LAS Board of Education Recap: Comments from LHS Principal Steve Gough, Computer Purchase

The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education gathered Monday evening for their regularly scheduled monthly meeting. Board member Jared Blough was absent, but all other board members were in attendance.

Student Council Report

Lowell High School Student Council President Antonio Casarez gave his monthly report to the board, saying, “Even though we just got back from a relaxing, long break, there are still so many activities and events going on at the high school. So, so many!”

He reported that juniors, sophomores and freshmen would be busy next week taking their respective standardized tests. The PSAT, SAT, M-STEP and AP exams are all happening in the next week.

Casarez added that prom this year will be held at Noto’s restaurant on Saturday, May 4, and will have a 1920s theme. He said that “senior give-back” and senior honors night are both taking place on May 14. Then, the “senior early release” is happening May 16, and graduation will finish out the school year on May 23.

Chromebook and Desktop Computer Purchase

After weighing the pros and cons of continuing to lease Chromebooks versus purchasing them outright, the board decided the $45,000 savings for the district to purchase the computers made the most sense. The board voted unanimously to approve the purchase of 2,000 Chromebooks for the district at a cost of $640,000.

The new Chromebooks, purchased with money from the district’s sinking fund, will go to students at the middle and high schools. The computers that were in use by those students will be passed on to the elementary schools.

Another computer purchase was also before the board; the purchase of new desktop computers. The recommendation was for the board to approve the purchase of 135 new desktop computers for the district at a total cost of $119,905. Twenty-six of the computers will be for the CAD (computer-aided design) lab at the high school and 109 are replacements for computers that are on the “annual rotation cycle” (i.e. computers that have been in use for 6 years or so).

Sinking fund dollars can be used for the CAD lab computers while the others will be purchased using general fund money. The board unanimously approved the purchase of the desktop computers.

Human Resources Update

Director of Human Resources Dustin Cichocki said that the HR department has been busy sending out recertification notices to LAS staff whose certification needs to be renewed by the end of the year. Teachers are notified well in advance so that they can obtain the SCECH (state continuing education clock hours) they need to become recertified. Part of this process, Cichocki added, was making sure any professional development credits or SCECH credits are counted and credited to the appropriate staff.

Cichocki said that the first interview for new staff for the 2024-25 school year happened earlier that day, and teaching positions for summer school have been posted, both for elementary students and for a virtual summer school program at the high school.

In an attempt to assuage the district’s chronic need of additional bus drivers, Cichocki said that he recently reached out to some of Lowell’s retired drivers and was able to convince a few of the retirees to come back. He said that the additional drivers will help with bussing for school trips, sporting events and practices as well as serve as substitutes for regular routes.

Budget Update

District chief financial officer Sonia Hodge said that the financial team is still awaiting more information from the state regarding house and senate budget proposals. Consulting with the new finance software has also begun, with staff undergoing a cumulative nine hours of training in the last few weeks.

A preliminary audit for LAS will take place May 9 and 10, with auditors coming in before the school year is completed to do what they can now to make the audit process in July much smoother.

Curriculum Update

Director of Curriculum Dan VanderMeulen reported that April is Math Awareness Month and shared that Elementary Math Coordinator Carmen Tawney has been organizing lots of fun math-related learning activities for K-5 students throughout the month.

He reiterated what Casarez noted in his student council report; that testing is now underway for students. Kicking off this week at the high school, juniors will take the SAT and M-STEP, and freshman and sophomores will take the PSAT. Next week, eighth graders will take the PSAT, and students in grades 3-10 will start M-STEP testing.

VanderMeulen added that the district received a “sizable literacy grant” (no specific amount was mentioned) from the State of Michigan just before spring break. The grant focuses on K-5 literacy and allows for the purchase of literacy-based materials. Similar to the pilot program of the new math curriculum last year, research has begun into the current ELA curriculum, resources used, and potential new program materials. A team has been formed to begin the process, K-5 teachers will be surveyed to find out needs and recommendations and Kent ISD representatives will also aid in the research and implementation process.

Public Comment

Retired teacher and longtime Lowell resident Kim Lum said she was there to speak about listening. She brought a children’s book, entitled The Rabbit Listened, to the podium. Lum explained that the story followed a child who, when facing a problem, receives all sorts of advice from different animal friends but what was really needed was just a listening ear. Rabbit was the friend who just listened, without giving suggestion or advice.

