Archive for Tuesday, September 27, 2011

First Bell: City Commission vs. school board: which is tougher?; iPad 2 plan endures as ‘maybe’; consultant to review enrollment numbers

September 27, 2011


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Nobody said being a member of the Lawrence school board was easy.

Take it from a former Lawrence city commissioner.

“I think my job was a lot easier than yours,” Lance Johnson told the board’s seven members Monday night, as they fielded complaints about a standards-based grading system entering middle schools this year. “Dealing with angry neighbors was a lot easier than dealing with angry or passionate parents.”

That spurred a quip from Mark Bradford, the school board president who also happens to be chief of Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical: “Are you the angry or the passionate?”

Johnson: “I’m probably both, tonight.”

Johnson was among several parents who showed up to express their concerns about the grading system, calling for a halt to system that has been in place for more than six years in elementary schools, which up until this year had included sixth-graders. For 2011-12 and beyond, sixth-graders are in middle schools, where traditional letter grades — A, B, C, D and F — have been the norm.

The standards-based system uses other letters — E, S, M and T — to gauge whether a students “excels,” “successfully meets,” is “making progress” or is “targeted for growth” in meeting state standards and having proper learner behaviors.

Johnson understands that sixth-graders still will be getting traditional letter grades to go along with their standards-based grades, but that isn’t the point. Plenty of parents are upset, about their lack of input in the process and also being left uninformed about the implementation of a system that they had thought would be left behind when the students left elementary school.

“I say shame on whoever let the train out of the station without the communication and the public process,” Johnson told board members, noting that he had learned as a commissioner that proper processes were important for initiatives to be successful.

“I’m appealing to you to get it right,” he said. “There are some fundamental differences that people have, and I don’t think the day in court — or the opportunity — has presented itself for people to vet all the different issues out, with all the parents and teachers. …

“Let’s call a timeout and get it right.”


Johnson also couldn’t help chiming in on the district’s planned purchase of 172 iPad 2s, an order approved unanimously Monday night by members of the school board.

“My 3-and-a-half-year-old plays more with the iPad than I do, so that next generation is going after that,” he told board members.

The purchase of iPad 2s is the latest of such purchases for the district. Others have been used by administrators for testing purposes, and the Lawrence Schools Foundation has purchased some for teachers who have proposed plans for using them.

Monday night, board members Randy Masten and Rick Ingram questioned whether spending $122,230 on such equipment, software and training services would be worth it. They asked staffers for more information about how the iPad 2s would be used, and why they needed to be purchased for what would be considered a testing run for teachers.

“This is a significant amount of money to spend on a ‘maybe,’ ” Masten said.

In the end, they signed off on the purchase. But Masten said he would like to see more information in the future to back up the need for such investments.

“It just wasn’t deep enough for me,” he said.


Administrators in the Lawrence school district are still looking for answers as to why the district gained 200 students from a year ago, and a consulting firm will be helping make sense of the numbers.

Rick Doll, district superintendent, told board members Monday that RSP & Associates, a consulting firm from the Kansas City area, would be assisting the Central and East Lawrence Elementary School Consolidation Working Group. The consultants will help the district make sense of its current enrollment numbers and also come up with projections for the future.

Doll said that this year’s enrollment increase wasn’t a “bubble” spurred by a large increase in any particular grade level or portion of the Lawrence area.

“It’s kind of across the board,” he said.

One thing that is clear, however, is that having more students should translate to receiving more money from the state than the district would otherwise receive.

