Board of Education Recap: High School Courses, Schools of Choice and Security Grant Purchases

The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education met Monday evening in the administration building for their monthly work session. All board members were present for the meeting.

Sex Education Advisory Committee

Per state requirements, the sex education advisory committee met three times over the last few months to review materials for the district. There are specific directives when it comes to the makeup of the board: it must have representation from the student body, from teachers, parents and medical professionals. The board meets every two years to evaluate reproductive health educational materials and decide whether they need to be updated.

Two years ago, the board reviewed the materials for fifth graders in the district and made significant changes to that reproductive health curriculum. This year, the board examined materials at the middle and high school. Ultimately, the board didn’t feel that the curriculum needed any notable changes, save some minor updates to make data more current.

Information goes out to parents before the unit on reproductive health begins, and parents are given the opportunity to choose to opt their child out if they prefer. Any member of the public can review the materials and can view the advisory board on the district’s website under the curriculum tab.

High School Course and Graduation Requirement Changes

Lowell High School principal Steve Gough was at the meeting to present some new information regarding courses available to students and graduation requirements.

A new state law mandates that all Michigan students must take a course in personal finance. Beginning with the current eighth grade class, all students will be required to take a half credit personal finance class in order to receive a high school diploma in the state of Michigan. The half credit will be a part of the current math credit requirements.

There is already a personal finance class offered at the high school that has been in place for years now, and about half of seniors already choose that as their math credit for their senior year. Formerly offered only for seniors, the personal finance course will now be available to juniors and seniors as well as to select sophomore students with counselor recommendation and approval from the principal.

High school staff also recently completed a full review of the curriculum guide: every teacher was involved, all courses were reviewed and course syllabi were adjusted and updated. Although there weren’t many significant changes, the information regarding personal finance as a requirement for graduation was added to the curriculum guide, as well as some additional information for parents regarding high school credits taken in middle school.

Gough said that there were some misconceptions about early high school credits, and reiterated that once a student enters high school, they need 28 credits taken at the high school in order to graduate. Gough said that taking credits early in middle school can give students some flexibility in their schedule once they get to high school but doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll be able to graduate early just because they began earning credits early.

Language was also added to the curriculum guide regarding online learning: students have been required for many years now to complete an “online experience” per state law in order to graduate. Rather than taking an online course, students fulfill the requirement by taking an EP (educational plan) course, computer classes and by having Google Classroom in every class.

Two new courses will be piloted at the high school next year. Currently at the high school, there is a LINKs peer-to-peer program in which general education students partner with MiCI students (students with mild cognitive impairment) to run the school store. A new class offering will expand this program and is focused on preparing students to be mentors to MiCI students. Once the class is completed, the MiCI students can then be placed in any elective course with their mentor to work alongside each other.

A darkroom photography class is also being brought back and piloted next year. Gough says the darkroom and supplies are already there, and quipped, “Our goal is to get (students) off their phones and have them actually touch photographs.”

Schools of Choice Efforts

Superintendent Nate Fowler presented the board with a graph representing the net gain and loss of students at LAS through the schools of choice program. The graph, going back to 2010, demonstrated a steady increase in students coming to LAS from other districts. That number dropped off a bit following the pandemic but still remains steady overall. The number of students who live in the school district but have chosen to go elsewhere, though, has increased quite a bit since the pandemic.

Fowler said he had a theory that taking a look at where students who live in the Lowell school district choose to go instead of LAS may give some clues as to why they leave the district. Namely, a number of the school districts that Lowell students choose instead offer virtual programs. Because Lowell families may desire virtual options for their students, Fowler suggested that LAS may need to look at offering online education as a choice. Fowler added that, “At this point, this is just an idea, this is just some brainstorming, but I think we’re at the point where we’re ready to start having some deeper conversation about it…”.

The board had some additional discussion about a career readiness-type curriculum and whether offering something like that to LAS students could be beneficial.

Board Secretary Pat Nugent said he’d like more information about why these students may have been choosing virtual over in-person learning, what grades the majority of these students were in, and whether they would return if LAS were to do the work to create an online curriculum. He thought that before the district does the work of creating and implementing a virtual learning program, it would be good to know some more facts about how many students would potentially choose this option and if it would bring back some in-district students who were no longer attending LAS.

Board member Jen Dougherty saw an opportunity to create some dialogue with the community about what LAS could improve upon, saying, “We do an excellent job, but I was surprised when we did the (forums) on the bond proposal how many people came just because they wanted to talk about school…we haven’t really given the community a forum to say, ‘Hey, come in, tell us what we can do…we know we do some things well, but what could we do better?’ And then maybe if we’re admitting that we’re not perfect, that there are things we can do better and we want to hear what we can do better, there’s more of an incentive to improve than to leave.”

Dan VanderMeulen, Director of Curriculum, said that virtual programming isn’t going anywhere and that other districts have started offering online learning or partnering with other programs that offer it. He said that, as a district, LAS is only in the beginning stages of starting to talk this through and think about options.

Sinking Fund Bid Packages

The bid for planned improvements to the stadium field house mechanicals is about $200,000 more than expected. Fowler said that some decisions would need to be made in the near future about whether the district should go ahead with the plan or consider alternatives.

Bids for the projected high school computer lab project will open on Thursday and more information about those bids should be available at the March board meeting.

Security Grant Purchases

At the March meeting, the board will need to vote on a few items concerning a security grant from the state of Michigan. One proposal is to spend some of the grant money to upgrade and replace security cameras in the district, especially some older cameras at the high school. There are also some doors and door frames that are worn out and need to be replaced.

Another proposed use for the security funds is the replacement and improvements to small numbered placards on each door in the district. The placards are part of a security feature that links the numbers on a digital map that is given to rescue personnel and will be utilized in the case of an emergency. Currently, the numbers on the doors are not in any sort of order, so proposed improvements include making sure the numbers are in a more logical, chronological order, and then also making the numbers more visible with bright colors and reflective paint that can be easily seen in the dark.

The board went into closed session for negotiations at 7:16 pm. The next board meeting will be held Monday, March 11, at 7 pm in the administration building, and the public is welcome to attend.


  1. Lowell offers Spanish and French. Not as an immersion program but as part of language requirements for graduation.

    • Yup. I’ve subbed for those classes. I also sub Spanish immersion at Ada Vista/Forest Hills. The kids there are fluent by third grade. In kinder they’re conversant by spring. It’s amazing. I’d have my grandkids there but it’s not allowed. Lowell really needs at least K-4.

    • Lowell offers Spanish and French. Not as an immersion program but as part of language requirements for graduation.

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