The Board of Education for Lowell Area Schools met in open session for approximately an hour last night. The board and district staff met in person at the Runciman Administration Building while approximately a dozen people attended virtually via the GoToMeeting videoconferencing platform. All members were present for what was the final meeting to be presided over by President Jim Turner.
Student Count Down for Fall 2020
While the good news for board members was that per pupil state funding was not cut as feared, it was followed by an update that showed the fall count was down by approximately 160 students.
Interim Superintendent Nate Fowler noted the district has 677 virtual learners registered, but 47 were not engaged on the count day. He explained that school staff have been unsuccessful in connecting with some students and is looking at other options. “We’ve tried the phone calls. We’ve tried the emails,” Fowler stated. Home visits or meetings with parents were being considered as next steps.
Other families have opted to homeschool this year, and Fowler said the district has been working to ensure they know they are always welcome to return if and when they feel comfortable doing so.
Fewer students means less state funding, but a change in the funding formula will reduce the financial impact of lost students. The state announced it will award funding based on a blend of last year’s enrollment and this year’s enrollment. The 2019-2020 enrollment will make up 75% of the blended count while this year’s number will comprise the remaining 25%.
School and Curriculum Updates
The Board of Education also heard updates on school-specific and curriculum issues. For instance, Cherry Creek Elementary School Principal Craig Veldman shared details of the school’s lunch and recess procedures. “It’s just been a really smooth process,” he said.
Stephen Gough, the Lowell High School Principal, was also present to discuss changes to the high school handbook. Most of the changes are minor, such as the addition of vaping and e-cigarettes to the section on smoking. The Board of Education unanimously approved the handbook revision, and Gough noted this would become a yearly process.
“As things arise at the high school, we are reviewing them in real-time,” he said. Gough anticipates proposed changes to the handbook will be presented to the board each spring.
On the curriculum side, Fowler noted there has been a drop in literacy rates this year. “Typically, we would see 70-80% (of students) reading at benchmarks,” he said. However, this fall, that number is down about 10% overall with the lowest percentage being found in 1st grade. Only 48% of those students are hitting their reading benchmarks.
Kindergarten students typically go through tremendous academic growth in the spring, according to Fowler, so it’s not surprising that these students are behind given the disruption to last year’s school year. “It’s not time push the panic button yet,” he said, “[but] we’ve got some catching up to do with our 1st graders.”
Final Meeting for President Jim Turner
Monday’s meeting was also to the final one for Turner, who was first elected to the board in 2005 and has been its president since 2012. He is stepping down from his position to enjoy other pursuits, and board members were effusive in their praise for Turner and his leadership.
In his closing remarks, Turner noted the school district has undergone many changes during his tenure, and he is proud of all that has been accomplished despite the district receiving only the minimum per pupil funding from the state. He also thanked community members for electing him, saying “I hope I haven’t let them down.”
At the conclusion of the open meeting, the Board of Education went into a closed session to discuss a personnel matter. The next meeting of the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education will be held on Monday, November 9, at 7pm.