Lauren Pauls, the Lawrence High School senior pushing to become the school's all-time National Forensics League point earner, continued her winning streak this weekend with three more first-place finishes at the Shawnee Mission East Invitational.
Pauls won first place in original oratory and informative speaking, two events in which she has already qualified for the 6A State Speech Championships in May, as well as Congressional Debate.
Meanwhile, Free State High School senior Adam Fales qualified for state by finishing third in impromptu speaking at a tournament at Paola High School. Fales, a state qualifier in two-speaker debate last semester, also placed sixth in congressional debate - House.
The 6A state speech tournament is May 4-5 at Olathe Northwest High School.
The National Forensics League East Kansas District tournament, where students can qualify for nationals, is March 19-20 at Olathe South.
Other top finishers in tournaments this weekended included:
Lawrence High - Shawnee Mission East Invitational
• Charles Hopkins, senior, and Matt Mantooth, sophomore, first place, public forum debate.
• Clara Cobb, sophomore, second place, humorous interpretation (state qualifier).
• Ellie Dunlap, sophomore, second place, oral interpretation of poetry (state qualifier).
• Katie Gaches, junior, second place, congressional debate - House.
• Haley Luna, sophomore, second place, congressional debate - House; third place, foreign extemporaneous speaking.
• Eddie Loupe, senior, third place, Lincoln-Douglas debate.
• Ellie Dunlap, sophomore, fourth place, Lincoln-Douglas debate.
• Morgan Oehlertz, senior, and Olivia Oehlertz, sophomore, fifth place, duet acting.
• Vinnie Barker, junior, sixth place, domestic extemporaneous speaking.
Free State - Shawnee Mission East Invitational
• Parker Hopkins, sophomore, second place, congressional debate - House 1.
• Samantha Farb, freshman, third place, congressional debate - novice House 2.
• Linda Liu, freshman, fourth place, congressional debate - novice House 1.
• Trenna Soderling, freshman, fourth place, congressional debate - novice House 2.
• Zachary Hayes, sophomore, fifth place, congressional debate - novice House 2.
• Genevieve Prescher, freshman, sixth place, congressional debate - novice House 2.
• Kaitlyn Johnson, sophomore, fifth place, congressional debate - House 2.
Free State - Paola Tournament
• Hannah Smith, junior, third place, domestic extemporaneous speaking.
• Kelly Leatherman, junior, third place, original oratory.
• Ashlyn Evans, senior, fifth place, informative speaking.
• Sam Hay, sophomore, and Kelly Leatherman, junior, fifth place, duet acting.
• Samantha Farb, freshman, sixth place, foreign extemporaneous speaking.
The Lawrence school district has produced a short video explaining its rationale for asking voters to approve a $92.5 million bond issue next month.
The 71-second video is posted on the district's website. And while it does not expressly advocate for passage of the bond issue, it does contain a lot of favorable language, referring to it as the "no-tax-increase bond issue" and pointing out that it "equips teachers and students with tools for 21st century teaching and learning."
The bond proposal is actually three issues in one. The bulk of the money, about $80.3 million, would go for building upgrades and expansion. Most of that would be for the 14 elementary schools, with particular emphasis on the six older buildings in central and east Lawrence. Free State and Lawrence high schools would also receive some of the facility improvement money.
Another $6.5 million would go for technology upgrades throughout the district. That includes expanding the district's wireless broadband capacity to allow greater use of online teaching and resources.
Finally, about $5.7 million would be used to expand career and technical education programs at the two high schools.
The bond question will appear on the same ballot as candidates for the school board. All four of the candidates running for three seats on the board said during a televised forum Wednesday that they fully support the bond issue.
Because the district is about to retire some old bonds, officials say they could phase in the proposed new bond issue without causing an increase in the district's property tax levy for debt payments.
Just how far a school district can, or should, go in advocating for a bond issue is kind of a murky issue. According to the state governmental ethics agency, there is no statute that prohibits a local government from advertising for or against a ballot question. The ethics statutes only speak to spending public money to advocate for or against identifiable candidates.
