First Bell: Math medalists add to school board festivities; $5,142 for a hotel?; Reader’s Digest hails Homecoming King

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

Monday night’s Lawrence school board meeting included plenty of decisions and discussions regarding important topics, including budgets, taxes, full-day kindergarten, school names and potential future school consolidations.

Good thing the meeting started off on a more celebratory note.

Board members recognized a long line of students who had won honors in recent weeks and months. Among them were Yuan “Jenny” Xu, a presidential scholar candidate from Lawrence High School; and Stefan Petrovic, a student at South Junior High School who won the state-level competition of the National Geographic Bee.

Also recognized were winners in the Kansas City Area Teachers of Mathematics Contest, which attracted 1,000 students to take math tests during a Saturday morning at Olathe East High School.

Dozens of winners filled seats in the board meeting room, many of them proudly wearing their medals earned during the competition. One by one they filed up to the front, shaking hands with each board member and Superintendent Rick Doll, the students’ parents often taking photos or shooting video of the occasion.

Rich Minder, president of the school board, summed up the mood: “The entire district and the board is proud of every single student who has won. All of you students should be proud of yourselves. We’re all very proud of you.”

As the students left the room to collect certificates, Minder glanced over at his fellow board members: “My school days were never as successful. I’m humbled.”

To see a list of the winners, download the document at the side of this story.


An astute reader pointed out an interesting expenditure from a board “bank statement reconciliation” report tucked inside a Lawrence school board agenda packet awhile back.

The item: A $5,142.22 check written by Free State High School to The Palmer House, a hotel in Chicago.

The reader’s concern: The Palmer House is a high-end property, he said, one that clearly would be outside the price range of anyone making a business trip, much less someone from a school district struggling with budget cuts.

Kathy Johnson, the district’s division director of finance, sent an explanation to members of the Lawrence school board, who had caught wind of the expenditure.

“This is a check paying for Model UN Students to attend the Model UN conference in Chicago,” Johnson said, noting that the check covered expenses for 17 students and one adult sponsor. “All revenues that paid for conference expenses are from the students, who pay their way in full.

“The district/school collected the money from the students, and then made the travel arrangements as a block on behalf of the students and then subsequently paid the bills for the trip.

“No General Fund or other district funds supported this trip. It was all student paid. On occasion students may do some fund raising but there was no fund raising done this year to support Model UN club students’ travel to the conference.”


Owen Phariss may have been on top when he was named Homecoming King, but now he’s really hit the big time.

The Free State High School senior is the subject of a story, “Best Royal Family,” in the May issue of Reader’s Digest. The content isn’t online yet, but it’s very much in print.

“It’s so cool,” said Owen’s mom, Nancy Holmes, who already has bought up more than a half dozen copies of the national periodical. “He knows it’s big-time stuff. I got one copy and took it to school, and showed it to everybody, waiting for them all there in the commons.

“Everybody’s pumped about it. They think it’s way cool.”

The story is about Owen, a student with Down Syndrome, and his friends who helped change a school practice that previously had prevented students with disabilities from being eligible for the Homecoming Court.

We ran a story about Owen’s situation in September. A quick update: Holmes reports that her son plans to attend either junior college or a four-year university in the fall.

“We’re still trying to decide where to send him,” she said.

Sounds like he might have something to put on the essay portion of the application.