district works to provide the best solution for mounting budgetary, efficiency and educational issues.

No one single outlook will be sought, he said, other than to come up with the best way to combine schools.

“We need credibility,” Doll said Monday. “When the report comes out, it needs to be credible. For the report to be credible, the working group needs to represent diverse Lawrence community. … I will appoint a diverse group of people to the working group.”

Members of the school board already have set the working group’s charge, which calls for the group to recommend how — not whether — to consolidate schools. The group’s work is to be based on the earlier work of the Lawrence Elementary School Facility Vision Task Force.

The working group will be expected to meet once before June 30, then convene again for public meetings from August through January.


I came across a column the other day in The New York Times, addressing teacher salaries and how issues of compensation and effectiveness are addressed in other industries and endeavors.

I’m always interested in hearing what folks think about various issues, and this is one that will continue to be discussed in Lawrence and throughout Kansas, as legislators work to end their session and the Lawrence school district continues to negotiate with its teachers for a new Master Agreement.

Ideas? Let me know.

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