Still, officials at the Kansas Association of School Boards have said they generally advise their members to play it neutral. While it's perfectly acceptable to to put out material informing the public about a bond issue and what the proceeds would be used for, the public tends to frown on the use of taxpayer funds to openly campaign for passage.
The Lawrence district's video ends saying, "Remember to vote April 2nd."
Lawrence High School German students won second place in the video and poster competitions Saturday at Kansas University's annual German competition known as Schülerkongress.
LHS German techer Natalie Aaron said that in addition to producing videos and posters, the competition includes reciting German poetry from memory, reading prose aloud for judges, a culture quiz and a spelling bee.
Students from 14 schools took part in the competition. Lawrence High sent 38 students.
Students who took part in the video production included Zach Spears, Brandon Ellis, Scott Morrison, Jonathon Seele-Teichmann, Matia Finley, Taylor Smith, Khrystyne Raine, Ian Gent, Maddie Bell, Deja Johnston, Emma Oury, Genevieve Voigt, Jacob Nation and Denis Gatotho.
The poster entry included Lydia Longabach, Kat Sterbenz and Juliana Hacker.
Individual medalists included:
• Lexi Simmons, level 1, spelling bee.
• Stephan Osterhaus, level 1, prose.
• Genevieve Voigt, level 1, prose and poetry.
• Tristan Reynolds, level 3, prose and poetry.
• Dalen Reed, level 3, poetry.
• Francisco Esparza, level 3, poetry.
• Elbeg Erdenee and Kat Sterbenz, level 4, culture quiz.
• Elbeg Erdenee, level 4, spelling bee.
• Maddie Bell, level 4, prose and poetry.
• Juliana Hacker, level 4, prose and poetry.
• Kat Sterbenz, level 4, prose and poetry.
• Elbeg Erdenee, level 4, prose and poetry.
Lawrence High School senior Lauren Pauls became the school's number-two all-time National Forensics League point earner on Saturday after winning two first-place medals and one second-place medal at the Olathe Northwest speech and debate tournament.
Pauls took first in original oratory and informative speaking. She previously qualified for the 6A state tournament in those events after placing first and second respectively in them at the Free State High School tournament Feb. 22-23.
She also won second in congressional debate, Senate.
Debate and forensics students earn NFL points every time they compete or give a performance. More points are earned for wins and high place showings. Lawrence High coach Jeff Plinsky said Pauls' performance this weekend put her at 1,840 NFL points, second on the LHS all-time list behind 2007 graduate Brandon Schwager who earned 1,933.
Meanwhile, Clara Cobb, sophomore, qualified to the state tournament with a third-place finish in humorous interpretation.
Julia Silverstein, junior, won first place in Lincoln-Douglas debate, open division. Haley Luna, sophomore, won first in congressional debate, House.
Other top finishers included:
• Katie Gaches, junior, second place, congressional debate, House.
• Ellis Springe, freshman, third place, Lincoln-Douglas debatre.
• Phoebe Clark, junior, fourth place, Lincoln-Douglas debate, novice division.
• Hannah Lee, sophomore, fifth place, informative speaking.
• Drew Bryant, junior, sixth place, Lincoln-Douglas debate, novice division.
A Lawrence-area Catholic school and a Kansas University engineering professor have been named recipients of the 2013 Excellence in Conservation and Environmental Education Awards.
The awards are given each year by the Kansas Association of Conservation and Environmental Education.
St. John Catholic School, 1208 Kentucky, received an award for its Green School initiative, which incorporates environmental education throughout the school curriculum. School officials say the program started in 2011 with efforts to reduce waste in the school cafeteria.
After realizing how much waste food was being collected for composting, the school developed a new way of serving food that encouraged students to make healthy choices. Officials estimate the program also reduced the amount of wasted food by about 3.5 tons per year.
