Superintendent hopes school district’s proposed equity policy will be ‘legacy work’

photo by: Dylan Lysen

Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis speaks during a presentation about the school district's progress on its strategic plan during the Lawrence school board's meeting on Monday, Feb. 24, 2020.

School district leaders are ready to get more into the details of the district’s proposed new equity policy, which district leaders say will include specific practices to address various educational disparities.

As part of its meeting Monday, the Lawrence school board reviewed a proposed equity policy that focuses on addressing inequities experienced by marginalized groups, such as people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, women and several others. Superintendent Anthony Lewis requested the new policy after he began his position with the district in July 2018, and told the board he was glad to see it come forward. Lewis said the policy would not be just another sheet of paper, and would involve work to ensure that the reasons students underperform are addressed.

“Really putting this policy in action, this really can truly be part of our legacy work,” Lewis said.

The stated goal of the proposed policy is to disrupt systemic racism and other inequities by changing the district’s governance and resource allocation, among other things. The policy seeks to address disparities in access to academic opportunities, graduation outcomes, and disciplinary action for students from historically marginalized communities.

Board President Kelly Jones said that she, board member Melissa Johnson, and board member Shannon Kimball have been working on the draft policy with the assistance of Deputy Superintendent Anna Stubblefield. Jones said the draft, which has gone to the district’s equity council, school leadership and other groups for input, was meant to be an umbrella policy that will ultimately have specific practices and procedures that fall under it.

The board voted 6-0, with Melissa Johnson absent, to make some changes to the draft policy, including changing some wording from “should” to “will,” to strengthen the commitment of certain statements, and to make sure the draft includes specific references to the district’s Native American students and groups.

The policy calls on the superintendent to develop strategies with clear metrics that result in “disparity improvements” for marginalized students. It also says those strategies should take into account equitable resource allocation and workforce opportunities, which includes hiring faculty and staff representing the district’s diverse student population.

Stubblefield said a related document called “Equity in Action” would include the more specific practices and procedures, as well as an accountability matrix that would be transparent and public. She said those aspects of the policy would be presented on to the board on May 10, when it will vote on whether to adopt the policy.

In other business, the board:

• Met for a work session to discuss the district’s budget. Finance director Kathy Johnson reported on the status of the district’s current 2020-21 school year budget and the application process for federal COVID-19 relief funding.

• Voted 6-0, with Melissa Johnson absent, to approve a memorandum of understanding with Baker University to establish a dual-credit program for the Lawrence Virtual School. While Lawrence High School and Free State High School students may receive college and high school credits through a dual-credit program with the University of Kansas, known as Jayhawk Blueprint, LVS students have been unable to participate because it does not offer online-only courses.

• Heard a report on the district’s participation in the Kansas State Department of Education’s school redesign program, which aims to provide students with more personalized learning opportunities. Stubblefield said that the three elementary schools participating in the program, Broken Arrow, Deerfield and Hillcrest, were reevaluating aspects of the redesign because of the pandemic and will provide an update to the board in the fall. Free State High School has plans that include a schedule redesign with more flexibility for students and teachers, which is expected to be implemented next school year.

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