“This is a really good thing,” Doll said.


buffalo63 6 years, 9 months ago

As a former teacher, I had a superintendent bring in some teaching materials he just purchase and asked if I could figure out a use for them. Also had a workshop where the staff was given a new computer program and told to figure out a use for it in the classroom, and noone could find a use. A total waste of workshop time and money. I'm glad the Board is questioning proposals rather than just going along, even when they then approve it. Make sure the proposals have good educational value for the students and for the teacher's time before money is spent.

tallone 6 years, 9 months ago

As a Langston Hughes parent, I would like to point out a misstatement in the above article. The standards based grading system has been in place in elementary schools up through the third grade only, prior to this year. Prior to this year, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders in the elementary schools received traditional letter grades. Fourth and fifth grade parents at Langston Hughes were only notified when attending back to school night (after the school year started) that the grading system would be changing back to standards based grading for fourth and fifth graders at the elementary schools, in addition to sixth graders at the middle schools. This change for the fourth and fifth graders seems to be getting slighted in this whole discussion.

mfagan 6 years, 9 months ago

That's not the way I understand it. The standards-based grading system has been in place for all elementary students, with fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders also having received letter grades through the end of last year. That's changing this year, as fourth- and fifth-graders no longer will be getting letter grades. They'll just be getting the standards-based marks. - Mark Fagan Schools reporter

tallone 6 years, 9 months ago

The point being, that 4th, 5th and 6th graders received letter grades, in addition to the "johnny was a good boy" grades last year. Nothing was communicated about the change until after the school year started this year. Who is the real customer in this situation? Aren't we the parents the customer. At last night's meeting, it seemed that the board doesn't care about what the parents think, they placated us by giving each person 3 minutes to speak, and then basically didn't conclude anything in the end. Nor did they respond to the request of parents and teachers to halt this crazy switch until they have reviewed the possible impact, taken feedback from parents and teachers into consideration, established standards, etc. I thought the reporters came away with a more objective view of what has happened after last night's meeting. I guess I was wrong.

mfagan 6 years, 9 months ago

Hello, tallone. We'll see what the board decides to do, if anything. Just a few points about the board meeting: • The board always limits public comments to three minutes, at least as long as I've been covering such meetings. Oftentimes the board sets aside time at the beginning of each meeting for folks to make comments; last night's meeting was a switch in that regard, and it certainly made more sense to have people talk after the district administrators had presented their report. • The board was not scheduled to make any decision or reach any conclusion about the grading situation; instead, members were scheduled to receive a report. Board members certainly could make a decision at a future meeting, but they were not scheduled to do so Monday night. Like I said, we'll see what board members decide to do going forward, if anything. There certainly are plenty of concerns about the process, and that's what I heard the most about in speaking with a few board members after the meeting. Folks also are concerned about the standards-based grading system itself, but I spoke with some board members whop said they also had heard from other folks who supported the system. Also key will be how administrators proceed with plans for implementing the standards-based grading system in seventh and eighth grades, if at all. One thing seems certain: If the district does move ahead with plans for taking the system into seventh and eighth grades, there would more ways for folks to provide input and participate in discussions than there were this last time around. - Mark Fagan, Schools reporter

tallone 6 years, 9 months ago

The comments above that the standards based grading system is a "system that has been in place for more than six years in elementary schools, which up until this year had included sixth-grader" is inaccurate. This system in the elementary schools only went up through third grade in prior years, not the sixth grade.

mfagan 6 years, 9 months ago

Actually, the standards-based grading system has been in place for a number of years in elementary schools -- for all grades in the elementary schools. The difference was that fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders also had received traditional letter grades (A, B, C, D, F) to go along with the standards-based marks. Beginning this year, fourth- and fifth-graders no longer will get the traditional letter grades. Instead, they will receive only standards-based marks. - Mark Fagan Schools reporter

tbecs 6 years, 9 months ago

But again, they WERE receiving standard letter grades in 4-6th grades prior to this year. The standards-based marks were for "behavior type" areas of learning. I think it is very important that this information be clear. 4th-6th graders last year DID receive letter grades.

Bob_Loblaw 6 years, 8 months ago

See my comment in the now buried story about the iPads...I sincerely hope they have a plan to manage these "mobile desktops". The security on these devices is a joke at best unless you have a MDM system in place for remote wiping and tracking etc. etc. There damn well better not be confidential student info on them.

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