Archive for Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Panelists discuss causes of, remedies for school district’s equity issues at library event

More than 70 people attend a talk on racial equity in Lawrence public schools, “Fixing Lawrence’s Achievement Gap,” at the Lawrence Public Library on Tuesday.

More than 70 people attend a talk on racial equity in Lawrence public schools, “Fixing Lawrence’s Achievement Gap,” at the Lawrence Public Library on Tuesday.

February 28, 2017


Potential causes of and solutions to ongoing equity issues in Lawrence schools, were discussed — and at times debated — during a public talk Tuesday night at the Lawrence Public Library.

The title of the event, “Fixing Lawrence’s Achievement Gap,” points to a lofty goal, but one that is ultimately worth pursuing, panelists agreed. More than 70 people — among them teachers, parents, students and, notably, two school board members — packed into the library’s auditorium that night for the discussion, which was sponsored by the University of Kansas' Langston Hughes Center, the City of Lawrence, and the KU department of African and African-American Studies.

In 2016, more than 36 percent of the Lawrence district’s white high school students were considered “college-ready” by state assessment standards in math. “The difference with African-Americans,” explained John Rury, a professor in KU’s School of Education, “is really striking.” That same year, about 12 percent of the district’s black high school students landed in that same category. And Native American and Hispanic students, Rury said, are also struggling in comparison with their white peers.

Assessment results are one method of measuring student success, but educators must also look beyond the numbers to recognize the “social and emotional needs that students bring with them into the classroom,” agreed fellow panelist Dorothy Hines-Datiri. Equity, she said, is about the opportunities granted or denied by systems — among them school systems — to students of color.

“Schools say they want equity. Schools say they want equality. But in actuality, the realities are totally different,” said Hines-Datiri, an assistant professor in the KU School of Education. “Despite our push for equity, despite our push for racial inclusion and gender inclusion, we actually still have disparities that exist across those identity categories.”

Tuesday’s event arrived on the heels of a fall semester marked by discussion at school board meetings and elsewhere of racial equity issues in Lawrence schools. Recently, the district hosted a Community Conversation meant to address these concerns, which itself followed a controversial investigation into racist comments allegedly made by a South Middle School teacher.

Willie Amison, a former Lawrence High School principal who currently serves as an academic adviser within KU’s TRIO/Educational Opportunity Center, said black students’ state assessment scores have improved over the years since he entered Lawrence Public Schools as a teacher in the early 1970s. But in recent years, they’ve started to regress, he noted, leaving him and other educators to wonder, “What happened?”

“We know students can do that, and we understand that,” Amison said. “It’s not about their intellectual level. It’s about their engagement and relationships” with teachers and others in the system, he explained.

Some who attended Tuesday’s talks emphasized that point by questioning the involvement of school board members and district leaders in the district's work toward closing achievement gaps. Racial inequity is a “gigantic problem” that needs the help of parents and community members, Rury said.

The event's moderator, Langston Hughes Center director Shawn Alexander, remarked at least twice about Superintendent Kyle Hayden’s absence at the event. “That’s the question you have to ask,” Alexander said. He also thanked two school board members, Vanessa Sanburn and vice president Shannon Kimball, for being there that night, but wondered why their colleagues weren’t in attendance with them.

A handful of audience members weighed in throughout the evening about the vacant spot on the school board left by Kristie Adair’s resignation last month. A few said they hoped it would be filled by a person of color, and Sanburn, addressing community concerns Tuesday night, said she was committed to that goal.

“I believe that we have a real opportunity to fill a diversity gap on our board, and I am very motivated in this process to fill that seat with someone that brings the lens that we desperately need on our board,” Sanburn said, adding that she felt her colleagues shared that perspective.

The deadline to apply for the school board position is March 6, and the school board is slated to review applications publicly during its March 13 meeting. In the meantime, Sanburn and Kimball both encouraged community members Tuesday night to continue reaching out to them.


Bob Forer 1 year, 1 month ago

The absence of Superintendent Kyle Hayden and the majority of school board members was very disrespectful to the minority community. Unless they have legitimate reasons for not attending, it sends a message to the community that they really don't give a damn about minority students. And if that is true, then why the hell do we allow them to hold those positions. Isn't Lawrence better than this?.,

Louis Kannen 1 year, 1 month ago

...dare I revisit, " pay no attention to the man behind the green curtain, he is the all and powerful..."

Shannon Kimball 1 year, 1 month ago

It is highly unfair of Mr. Alexander or anyone else to criticize school board members or the superintendent for not attending last night, and I told him so after the event. I was not invited, and only found out about the presentation on Tuesday by accident through an acquaintance's Facebook feed. For that reason, neither Mr. Alexander nor the community should assume that any particular board or staff member's attendance has any bearing on our commitment as individuals or as a district to improving the educational opportunities and experiences of our students of color. I am glad that I had the opportunity to hear the presentations and community questions and discussion afterward, and encourage community members who had questions about what efforts the district is making to look at the resources available from the district at Also, applications for the open board position and the district's equity advisory team are available on the district's home page,

Carol Bowen 1 year, 1 month ago

Good to know about this website. USD 497 is not very good about publicizing its work. How was anyone supposed to know the information you just provided? I suggest working with the Journal World to become more communicative and transparent.

Shannon Kimball 1 year, 1 month ago

This information is on the district's webpage, and has been talked about repeatedly at our board meetings. Those meetings are televised by Knology, and are available for viewing at a later date at All of the information we discuss at our board meetings is provided to the LJW. Agendas and archived agendas, with supporting written materials, are available at

Bob Forer 1 year, 1 month ago

Then why did you not call that to Mr. Al;exander's attention during the meeting, so that we would all know?

Bob Summers 1 year, 1 month ago

Why would government Liberals "give a damn about minority students"? They never have given a damn in their storied past.

The Liberal does try to put on airs to pretend like they do care about minority students.

Liberals. Talk about maestros of fake news.

Richard Quinlan 1 year, 1 month ago

When you start trying to id root causes , where does the home environment weigh in here in regards to the readiness of children to enter school and the support by the family once in school. Sadly many children are doomed from the get go by thier families distress. I think that is a much larger factor than the particular inclusiveness in Lawrences school system. How is that addressed ?

Bob Smith 1 year, 1 month ago

Equal opportunity is the law. Equal outcomes are harder to come by.

Amy Varoli Elliott 1 year, 1 month ago

Do you think that there is equal opportunity between rich schools and poor schools? Do you think that students whose parents give big money to schools like Langston Hughes have the same opportunities as students at Prairie Park where they may be less disposable income?

Bob Smith 1 year, 1 month ago

Do you think that redistribution of wealth is the solution? How progressive of you.

Amy Varoli Elliott 1 year, 1 month ago

Well being as we are talking about Lawrence schools and they all fall under the same funding source (USD 497) I think that more money should be sent where it is needed (poorer schools) and less spent where less resources are needed (richer schools). It is a proven fact that this helps the students more, but lets say that you want ever school to get the same per-pupil number. There is another solution that allows for this and helps close the learning gap, its called desegregation. If you look at test scores the time in history where we saw the fast closing of the high/low test scores was at the peak of de-segratgation. Of course as we started to move away from that the numbers started to grow farther apart.

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