Summary of January 9, 2019 Meeting

The second Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Teacher Advisory Council of the 2018-19 school year met Wednesday, Jan. 9.

General Update

The continuing Nebraska Legislative conversation about property taxes:
“We are actually fortunate in Nebraska to fund public education with property taxes…We are 49th in the country for state aid support of public education … But to date we have not had draconian budget issues with education, mostly because property taxes are fairly stable.”

Joel explained there is an ongoing rural/urban battle over what it costs and how we should fund education. “The governor has said that property taxes are his No. 1 target …. Funding is fairly even right now, between urban and rural support, but if we shift from property to sales and income taxes, urban areas will pay a major part of those increases.”

Joel also warned that LPS will likely see a $10 million decrease in state aid in the coming year: “Our goal will be to maintain the integrity of what we do as we continue to plan for the future.”

Superintendent’s Facility Advisory Council: LPS is growing, Joel said, pointing out that our high schools are now working at 110 percent of capacity and pushing the limits of school infrastructure. Five of our six LPS high schools now have enrollments topping 2,000. Three have more than 2,200.

He explained that this month he is convening the Superintendent’s Facility Advisory Committee to review the school district’s facility and infrastructure needs, options and priorities. The Committee, made up of 100 community and school stakeholders, will consider both present and future facility and infrastructure needs looking forward over the next 7-10 years.

“The biggest question is about future high schools: How do we address high schools in an equitable and progressive manner? How many high schools should we build – and where? How large should they be?”

Committee recommendations will be presented to the superintendent and Lincoln Board of Education by Sept. 1, 2019. Joel explained that the Board of Education will then have the conversation about a potential bond issue in 2020 and determine: “how much can we ask of our community?”

Election season: Joel reminded all LPS employees to be prudent and wise during election season – a spring election that will include both city and school district campaigns. “If someone sends you anything political, just delete it. Do not forward it to anyone. Do not even send it to your home computer. Delete it …. I want all of you to be politically informed, be good citizens … But we cannot use taxpayer resources for any sort of political activity.”

Pfishing: Joel also cautioned LPS employees to beware of smarter and trickier forms of “pfishing,” the practice of sending emails that appear to be from reputable organizations – but are actually meant to scam people out of personal information.

There are fraudulent schemes that are getting much more elaborate in their methods and messages, Joel explained, “convincing people to share their passwords, change where their paycheck is going …. We are launching an educational campaign to inform and help our employees.”

Questions and Comments

Question: Is there still a push for school vouchers in the Legislature?
Answer: “This is real, and will continue … We will be battling this one for a long time. This is a well-funded group … The good news is there appears to be a good balance on the Legislative Education Committee … And I believe LPS will be a tough nut for privatization people to crack. We are a strong public school district, and I’m not sure many families want to experiment with their kids when we do teaching and learning so well.”

Question: Joel asked teachers how much they are seeing students engaged with technology, “What percentage of time do you think an average student is engaged with some form of technology in school?”
Answer: Everyone agreed 50 percent or more – some went as high as 90-plus percent.
One teacher responded: “I think it comes down to the teacher. Some educators don’t know how to use or teach with technology … .It comes down to professional development.”

Tabletop Conversations

Joel asked for tabletop conversations in which teachers discussed: What is happening inside your schools and classrooms – right now – that might represent individualized, customized, project-based, problem-centered learning? With the advent of technology, providing greater access to digital resources, how are we encouraging students to think more critically and collaboratively? How are we ensuring that our students see a connection to what they are learning – with future careers?

Joel stressed “this will not happen overnight … but I think we have the ability to start thinking about delivery differently…The challenge going forward is to take a successful school district …. with continued emphasis on student outcomes, and embed more focus on engagement. If you have ideas you want to try out, please bring it forward, contact me.”

Comments and observations from tables of teachers and individual teachers:
• “We see Community Learning Centers giving kids those additional experiences of clubs, connecting with the community … Art classes have some flexibility to problem solve, partner with the community … But we’re not sure how you provide flexibility with district curriculum and other curricular areas.”

• “We see The Career Academy as having the flexibility to deliver curriculum through more non-traditional models, create more community connections and business partnerships, internships, connections to community and jobs … In fact, high schools in general may be better equipped, have more flexibility than elementary and middle schools.”

• “We talked about layered teaching and curriculum as a better way to approach students … understanding commonalities, but giving students choices in how we meet objectives … creating a menu of how we can meet objectives.”

• “We are indeed resource rich, and need to take constant inventory in what we have available. The idea of having time to be flexible is great. But some of the more personalized styles of learning are hard in a pre-scripted type of curriculum, it’s difficult to create an aura of choice.”

• “The VOICE program actually offers great opportunities for kids to go out and experience things outside of classroom. “

• “We worry about some students losing elective time, because so often when kids don’t do well we take them out for additional support – during elective time.”

• “This is difficult in an environment in which we have to be accountable to taxpayers, and that is understandable …. And yes we have strong, rich curriculum in all areas. But we must find balance … It is a misconception that we should have one objective for all second graders to meet … and expect them to all meet that objective in the same way at the same pace … The way each student gets there might look different … Yes, we should have high expectations for all students, but thinking about how they reach those expectations should be individualized.”

• “I think we are doing more problem solving in science … It feels like the pendulum is swinging and we are less about objectives, more about problem solving.”

• “We have implemented a STEM challenge every week … on Friday afternoons, and kids are pumped, they light up during these times and we are seeing fewer behavior issues.”

• “We’re starting to implement some of these methods in in math …. in teams … using whiteboards ….. peers correcting one another … learning to disagree appropriately, accepting feedback …. partner learning. Math is great for problem solving together.”

• “Most kids start out loving school, wanting to get their hands-on things, having choices …. We believe we need to start teaching about careers in those lower grades.”

• “We think we need to talk about the ownership piece with kids and learning, becoming more engaging …. getting kids to buy into learning …. We also talked about how kids need life skills, how to solve problems, and they need to know it’s ok to make mistakes. A true teacher knows that problem solving needs to go with curriculum.”

• “I see some flexibility in electives such as culinary and cooking …. High school students who are learning how to cook, market their product and sell to staff members … But there is definitely more flexibility with the upper grade curriculum.”

• “At Southeast, we are doing cultural proficiency, starting to look at different strategies to individualize how to make students who come from diverse backgrounds … feel more comfortable and confident … while celebrating their individuality.”