LPS Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Council

Summary of May 14, 2018 Meeting

“This is probably the most productive year we’ve had since I’ve been here, and at the same time the most challenging,” Superintendent Steve Joel said. “Mostly we faced challenges somewhat removed from the classroom: Security, a conversation about future high school solutions, what’s happening in Washington, D.C., what’s coming out of the Department of Education regarding accountability, funding, Title I programming…the relative uncertainty that we’ve experience in a country that is pretty polarized right now.”

The superintendent opened the meeting with a conversation about school safety, noting proposed funding for increased security measures such as more School Resource Officers, mental health resources, threat assessment and added support for Community Learning Centers (through either a Joint Public Agency or an interlocal agreement, both now under consideration by the Lincoln City Council and Lincoln Board of Education).

“I don’t think there’s a school district in America that has invested as we have in safety and security,” he continued, listing Security Entrance Monitors, cameras in high schools, School Resource Officers, two national certified threat assessment officials at LPS, and more. He said LPS is planning a summer task force to start reviewing appropriate safety and security measures – focused on making sure the school district is proactive and not reactive.

“We are collecting feedback, reflections and perceptions,” Joel continued. “So I’m asking you: Are our schools safe? Do you have questions, concerns?”

Comments about security from Teacher Advisory Council:

  • “I think overall LPS does a great job, but I get concerned on voting days…. when it doesn’t feel that safe with voters coming in and out… There was a time and place to having voting at schools, but is it the time and place to find other polling locations?”
  • “I worry about the various summer school programs across the school district.” (This year, there will be a School Resource Officer at North Star during summer school classes there.)
  • “My concern are the community organizations using our buildings later afternoons and evenings.”
  • “I really appreciate all the quick, clear and professional communication we receive, I appreciate that immensely…in a way that helps calm parents.”
  • “I think our drills are going well and have come a long way to alleviate some of student concerns, giving them a solid plan.”
  • “I have one suggestion: I think students with special education needs may need some additional support for drills…perhaps a video that explains the procedures.”
  • “I think you need to be careful with the frequency we do drills….so we do not de-sensitize kids.”
  • “I think our teachers do a great job of explaining drills in a way that doesn’t scare kids. It’s more like: ‘This is what we do to be safe.’”

Questions about security from Teacher Advisory Council:

What are the black domes on the ceilings of our classrooms? They look like cameras.
They are not cameras, but are related to the new classroom audio enhancement systems. In general, LPS security cameras are located in public spaces such as hallways and entrances.

What are the security priorities for LPS right now? Are you considering bullet-proof glass? More security cameras?
Currently we are focusing on ensuring every school has controlled access doors, which means someone must electronically release and allow someone to enter a school. The school district is also focusing on threat assessment, and early and proactive measures to identify potential issues ahead of time.

What kind of training do you provide security entrance monitors?
They are trained in information systems – looking up people to make sure visitors are not registered sex offenders, vetting visitors to make sure they have not been flagged for potential issues. They are not trained or meant to act as security guards.

Are there systems we can purchase to avoid doors propped open at schools?
This is more of a school culture issue and we are gradually changing the culture – educating schools about the necessity of keeping doors closed and locked.

Superintendent District Update

Budget for 2018-19: The budget next year looks good with increased revenue and plans to fund for growth and provide increased teacher support, Joel said. He pointed out that state equalization aid was flat for LPS for the past several years and finally caught up this year – due to the significant growth in numbers and complexity of needs for students. “But that also intensifies the politics in the Legislature.” He said the Board of Education is seriously considering a reduction in the property tax levy for the coming year.

LPS/Community High School Task Force: The Task Force has set the stage for building a comprehensive, community-based high school – likely included in the next bond issue – while continuing to explore additional focus programs and specialized high school offerings. He stressed there will be 150 more students at The Career Academy next year, recognizing the time it takes for young people to consider new alternative high school settings.

Additional comments, questions from the Teacher Advisory Council

“We were thinking you might consider a separate high school facility to specifically house fifth and sixth year seniors.”

What is the thinking for schools that are now filled – until we can vote on a new bond issue?
“Short-term, the school district will likely need to turn to portables … We know that is not a perfect solution, but we’ll have to make some tough decisions in the next few years.”

Conclusion

“Our community appreciates your work,” Joel stressed. “Overall, at the end of the day, we are a high-producing, high-performing school district.”

Remaining questions from Monday meeting

The current new elementary school math curriculum is particularly challenging for students with special education needs – and ELL students…Is there anything planned to provide additional support for them?
We continue to work with the Special Education Department and ELL teachers on supports for students and providing professional learning opportunities for teachers. Doing a better job supporting students that struggle in mathematics (and any subjects for that matter) will always be something that we, as curriculum teams, are working on and adjusting as we learn more.

There are homework assignments for math where tools are required at home, but we don’t provide them…such as teaching about angles and necessary protractors. Thoughts on that?
There are homework assignments that require the use of protractors. We have asked teachers to send home protractors with students on the days that these assignments are to be done. We apologize if this didn’t happen in some classrooms this year and we will continue to work on communicating this with teachers to make sure that the appropriate materials go home in the future.

Why do high school students not receive credit for what is called Accelerated Math?
Accelerated Math is a high school course that serves students with either multiple year gaps in their education or limited education. The purpose is to meet students where they are and to prepare them for algebra, which is a part of our graduation requirements. For a course to count as high school math credit, the content of the course must be at least at the algebra level. Accelerated Math typically covers everything from arithmetic to pre-algebra concepts.

Some of the grading does not seem equivalent between math and reading. Is there any thought to norming across curriculum areas?
Our grading is equivalent (e.g., what a 3 and 4 mean are the same across the district). We always review and adjust the criteria for grading (e.g., rubrics and assessments) annually. Our curriculum department is in constant collaboration with our district assessment department to produce appropriate assessments. As a district, we are also reviewing and studying the philosophy of grading (how to grade for learning) so we can best serve all of our students in the district.