LAS Board of Education Recap: Chromebooks, Marketing and May 7 Bond Proposal

The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education met Monday for their monthly work session. Work sessions give the board the opportunity to discuss matters more in depth than a regular board meeting would allow. Typically, no votes are cast at work sessions. The public is welcome to attend and make public comments at either type of meeting.

For Monday’s work session, Jared Blough was absent, Pat Nugent joined late, and all other board members were present. There were no public comments at this meeting.

Academic Achievement

Director of Curriculum Dan VanderMeulen presented the board with a handout he said was the “LAS Articulated Vision of Learning.” VanderMeulen explained that this would serve as a visual representation of what staff could expect to see in the district’s strategic plan for academic achievement. He went on to say that the strategic plan represents the internal work of LAS and the planning involved when moving forward as a district with the various departments working together.

VanderMeulen used the example of the K-12 math teams and how those teams made a strategic plan to improve instruction. The teams looked at best practices for instruction and applied them to their teaching, all while constantly evaluating, monitoring and promoting those practices. The K-12 literacy teams are now following suit, crafting their own best practices strategic plan with the help of consultants from Kent ISD.

The curriculum team has also been working on crafting a visual representation of the vision statement: “Learners today, leaders tomorrow, Red Arrows for life!” That work involves exploring how best to visually represent the idea and meaning behind each phrase. “Learners today” focuses on instruction and learning, “leaders tomorrow” centers on workplace skills and career readiness, and “Red Arrows for life” focuses more on citizenship and responsibility.

During board discussion, Board Vice President Laurie Kuna asked whether SEL (social emotional learning) was still getting pushback from some parents in the district. VanderMeulen said he wasn’t aware of any currently, citing the success of  a recent student well-being survey and staff professional development days that focused on working with students with trauma or behavioral issues.

Superintendent Nate Fowler said that, “As far as vocal pushback…no. There’s still the idea that schools should be focusing on academics…”, but added that in order for students to reach their full potential, the social-emotional component shouldn’t be overlooked.

VanderMeulen ended his report by saying that the return from spring break will mark the start of testing for most students — MStep, PSAT, SAT and NWEA testing will all begin that week.

Facilities and Operations

Fowler said a plan for a bus wash for the district was still being discussed, and he’s hopeful they’ll have something more concrete to share in the fall.

The superintendent also said a recent letter from the City of Lowell may impact the board’s ability to meet in the administration building for a few months. In April, the city plans to begin major construction work on Washington Street that will continue into November. This work includes tearing down the current road, replacing water and sewer lines and rebuilding the road. This project will affect access to the building’s parking lot, which is off of Washington Street, and is the only main entrance to the lot. There is a service drive into the lot on the other side, but it is narrow, one way only and would be unsafe for lots of traffic flow.

Some options were discussed for upcoming meetings, including potentially convening at the middle school to showcase some of the work that’s been done there or at other school buildings in the district. Fowler said that for the first meeting in April (4/8), access to the parking lot should still be open and the board will announce a decision about the best location for future meetings.


Director of Human Resources Dustin Cichocki said that from a recruiting standpoint, the Lowell Community Expo this past weekend was a success, bringing in 7-8 applications for new bus drivers. Cichocki is hopeful that the interest will result in some new hires.

Additionally, there are some recent job postings, including three administrative assistant positions due to staff retiring at the end of this school year. These positions are posted internally now, and will open up for the public soon. In May, the work will begin to determine how many paraprofessionals will be needed next year and how many will be needed in each district building.


LAS needs to purchase new Chromebooks for the district, and the board had some discussions about the merits of continuing to lease the Chromebooks versus paying for them outright. One factor is a significant increase in the interest rate for the lease, and the rate hike had the board discussing whether purchasing the computers outright would be more cost effective.

The quote for the 2,000 needed Chromebooks is $640,000 if purchased all at once versus $228,420 per year for three years if leased. Purchasing the Chromebooks outright would save the district about $45,000 in interest. The funds would come from the district’s sinking fund either way, which the district is allowed to use for “instructional technology.”

Board President Brian Krajewski asked about other potential projects using sinking fund dollars and wondered aloud what would happen to future projects if the bond proposal in May didn’t pass.

Fowler said that the other sinking fund projects include the computer lab update at the high school and the bus wash. If the May 7 bond proposal didn’t pass, Fowler said the plan would have to be “…going back to the drawing board about another bond and getting some feedback about why people didn’t vote…because we cannot raise enough money through the sinking fund to do the work on the heating and cooling at the high school that we need to…”

Fowler said that he had joked with the track team and parents, who recently had a mattress sale fundraiser, that in order to raise enough themselves to replace the track, they would need to sell mattresses for the next 300 years. All that to say, the district needs a bond proposal to pass to be able to continue the repairs and replacements needed in the district, and fundraising just won’t cut it. Krajewski added that if the bond proposal doesn’t pass, some big financial decisions would need to be made that would impact the district for years to come.

The board will bring a decision about the Chromebooks purchase to the next board meeting in April and vote on how they should be purchased.

Bus Cameras

Using money from a security grant from the State of Michigan, security cameras on buses will soon be replaced with updated versions with WIFI capabilities.

Fowler explained that with the current cameras, “…if there’s something that we need to get from those cameras…we physically take it into the office and download the footage.” With the new cameras, staff will be able to easily access footage without needing to physically move the cameras and manually download footage needed.

Marketing Proposal

Fowler said that discussions continue about the possibility of offering virtual learning at the high school. He said that 14 students have left LAS to enroll in full time virtual school this year.

He added that discussions about why students may have left the district led to further conversation about how best to share information about LAS and whether the district would benefit from the expert eyes of a marketing firm to do so. Fowler spoke about the fact that there is value in getting the word out about what LAS has to offer students and families, value in people seeing the LAS logo and recognizing it, and value in engaging with the community about school programs and offerings. Many communication platform possibilities were discussed including mailers, radio ads, podcasts, articles from local news sources, or newsletters.

Krajewski thought the marketing proposal seemed like a good one and said it was something he thought the district could explore, saying, “I would challenge that we flip the script and let a professional marketing organization give you the solid foundation that then you can reuse for years to come, rather than try to build something that you’re really not an expert in.”

Board Secretary Pat Nugent said he wouldn’t rule out hiring a firm but said he thought reaching out to community members who may be professionals in the marketing or communications fields shouldn’t be overlooked. He suggested setting up a committee of community members who might be able to volunteer their time and expertise to help LAS develop a marketing strategy.

Fowler said that whether with the help of a marketing firm or through the talents and ideas of current staff and community members, he’d like to broaden the way LAS engages with the larger Lowell community and give residents a chance to share feedback with the district.


The board reviewed several new policies that had updated language, updated technical corrections or were removed entirely. Examples of policies that changed or had additions included a policy regarding the superintendent’s yearly evaluation, which added language to include the right to appeal. Another policy added wording that instructs the board to perform a mid-year progress report of the superintendent.

Marsha Wilcox Award

The Marsha Wilcox award is given each year to a community member who goes above and beyond to support public education, both in the district and in the greater Lowell community. The board had several ideas for possible recipients, with Kuna and Nugent offering to do a write up of the candidates for the board to review at an upcoming meeting. The award is typically given in July or August, so the board has some time to explore and choose the best candidate for the award.

The meeting went into closed session for negotiations at approximately 7:44 pm. The next board meeting will be held in the administration building on Monday, April 8, at 7 pm.

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