LPS Superintendent's Teacher Advisory Council

Summary of October 3, 2018 Meeting

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:

  • To offer a bridge between the LPS Superintendent and LPS teachers.
  • To provide valuable school district information to Council members.
  • To open up a discussion of challenges, issues, questions and successes in the school district.
  • To give the superintendent a sense of the major issues and concerns in the school district.

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.”

Comments:

  • “We love the mentor program for new teachers.”
  • “The Foundations program is amazing, and I wish we could make it available for all new teachers.”
  • “We would like opportunities to observe other teachers in their classrooms.”
  • “We have a support group for new teachers at our school – offering support and information about a school’s expectations, culture, norms – and I would recommend that for every school.”
  • “I think first-year teachers need more preparation for student behavior issues…I felt like I was more prepared for the instructional piece of teaching, but not the behavior piece.”

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:

  • An interlocal agreement with the city that will fund six new middle school School Resource Officers (SROs), additional mental health resources, an added threat assessment person for the city and additional investments in Community Learning Centers.
  • Development of additional training materials and resources in our schools, bringing LPS to a new level of security related to drills and standard response protocol.
  • Adding a new security coordinator at LPS this year.

Joel asked teachers how they were processing safety and security – and what, if anything, they are hearing from families, students and staff members.

Comments:

  • “I think cell phones and social media are a huge culprit in causing anxiety out there …. Social media and teenagers are a dangerous mix in a high school.”
  • “I work in an open concept school, where there are not always doors on classrooms, and there are many teachers who are concerned about their safety … But I see that concern coming from teachers and not students.”
  • “I know we are going to have more SROs, but I think there is some concern about other activities: band concerts and athletic events.”
  • “I love the new drill protocols and information … just knowing it is consistent across the district. Personally, I’ve found that helpful and adding to a sense of security.”
  • A few teachers said they thought the new security videos were somewhat advanced for young elementary children – and ELL students.

Substitute teachers:

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:

  • Heavily recruiting student teachers to become active substitute teachers.
  • Continuing to look at possible incentives.
  • Offering more professional learning for substitute teachers.
  • Starting to investigate the possibility of establishing “permanent substitute teacher positions” – teachers who would work full-time to be available as substitutes.

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:

  • What are those possible current practices, procedures – that we are not getting a good yield on our investment? From your lens, what could we do differently to save time?