Since then, St. John has launched a schoolwide Green School initiative to increase awareness about resource conservation. Teachers use inquiry-based learning in math and science to involve students in developing plans to conserve energy throughout the school. Teachers are also encouraged to "bring nature into the school" to help students learn about life cycles and principles of stewardship.
That initiative was funded in part with a $7,129 grant from the Douglas County Community Foundation's Environmental Fund, which helped pay for educational tools, energy efficiency and water conservation upgrades to the school's existing building, as well as new classrooms that are currently under construction.
St. John is a K-8 school with 278 students.
Dr. Christopher Depcik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering who began the KU EcoHawks program, was also named a winner of this year's KACEE awards.
Launched in 2008, EcoHawks encourages engineering students to use sustainability concepts in engineering by applying what he calls the "five E's" to their designs: energy, environment, education, economics and ethics.
In the program's first year, students recycled a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle by turning it into a hybrid electric vehicle that uses lead-acid batteries and bio-diesel made entirely from used cooking oil from campus. Recent road tests reportedly have shown the car reaches the equivalent of more than 100 miles per gallon.
Depcik also works with K-12 teachers and students developing lesson plans to teach about biofuels, hosting a summer engineering camp for high school students and sponsoring a battery-powered car design competition.
Depcik earned his bachelor's degree, two master's degrees and a Ph.D. in engineering, from the University of Michigan.
The Lawrence High School forensics squad placed second overall last weekend at a tournament hosted across town at Free State High School.
The tournament was held one week after Free State made the same showing at Lawrence High's tournament.
Along the way, Lawrence High qualified two more students to compete at the Class 6A State Forensics Tournament May 4 in Olathe.
Lauren Pauls, senior, qualified in two events by placing first in original oratory and second in informative speaking. Last semester, Pauls and classmate Edie Loupe went to the 6A state tournament in two-speaker debate competition.
Also qualifying for the state tournament was Katie Gaches, junior, who finished second in impromptu speaking.
In addition for preparing for the upcoming state tournaments, all area forensics squads are gearing up for the National Forensics League District tournament where students have the chance to qualify for the national tournament to be held this summer in Birmingham, Ala.
The East Kansas district tournament for congressional debate will be April 5-6 at Bishop Miege High School in Johnson County. The tournament for other forensics events will be April 19-20 at Olathe South High School.
Other Lawrence High speakers who placed at the Free State tournament included:
• Frances Berghout, senior, third place, informative speaking.
• Clara Cobb, sophomore, third place, humorous interpretation.
• Cobb and Jordan Martinez, sophomore, third place, improvised duet acting.
• Michael Straub, freshman, and Alex Moriarty, freshman, third place, public forum debate.
• Isabella Whittaker, sophomore, third place, oral interpretation.
• Tristan Delnevo, freshman, fourth place, humorous interpretation.
• Morgan Oehlertz, senior, and Olivia Oehlertz, sophomore, fifth place, duet acting.
• Audie Monroe, senior, fifth place, impromptu speaking.
• Morgan Ross, freshman, sixth place, foreign extemporaneous speaking.
• Dylan McManis, sophomore, sixth place, humorous interpretation.
• Sarah Smoot, junior, and Abbie Wise, junior, sixth place, duet acting.
• Isabella Whittaker, sophomore, sixth place, oral interpretation.
• Jordan Martinez, sophomore, sixth place, oral interpretation of poetry.
Topeka — The Kansas Senate Education Committee on Tuesday narrowly defeated one of Gov. Sam Brownback's major education policy initiatives: a bill to require third-grade students be held back if they are not reading at grade level.
On an unrecorded 5-6 vote, the committee rejected S.B. 169, the "Kansas Reads to Succeed Initiative," which Brownback touted during his State of the State address in January. That was the speech in which Brownback made the dubious assertion that "29 percent of Kansas fourth-graders can’t read at a basic level."
