The Board of Education for Lowell Area Schools met for a little more than an hour on Monday night for its regular January meeting. All members were present, and the meeting was conducted virtually via the GoToMeeting platform. It was preceded by a closed session held to discuss the interim superintendent’s evaluation.
Feedback on Hybrid Learning from Students, Staff
At the start of the meeting, the Board of Education received an update from two members of Lowell High School’s student leadership. Emma Hollern and Hallie Greenop shared feedback from students on the online and hybrid learning models that have been used so far in the 2020/2021 school year.
“Overall, students like it either all online or all in-person,” Greenop said. The hybrid schedule, on the other hand, seemed to offer few benefits from a student perspective.
“With hybrid, students are very excited to see their friends, but they also get the impression that it stresses out teachers,” Hollern explained. What’s more, many students felt as though their class time was essentially cut in half. “Students feel like the time when they are remote isn’t very productive,” Hollern said.
Hollern and Greenop said that with a fully online schedule, teachers were always available throughout the day to connect with students virtually. However, under the hybrid model, learning opportunities are limited for those at home since teachers also have students in the classroom.
Later in the meeting, staff from Lowell High School provided feedback that echoed Hollern and Greenop’s comments.
Jamieson Irwin, who teaches AP psychology, said it was easier to stay on track with the curriculum when students were fully in person or fully online. “I was able to provide a good lesson every day,” he said. However, under the hybrid program, he’s found it more difficult to get students at home to participate when he also has students in the classroom.
However, teacher Danielle Ayala felt the math department had developed a good system to keep students on track. “Now, kids at home are on Google Meet every day,” she said. She also noted that the AP Calculus class was right where they should be. Still, she thought it would always be preferable to teach face-to-face.
Overall, principal Stephen Gough was pleased with the progress that had been made since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been amazing to see what our students and staff have learned since last March,” he said. Students have been surveyed and adjustments have been made to ensure a better experience for everyone. More than 90% of students have been engaged in virtual learning, according to school data.
Superintendent’s Contract Approved
The main piece of business for the Monday meeting was the approval of a contract for Nate Fowler, moving him from the position of interim superintendent to permanent superintendent.
Much of the board discussion related to the superintendent decision occurred in closed sessions, and details of Fowler’s contract were not shared during the open session. However, board members said there was no doubt that Fowler was the right person to fill the gap left with the retirement of former superintendent Greg Pratt.
Board member Pat Nugent referred to the comments submitted as part of a community survey conducted by the Kent Intermediate School District on behalf of Lowell Area Schools. “People were looking for someone who knew our district, knew our students, knew our culture,” Nugent said. “Nate’s name came up again and again.”
Prior to becoming the interim superintendent, Fowler served most recently as the curriculum director. He has also been a teacher, coach, assistant principal and principal during his 24 years with Lowell Area Schools.
The board voted unanimously to approve the contract for Fowler. “I think we have set our district up for long-term stability and great leadership,” Board President Brian Krajewski said.
District to Buy Three New Buses
In other notable news, the board unanimously approved the purchase of three 71-passenger buses for a total cost of $304,857.
Board member Laurie Kuna noted the price seemed higher than the last time the district bought buses. Fowler replied that the price was about $10,000 more per bus, and that was partially due to the purchase of an engine and body warranty for each bus. The warranties will cover the vehicles for 10 years or 200,000 miles, and Fowler believed the extra protection was money well spent.
The next regular meeting of the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education will be on February 8, 2021 at 7pm.