What is the school district’s most important service?
As a learning community, Lawrence Public Schools’ mission is to ensure educational equity and excellence so that students of all races and backgrounds achieve at high levels and graduate prepared for success in college, careers and life in a diverse and rapidly changing world. This preparation begins at the pre-kindergarten level by making sure children have the skills and supports necessary to be successful learners. As students progress through elementary, middle and high school, we challenge them to become increasingly independent in their learning so they graduate with essential knowledge and problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. The school district also supports adult learners in acquiring life and employability skills training or earning a GED or high school diploma.
What is your top priority?
Our top priority is student success. The Lawrence Board of Education’s Excellence, Equity and Engagement goals are to raise the achievement of all students, close achievement gaps and engage the community in this important work.
What has been some of the most important aspects of your success?
There are as many examples of school success as there are students. I’ll address three key district initiatives. The school board’s commitment to a districtwide focus on equity, specifically examining the impact of race on student achievement, has helped us increase our graduation rate by 15 percentage points in six years. This means our schools are successfully supporting 100 more students in earning a high school diploma.
Our blended learning initiative personalizes students’ educational experiences by emphasizing student choice and increasing student engagement. Integrating technology with direct instruction maximizes teachers’ ability to support students’ individual needs.
The district will complete a $92.5 million bond issue by the summer of 2016, implementing a community plan for improving school facilities – especially the older elementary schools in central and east Lawrence, enhancing technology and expanding career and technical educational opportunities for students. I can’t wait for the community to see the revitalization of its older school buildings.
How many people does USD 497 employ? How many live in Lawrence? Do you encourage them to live in Lawrence?
As the city’s second-largest employer (The University of Kansas is the largest), Lawrence Public Schools employ 1,823 staff. This includes 1,057 licensed and certified teachers, 712 educational support staff and 54 school and district administrators. More than 80 percent of our staff live in Lawrence.
How do you and the schools make a positive impact on the Lawrence community?
Public education is a great equalizer. An educated citizenry forms the basis for our democratic society. While people may not think of their local schools as drivers of economic development, one of the most important factors in determining the attractiveness of any community is the educational opportunities it affords its residents.
One obvious example of making a positive impact in the community is the district’s development of the Lawrence College and Career Center in partnership with Peaslee Tech. This new campus will offer career and technical education and training for high school students and adults, promoting an educated and skilled workforce and filling an identified need in our community.
What do you see as your personal responsibility and the school’s responsibility to the community?
My personal responsibility is to focus and inspire educators and support staff to meet the needs of all students, to work with the school board to ensure the staff has the necessary tools and resources to do so, and to hold us accountable for student success. Through an annual goal-setting process, the board, with input from teachers, staff and administration, sets the direction of the school district. The district is responsible for the prudent use of state and local taxes to prepare students for success in college, careers and life.
How do you manage your day-to-day stress of the district?
The most stressful issues for me are those beyond my control, such as Kansas school finance issues. I start each day believing that everyone in our organization is doing his or her best. I spend a lot of time in our schools watching, teaching and learning happen in our classrooms; this keeps everything in perspective. I try to stay in a problem solving, not a blaming, mode when difficult issues arise.
How do you reward excellent work performance? How do you manage poor performance?
A highly qualified and effective teacher is the single most important factor to a student’s success in school. The district seeks to recruit, develop and retain high quality teachers, staff and administration. District and school leaders encourage and evaluate staff.
By emphasizing effective professional development, the district works to improve staff performance. We use a clearly defined evaluation model, adopted in collaboration with our teaching professionals, to maintain excellence and to appropriately manage situations when individuals do not meet our high standards.
While student success is its own reward, the board seeks to provide a supportive environment conducive to teaching and learning, and a fair and competitive compensation and benefits package for staff. With assistance from the Lawrence Schools Foundation and other community partners, we recognize and reward excellent teaching and outstanding teamwork. It’s certainly a thrill to join the Foundation in presenting its annual $10,000 Bobs Award to deserving faculty during the last week of school.
What is the biggest challenge you feel the school district faces?
Kansas school finance issues continue to present the district’s greatest challenge. We must rely on the Governor and Kansas Legislature to take the necessary action to adequately and equitably fund public schools. It is difficult to maintain excellence in education with dwindling financial resources.
Over the course of your career, what has been the single largest change in the Lawrence education environment?
A dramatic and exciting change during my tenure in Lawrence is the district’s emphasis on expanding career and technical educational opportunities for students. The Lawrence College and Career Center, opening in the fall, will prepare students for their chosen future through hands-on learning experiences in an innovative, engaging environment. With direct engagement with business and industry leaders, students will have access to technology and curriculum that is relevant to preparing them for post-secondary enrollment and high-wage, high-demand careers. Our students will be able to earn tuition-free, college credit while attending high school, giving them a great head start on their future.
What do you foresee as being the biggest challenge for education currently and in the future, locally and nationally?
The greatest challenge for public education nationally is the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act, which will have assessment, accreditation and funding implications for our schools. The greatest challenge for us at the local level is having the funding necessary to do what we know is best for students.