That figure was based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP exams, which are not given to all students and which are not aligned with Kansas reading standards. Data from the state's reading assessments, which are given to virtually all students, show only 11.3 percent of fourth-grade students scored below standards in 2012.
With a few exceptions, the bill would have required schools to hold students back in the third grade if they scored in the bottom performance level on the state's third-grade reading assessment.
The bill also would have provided $12 million over two years from the Children's Initiative Fund (tobacco settlement money) to pay for reading intervention programs in earlier grades.
Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker expressed concern about the bill when she briefed the State Board of Education about it earlier this month. Chief among her concerns was that it circumvented the state board, which has the constitutional authority for "general supervision of public schools, educational institutions and all the educational interests of the state."
The bill would have put the Kansas Children's Cabinet in charge of distributing the money in the form of competitive grants to nonprofit organizations, school districts or a combination of the two. Priority, though, would have been given to applicants who could put up a 30 percent match from nonstate and nonfederal funds.
The committee debate focused on many of the typical arguments heard over third-grade retention laws, which have been enacted in a handful of other states: Supporters say schools do more harm than good by promoting students who can't read at grade level; opponents argued that it would be unreasonable to put so much emphasis on an 8-year-old's score on a single standardized test, and that doing so might well increase that child's chances of dropping out of school in the future.
The surprise, though, came from Sen. Dan Kerschen, R-Garden Plain, who turned out to be the swing vote on the panel.
Kerschen won his seat in 2012 after defeating incumbent Sen. Dick Kelsey of Goddard in the August GOP primary. Kerschen had been endorsed by the Kansas Chamber of Commerce and, thus, was thought to be a close ally of Brownback.
But Kerschen said, among other things, that he objected to taking parents out of the equation when making decisions about a child's future.
Innovative Districts Act clears committee
The Senate panel did endorse another bill Tuesday that would give a limited number of districts authority to dispense with many laws and regulations governing schools by applying to be designated as a "public innovative district."
S.B. 176 was spearheaded by committee chairman Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, who said it would be a kind of pilot project in response to claims by some administrators that they are hamstrung by cumbersome regulations.
The bill would allow up to 10 districts at a time to be designated as innovation districts. Those districts would still be subject to federal laws requiring special education and handicapped accessibility, as well as general public health and safety laws. They would also have to comply with state accreditation requirements, and they would get the same funding as other schools under the state school finance formula.
But they would be exempt from a host of other laws and regulations, notably laws requiring collective bargaining with teachers.
The committee advanced the bill on an unrecorded voice vote. it now goes to the full Senate.
Logan Brown, a junior at Free State High School, is one of two students in Kansas selected to receive a $5,000 scholarship and serve as a delegate to the annual United States Senate Youth Program, scheduled for March 9-16 in Washington.
The program, established in 1962, brings together two students from each state, Washington, D.C., and the Department of Defense school system for a weeklong intensive study of the federal government and its leaders. Delegates are chosen by the chief education officer of each state from nominations submitted by teachers and principals.
Brown, 17, is the daughter of M.T. and Deanna Brown. She is active in the Kansas Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. She is also active in debate and forensics, the National Honor Society, and DECA, an international business and marketing education association. She says she hopes to pursue a law degree and enter politics.
While in Washington, Brown and other other delegates delegates will meet the president, a Supreme Court justice, senators and congressional staff, leaders of cabinet agencies, foreign diplomats and members of the national news media.
The scholarships, as well as the cost of the trip, are funded entirely by the Hearst Foundations. Students who receive the scholarships are encouraged to continue coursework in government, history and public affairs.
Kansas Education Commissioner Diane DeBacker designated Brown, along with Ami Purohit of Lenexa as this year's delegates. Their selections were announced by U.S. Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran.
One thing that sets high school speech and debate programs apart from other competitions like football and volleyball is the extent to which they depend on community volunteers for their success.
In most athletic competitions, players can rest assured that the referees and scorekeepers know the rules of the game and have had at least some minimal level of training in how to do the job. Not so in forensics.
