Summary of October 25, 2017 Meeting

Highlights:  October 25, 5 p.m. 

Remaining Teacher Advisory Council meetings,

5-6:30 p.m. in the Board Room at LPS District Office:

  • Wednesday, Jan. 24
  • Wednesday, April 25

Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Steve Joel Wednesday welcomed members of the Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Council – one teacher per school – to their first meeting of the school year.

Highlights of superintendent remarks

Steve Joel explained that this has been a decade of vibrant student growth at LPS:

“This is not the Lincoln of five, 10 or 20 years ago,” he stressed.  “We are seeing housing development in every direction around Lincoln…Our students are a little poorer, we’re seeing families coming here from across the country and across the world.”

Looking at a breakdown for the 5,000 students LPS added in the past five years:

  • 217 attend PreK programs
  • 1,026 are English Language Learners
  • 1,181 are children with special needs
  • 2,559 might be called general education students

Amidst that growth, LPS faces a variety of issues – including the importance of continually talking about the power of public education, Joel continued.

He cited the visit of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as an “opportunity to demonstrate success in public education.”  He noted she didn’t likely become an instant convert to public education, but pointed out she did affirm the wonderful choices available in public education in Lincoln, Nebraska.  “Charters will be difficult to sell here where public schools are thriving, and that is an endorsement of your work, thank you for that…Your work makes it a lot easier to dance in that political arena.”

Joel also talked about several recent school district initiatives: the strategic planning process and the LPS Community High School Task Force.

The strategic planning process started more than a year ago, gathering thousands of responses when LPS asked the community:  What should we be working on as a school district that will continue to make sure all students are successful?

The Lincoln Board of Education Tuesday moved closer to a final draft for a new, refreshed strategic plan – after developing six new themes that would potentially provide focus for the school district over the next five years:

  • Academic Success
  • Future Ready Global Citizens
  • Support for Students
  • Support for Educators
  • Family and Community Partnerships
  • Facilities and infrastructure – Growth Ready

Next, the Strategic Planning Committee will distill consensus, then turn over those suggestions to the superintendent and staff to create a proposed draft.  The Board will likely vote final approval of a Strategic Plan in December.

The LPS High School Task Force is made up of about 70 community citizens and LPS educators – formed to investigate community options and priorities for serving high school students.   The group met for the second time late in October and divided into four subcommittees to begin studying specific issues in more depth.

“They will work through the school year and I look forward to seeing their recommendations at the close of the year,” Joel said, explaining that the group will discuss questions such as: Do we need a new high school? Do we need a full-service class A high school?  If so, where should we build it?  What about smaller focus programs? What should high school education look like going into the future?

Joel also addressed the recent LPS budget process, which resulted in some robust discussion in the community.  He stressed some citizens did not fully understand the full budget landscape for the school district (** see attachment with full explanation).

Here’s how he defined this year’s LPS budget:

  • The school district is funded mostly through property taxes and state aid to education.
  • With LPS growing by almost 1,000 students a year – the budget must grow in order to hire enough teachers to control the size of classrooms and provide excellent teacher and learning.
  • This year state aid to education stayed relatively flat – only increasing by $271,324 – definitely not enough to keep up with the 830 additional students.
  • Consequently, the revenue to support the budget growth predominately came from an 8.82 percent increase in property valuation.

“Your Board of Education had the courage to do the right thing and has done a fantastic job planning for the future,” Joel said. “But this was a difficult issue to explain to the community…Had we not had a property tax boost, our school district would have had to make some difficult decisions.”

Lincoln Public Schools 2017-2018 Budget Highlights Document

Group activity and superintendent question

Joel asked Teacher Advisory Council participants to divide into groups and answer this question:  Are we adequately preparing our students for the future?  

Group answers:  

“We like some of the things we are seeing in our classrooms, kids are dealing with problem solving…At the same time, we struggle with the standardization of curriculum and the rigorous pace.  For some kids, that’s a real challenge.”

“We see career ready classrooms in LPS where kids are gaining life skills for the future and that’s great.  But when we ask ourselves – ‘Are we really getting kids ready to be life-long learners and problem solvers’ – we’re not sure…Yes, we have a rigorous curriculum, tests to take, data to look at – but are we missing some aspects to really help these kids be ready for the future?”

“When we talked about some areas, like science, our kids love science, we see kids light up during science. It’s inquiry based and is making a difference for kids…But our curriculum is so rigorous, we wonder about having the time to do more.”

“We have definitely seen an increase in the curriculum in being problem and question driven…We also see the value of curiosity and see that increasing at all levels…But with the evolving role of the teacher as facilitator and what that means…we also wonder about the social emotional piece…making sure our kids are prepared for changes, handling the stress of performing.”

“We talked about rigor, time constraints and how that impacts different areas of students: ELL, special education, children in the early development stage.”

“We worry that as we try to engage children and create a love of learning…our hands are tied with standards, assessments, accountability.”

Jane Stavem, associate superintendent of Instruction

Stavem talked about several aspects of change in teaching and learning – affirming there are indeed challenges but also great opportunities.

“Yes, we do have increased rigor, but we also have incredible support with our academic performance…I believe we have to begin blending and bending and being more flexible in what we do.  We also have a very short school day, and with constraints like time, we do face parameters about what has to happen during a school day.”

Stavem said she also believes it is difficult for some people to envision what they have not seen. So she formed a teacher cohort this school year with educators from Goodrich and Moore middle schools – that have been meeting, visiting innovative places across the community, talking about cutting-edge jobs of the future and talking about what this means for our classrooms.

She did stress that some of these changes will require reviewing professional learning, “a redesign of teaching and learning…This is a heavy lift that we must do carefully…as we continue doing what is best for our kids.”

She encouraged anyone interested in participating in a future cohort to contact her.