Students saddened at hearing district’s only Latin teacher may be eliminated as part of budget cuts

photo by: contributed

Latin teacher Zachary Puckett is pictured with Free State and Lawrence High Latin students who helped him run the Kansas Junior Classical League Convention on April 22, 2022, at Free State High School.

As the Lawrence school district begins to implement more than $6 million in budget cuts, one of the programs administrators have reportedly identified for elimination is high school Latin.

While the budget cuts recently approved by the Lawrence school board did not single out the Latin program, the cuts did include 10 unspecified high school positions, and it appears administrators are beginning to identify which positions they will submit to the school board for final approval.

Zachary Puckett, who teaches Latin at Lawrence High School and Free State High School, said a high school administrator told him this week that Latin would be cut from both high schools beginning next school year. Puckett, who has been with the district for 11 years, said though he’d personally feared for the program as the district has discussed budget cuts, Monday was the first he’d heard of the possibility that it could be eliminated.

“I was a little surprised and definitely sad when I heard it,” Puckett said.

Some of Puckett’s students were also struck by the news. Puckett is the district’s only Latin teacher — teaching six classes between both high schools — meaning that students can be in his class together for up to four years in a row. Owen Deavours, an LHS junior in his third year of studying Latin with Puckett, said the news really impacted him and his fellow students.

“The whole class took it really, really hard,” Deavours said. “We all got really upset. Mr. Puckett is just such an amazing teacher and it just kind of made us all sad that he may not be teaching next year.”

Deavours said that apart from teaching them Latin — which he said he’s found more helpful in understanding English grammar than his actual English classes — Puckett really cares about his students. He said during the pandemic, Puckett would talk with students about their mental health, and that the class feels like a “second family.”

“Teachers would ask how are you doing,” Deavours said. “… But Mr. Puckett went out of his way and asked what he could do.”

Free State junior Lolly Hindman said in cutting the Latin program, the district would be taking away the teacher who has singlehandedly made the biggest impact on her. She said Puckett pushed her in the classroom and also encouraged her to keep pushing through the pandemic.

“Mr. Puckett sent me a birthday card during quarantine to express how proud he was of me and how excited he was to see me in Latin the following year,” Hindman said. “No other teacher has ever cared this much about me.”

District spokesperson Julie Boyle did not specifically confirm whether the Latin program had been identified as a potential cut, but she said building and district administration continue to implement the cuts approved by the board. She noted the cuts include staffing and program reductions at all levels — elementary, middle, high school, and administrative — but that the district will not discuss specific cuts as they may affect personnel.

“As the superintendent acknowledged when the board approved the list of cuts, there will be losses,” Boyle said. “The district will have to operate differently as it implements these efficiencies.”

Specifically, the list of cuts approved by the board includes a reduction of four high school staff districtwide for a savings of $262,000 as well as a reduction of an additional six high school positions for a savings of $393,000, for a total of 10 unspecified high school positions. Those positions are in addition to dozens of teaching positions that will be eliminated due to enrollment declines and changes to classroom structure and maximum classroom thresholds.

Boyle also noted that the school board approves personnel reports as part of its public meeting agenda. Puckett’s name was not on the list of personnel changes approved as part of the board’s meeting on Monday, and Puckett said he did not know when the elimination of his position might go to the school board.


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