But as Lawrence High School's forensics coach Jeff Plinsky put it this weekend, that too is part of the sport.
"It forces you to learn to communicate with whoever is in the back of the room," he said. "You might have someone who works in the post office your first round, and a professor who works with graduate students in the second round, and in the third round you might have a stay-at-home mom. And you've got to be able to communicate with all three of them, and do so effectively."
Plinsky noted that Lawrence schools are fortunate in their ability to get a lot of support from the community. Having a couple of universities in your back yard certainly helps.
It can seem like a daunting task to sit in judgement of such highly skilled orators and debaters. Most of the competitors are so polished and well-rehearsed, people unfamiliar with the event can easily feel intimidated. What's amazing, though, is that it has a way of rising to the surface. The kids who advance to the finals and bring home the trophies tend to be the ones who can pull off a good performance no matter who the judges are.
So to those who spent a big chunk of their weekend judging at the Lawrence High School tournament this weekend - as well as to those being asked to judge this coming weekend at the Free State High School tournament - rest assured that your time and efforts are appreciated.
Here, now, are the Free State High School results from the LHS tournament:
Congressional Debate Novice House:
Samantha Farb, freshman, second place.
Linda Liu, freshman, fourth place.
Genevieve Prescher, freshman, fifth place.
Congressional Debate Open House:
Carl Palmquist, junior, first place.
Kaitlyn Johnson, sophomore, third place.
Isaac March, sophomore, fifth place.
Solomon Cottrell, sophomore, first place.
Hannah Moran, junior, second place.
Abby Schletzbaum, senior, third place.
Yang Yang Li, junior, fourth place.
Kerrie Leinmiller-Renick, senior, fourth place, informative speaking; fifth place, poetry.
Sarah Lieberman, sophomore, sixth place, original oratory.
Marlee Yost-Wolff, sophomore, fifth place, original oratory.
Linda Liu, freshman, third place, domestic extemporaneous speaking.
Carl Palmquist, junior, first place (state qualifier), impromptu speaking; fourth place, foreign extemporaneous speaking.
Hannah Moran, junior, fifth place, prose; second place (state qualifier), foreign extemporaneous speaking.
Alex Houston, junior, fifth place, impromptu speaking; first place (state qualifier), foreign extemporaneous speaking.
Abby Schletzbaum, senior, fourth place, impromptu speaking.
Ashlyn Evans, senior, sixth place, prose.
Ron Swall, who teaches in the Advancement Via Individual Determination, or AVID program at Free State High School, is the recipient of this year's Dedication to Education Award from the Lawrence Schools Foundation.
The $5,000 award is given each year to a certified teacher or paraprofessional in the Lawrence school district to recognize outstanding efforts to ensure that challenged and disadvantaged students learn.
"Ron would certainly rank among the most dedicated and patient educators I have worked with throughout my career," said Free State principal Ed West. "He is passionate about his work and believes that each of his students is worthy of his best efforts."
Swall, who is also a student support teacher, joined the Lawrence district in 1993 as a special education teacher at what was then Central Junior High School, now Liberty Memorial Central Middle School. He transferred to Lawrence High School in 1998. He also taught at the former Lawrence Alternative High School before moving to Free State in 2005 as a student support teacher.
He earned his bachelor's degree at Pittsburg State University and a master's at Kansas University.
The Lawrence Schools Foundation is a private, nonprofit charitable organization that raises money to enrich programs and services in the Lawrence school district. It promotes early-childhood education, innovative teaching and learning opportunities, and recognition of outstanding teachers.
The conservative think tank Kansas Policy Institute has been running ads the past couple of weeks asserting that the state has low academic standards in reading and math, an assertion that state officials have repeatedly dismissed.
The ads, which have been running in the Kansas City, Topeka and Wichita media markets, refer back to the KPI website, where viewers can see longer videos spelling out the group's case that Kansas has low standards.
