The first Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Teacher Advisory Council of the 2018-19 school year met Wednesday, Oct. 3. The group – formed when LPS Superintendent Steve Joel first came to LPS – has these goals:
LPS Superintendent Steve Joel welcomed everyone to the group Wednesday, thanked them for their time – and encouraged Council members to talk with other educators in their building for questions and feedback. “You are my teacher ears and eyes at the building level,” Joel said. “Please consider what you need to know, and what I need to know as superintendent. We are open to suggested presentations and great conversation material – it’s a wide-open array of topics.”
New teachers: Noting the natural generational changes in the work force, with Baby Boomers leaving and thousands of new teachers joining LPS in the past five years, Joel asked Advisory Council members for suggestions and comments on how we support new teachers. “As a school district we have to shorten the learning curve for new teachers if we want to continue our tremendous reputation for student achievement.”
Student Enrollment: Joel referred to the recent announcement of total LPS student enrollment numbers, topping 42,000 for the first time in the history of the school district – adding around 5,000 students in the past eight years – while also noting the school district’s slower growth this year with 275 more students.
Matt Larsen, Interim Assistant to the Superintendent for Instruction, told the group that student growth this year – smaller growth than anticipated – could likely be attributed to a variety of factors. He observed LPS has 120 fewer English Language Learner students this year than last, and said that had an impact on enrollment. But he stressed that ELL numbers are not the only factor in slower growth, and that he and LPS officials will continue to analyze the numbers.
Safety and Security: Joel told the Advisory Council he believes LPS has invested well in safety and security – and that after last February’s Parkland shooting, LPS has followed up and continued to make good decisions. He pointed to:
Joel asked teachers how they were processing safety and security – and what, if anything, they are hearing from families, students and staff members.
Joel and Larsen responded to a question about the availability of substitute teachers at LPS. “This is a tough one,” Joel said.
Larsen said the “fill rate” for substitute teachers in our school district stands at 86 percent so far this year, compared to 89 percent last year. “But one of the real issues is supply and demand … With more teaching staff at LPS, there is more demand for substitute teachers.”
Joel and Larsen said LPS Human Resources continues to find new ways to address this issue, including:
Crowding and bond issues:
Teachers also asked about what the school district is doing to relieve over-crowding at schools, particularly Scott Middle School.
Larsen pointed to strong leadership at LPS that has resulted in forward-thinking planning for future schools and facilities. For instance, he said, LPS has property in southwest Lincoln specifically designated as possible space for a middle school.
“But to build schools, we will have to pass a bond issue,” Joel continued. “And we are faced with a major problem: I assure you we have more needs than resources.”
He said currently LPS probably needs: A new traditional high school (at a cost of around $90 million), as well as three more middle schools and five more elementary schools … and that doesn’t include ongoing needs in infrastructure.”
General questions and comments
Question: Last year I had a kindergarten class with 27 students …What is LPS doing to keep our class sizes under control?
Answer: Joel and Larsen said LPS has what professionally would be considered great class sizes – with the smallest average classroom sizes at the kindergarten level. “But there are definitely places there is pressure … and our numbers don’t always divide up neatly, especially in schools with two or three sections. We are very sensitive to this issue, continue to watch and see if we need to make changes and offer additional support, and we are doing everything possible to support you.”
Question: What can you do about students who are not attending high school consistently – those erratic attenders who disrupt the classroom?
Answer: Joel said LPS continues to look at different ways to deliver instruction, particularly to students who have serious attendance and behavior issues: “We feel like we have made some good investments in our programs for students with behavior issues. But there may be a point when we have to say, we cannot freeze the system to accommodate a small group of kids.”
Question: Do we have plans for more preschool opportunities?
Answer: Joel affirmed there are hundreds of children on the waiting list for spots in the LPS preschool program. “Our Board of Education is very interested in getting more into early childhood education, but this is a very expensive program and our resources are limited.”
Question: Sometimes I feel like the PBiS program does not offer consequences for students.
Answer: Larsen said they have heard those comments, “and we are looking into possible solutions … perhaps other sorts of strategies that can be integrated into this system … I think we will make progress on that this year.”
Homework for January meeting:
Joel asked Advisory Council members to look ahead to the January meeting and start to consider:
Updated October 4, 2018