Summary of April 10, 2019 Meeting

The third and final Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Teacher Advisory Council of the 2018-19 school year met Wednesday, April 10.

General School District Update

Connie Duncan, president of the Lincoln Board of Education:

“We’ll be dealing with the budget throughout the summer … Nobody seems to like property taxes, but I do, because I like really good schools … I would like you all to do one thing for me: When you are out in the community, talk about LPS and invite them to take a tour of one of our schools.”

LPS Superintendent Steve Joel:

“I think that once we return from spring break, it’s a race to the end of the year…. while we are also starting to plan for the next school year.”

He said that staffing looks different this year compared to previous years, because there are fewer retirements this year – and the budget is tighter than in years past. “It goes in cycles.”

Joel expressed his gratitude for a great school year: “Thank you for your commitment and dedication to students and teaching … I believe the coming years in education are going to be every exciting.”

Upcoming budget

“We will receive significantly less in state aid next year, but we likely won’t have a final number until we get closer to the end of the Legislative session,” Joel said. “There are many unknowns this year in the Legislature, and public schools are caught right in the middle…. I would urge you all to talk to your local senators, they are strong proponents of our public schools.”

He stressed that LPS has been wise in budget forecasting and making sure there is a healthy cash balance for the leaner years.

Superintendent’s Facility Advisory Committee

Joel said that the big work of the school district now is the Facility Advisory Committee, made up of 100 community and school stakeholders who will consider both present and future facility and infrastructure needs looking forward over the next 7-10 years.

He noted significant student growth over the past 5 to 10 years, especially in the six high schools that are now operating at 110 percent of capacity. “The big question has been how many high schools and where, but what emerged at the last Committee meeting … was consensus that we should be moving toward two high schools, something north and something south, only built to half capacity this time around … Buildings can be built today with seamless ways to add more space.”

He said he believes recommendations from the Facility Advisory Committee will include additional focus programs, generally housed inside existing high schools. “Education is really moving toward connecting kids to their strengths, something they can study and connect with … We as a school district must continue to prepare kids for jobs we don’t even know will exist in the future … and that has meant more of an emphasis on project- and problem-based learning.”

The Committee will issue final facility recommendations by August, the Lincoln Board of Education will determine whether a bond issue will move forward in November or December, and the community will likely vote on a LPS bond issue sometime in 2020.

Questions and Answers

The Legislature approved new legislation with a reading mandate. How will that impact LPS, and will this mean even more testing?

Joel and Matt Larson, associate superintendent for Instruction, said LPS officials have already started mapping out a strategy that will address the new reading legislation.

“We would remind you that, under the School Board’s direction, we have fewer assessments now than we had a few years ago … But bottom line this won’t get better. We have state mandated tests that we must administer … That’s the story of the environment we work in. “

Larson continued: “Ultimately, however, the assessment should be invisible within instruction … It should help you make better instructional decisions. Part of it is a mind shift where we don’t draw a line between instruction and assessment. Assessment should be a tool that helps you be a more effective teacher. Assessment should help your instructional practice.”

Our enrollment growth slowed last year, is that expected to continue – and are there fewer kids attending kindergarten next year?

Joel: “I think we need several more years to monitor what will happen with our student growth, but yes, next year we are only predicting 350 to 400 more students than this year.”

The kindergarten question, however, is a different question. This year LPS is asking families to sign up for kindergarten online, and that is a cultural change that will take some time for families to adjust – so the kindergarten numbers are merely coming in slower than in previous years.

Are we going to lose federal dollars for support of our Title I schools?

Joel: “There is plenty of anxiety and national trends in education right now, with threats to decrease federal dollars.”

He predicted that much of the conversation is politics and rhetoric, and that Title I schools are fairly safe. “At the end of the day, you would have trouble getting senators to cut educational funding for marginalized populations.”

He added he is more concerned about the possible advent of charters and vouchers on the state level, particularly pointing out proposed legislation that would allow tax credits. “Charters and vouchers start with tax credits … There are people who are very motivated to chip away at public education.”

Council tabletop conversation

Joel asked Council members to have conversations, asking: “At a classroom level, how do you try and ensure equity in your classroom?”

  • “I think the great definer is actually having a goal, a definite learning goal – so there is complete understanding that we all need to get to the same place.”
  • “You need to know your students at an individual level …. You need to get out into their world and understand them better, understand how they learn … and what they’re going through … We need to be aware of student needs. We need to understand that kids need shoes and food before they will learn … What barriers are in place?”
  • “Understanding unique student needs may happen more easily at the elementary or middle school level … It’s harder in high school to know the struggles our students have. … We don’t know all their stories.”
  • “We definitely need smaller class sizes with students with more needs … That can be a great equalizer.”
  • “I do think equity comes from some building control … You know your kids, and as a leader it is powerful to be able to distribute points in ways that meet your individual needs … I think sometimes that’s what makes us feel like a smaller school district.”