KPI spokesman James Franko said the group's policy aim "is to give parents and student more freedom to achieve their individual educational goals - i.e. school choice in all of its forms - and make sure Kansas is spending its K-12 resources effectively and efficiently."
The phrase "school choice" generally refers to programs that offer students and parents a publicly funded alternative to the regular public schools in their area, either through vouchers to offset the cost of a private or parochial school, or "charter schools," which are usually public schools operated by outside groups or private companies that can be exempted from many rules and regulations that apply to public schools.
So far this year, Kansas lawmakers have turned back one such bill: Senate Bill 22, which would have established a scholarship program for certain lower-income students to attend private schools. That bill failed to advance to final action in the House, but was then sent back to the House Education Committee, where it remains available to be advanced again.
Franko said the ads began running about two weeks ago and are scheduled to continue through "the next couple of days." That would take them right up to the start of the Kansas Legislature's wrap-up session.
In a nutshell, KPI asserts that Kansas schools are not preparing students for college or careers because it has low academic standards. For evidence, the group points to actions by the Kansas State Board of Education in 2002 and 2006 when, KPI says, the state "lowered" academic standards.
State officials counter that they did not "lower" their standards - that the level of performance needed to score in the "meets standards" category did not change - but the method of classifying scores was simply re-calibrated in 2002 to align with the new No Child Left Behind law. The standards were revised in 2006, and new assessments were written to go along with them.
But what the ads do not mention that the standards were revised again in 2010 when Kansas adopted the new Common Core state standards in reading and math, which are specifically designed for "college and career readiness."
"We did not lower our standards – not in '02 and not in '06," said Kathy Toelkes, spokeswoman for the Kansas State Department of Education.
Although she had not personally seen the ads, she said, "we're focused on where we're going. We adopted new standards in 2010 that raised the bar for students in terms of ensuring students will be college- and career-ready upon graduating from high school."
The ads point to a series of studies by the National Center for Education Statistics that attempt to compare state assessments from all 50 states with a uniform benchmark, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, exams.
State officials argue there are major differences between the NAEP test and the state assessments, the most important of which is that NAEP is not aligned to any specific set of educational standards. Further, it's a test that is only administered to a random sample of students in each state, and therefore any comparison of scores between the tests requires a great deal of estimation.
Nevertheless, the reports do indicate that a student who scores at the "meets standards" level on a Kansas reading or math test, at either the 4th or 8th grade level, would only score at or below the "basic" level on the NAEP exam.
That, however, is also true for many states. In fact, according to the most recent (2009) study, no state has a proficiency standard equal to or greater than the NAEP standard in either 4th or 8th grade reading. Massachusetts is the only state in the union where proficiency standards in math exceed the NAEP standards.
Teachers and staff in the Lawrence school district will not be allowed to carry firearms on school property, even if they have a concealed permit.
That was the word from school board president Vanessa Sanburn who said the district would not change its weapons policy, despite passage of a new state law that would allow teachers and other employees with permits to carry firearms.
On April 16, Gov. Sam Brownback signed HB 2052 which, among other things, requires municipal governments to allow people with permits to carry concealed weapons into public buildings, unless those buildings have metal detectors or other security measures to prevent anyone from bringing weapons inside.
The law is mandatory for city, county and state buildings (except the Statehouse itself). Public schools are not required to allow concealed carry, but school districts may allow licensed employees to carry concealed handguns if they choose to do so.
After four years, the law will also apply to university buildings.
Sanburn said during Monday's board meeting that she had received several phone calls and emails from people asking whether teachers in Lawrence would be allowed to carry concealed weapons.
She said the board had no intention of changing its current policy, which prohibits anyone other than a law enforcement officer to possess a weapon, "in or on any school property, school grounds, or any district building or structure used for student instruction or attendance or extracurricular activities of pupils, or at any regularly scheduled school sponsored activity or event."
That prohibition includes concealed weapons, even if the person has a legal permit.