Lum said that she serves on the Lowell Wellness Committee and that a recent topic of concern has been community mental health and how to better address it. Lum said that she knew of some kids in the district who have “ended their lives,” and she wanted to offer a listening ear to the community, asking that if there were suggestions or ideas for how to prioritize mental health in the greater Lowell community. She invited people to email her directly with suggestions at [email protected].

Lum said that she thought the board does a good job of listening, including hosting three community forums regarding the May 7 bond proposal and district improvements. She said she also thought the board showed they were listening by doing things like offering various community surveys. She ended by saying to everyone, “…I want to encourage you to just be listeners, too, and to make contact to improve whatever it is that you want to see improved.”

High school principal Steve Gough took to the podium next, saying that throughout his 30-year career in education, he had never before given public comment at a Board of Education meeting. However, he felt it was necessary to do so because at last month’s meeting, he was “…directly referenced by another parent in her public comment…”.

During public comments at last month’s meeting, parent Stefanie Boone referenced a cease-and-desist letter sent to her by Gough. She described the letter as a ” “a direct trampling on First Amendment rights.”

Gough disputed that characterization. “She claims we are violating her First Amendment right by asking that she treat others with decency, dignity and respect in her public discourse,” he said. “There is no First Amendment right to bullying, harassment or misinformation.”

He added that no one has prevented Boone from speaking at Board of Education meetings, online or in the community. “The only directive in that letter is that she have no contact with staff prior to permission from the involved principal or superintendent,” Gough said. “It is more than ok to disagree with the district or even individual staff members. It is not ok to manipulate the truth, and it is not ok to defame, bully, harass or otherwise mistreat members of the community because they will not bend to your political views. ”

Gough’s complete statement can be read here.

Up next for public comment was Boone. She initially refused to stand at the podium to speak to the board, saying, “I’ll sit right here…I’ll stay right here…I don’t have to stand, though, there’s no law that says I have to stand. I’ll sit right here.” Board President Brian Krajewski offered to move a chair to the podium if she preferred to sit, but that offer was refused.

Boone then spoke to the board about a chance encounter with a stranger on spring break in Arkansas. She said this person, upon discovering Boone is from Michigan, told her, “…’I am so sorry to hear that, honey, isn’t that the state where they’re trying to screw up all the kids’ minds in the schools?’” Boone claimed this reaction happened “multiple times” over the course of her spring break vacation.

Boone said that, over the years, she’s been called “many things,” including a “conspiracy theorist.” Referencing the spring break encounters and the opinion of Michigan schools she claimed to hear, she said “…if I’m a conspiracy theorist and I’m making up lies and bullying and spreading misinformation, it certainly is out there nationally at this point.”

Regarding her social media posts, Boone said, “I don’t post for the loud people in the community. I post for all of you to see and hear because I will continue to spread truth no matter how much they try to silence me. I do have rights, just like all of you do. I won’t delete you, I won’t cancel you, I will try to work with you and I will continue to do so, no matter how much you all try to silence me. Just know that.”

Superintendent’s Report

Superintendent Nate Fowler welcomed everyone back from spring break and said it was good to see students and staff back at school.

He mentioned that there were some projects happening in the district over break, including some painting, finishing up construction of trophy cases and some security upgrades at the middle school.

Fowler thanked Mr. Pitsch’s kindergarten class for sharing their eclipse glasses with him while the class was outside viewing the solar eclipse Monday. He added, “It was a day that kids will remember for a long time, and I want to thank all that went into making sure that kids were able to see that and learn about what happens and enjoy it safely as well.” He said he needed to thank the kindergartners not only for their kindness in sharing their glasses but also for “…sharing their sense of wonder…it was really cool to see.”

Fowler also thanked the elementary students responsible for some new art pieces on display in the boardroom and throughout the administration building. The art was part of a submission to a regional art competition, with some LAS students’ art going on to be displayed in Lansing for a statewide competition.

Recognition and congratulations were given to high school counselor and varsity wrestling coach RJ Boudro, who has been named a finalist for the National High School Coach of the Year in Wrestling by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association. Fowler added that the entire LAS wrestling coaching staff has been nominated for High School Coaching Staff of the Year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association. Fowler said that the awards were “…some well-deserved recognition for the work that that group of leaders puts in to that program.”

Fowler noted that April is School Library Month and thanked the district’s School Librarian, Christine Beachler ,and all of the library assistants for their dedication to literacy and learning. He said that, “…the people who work in our libraries help to expand and nurture that wonder that our students have about the world that they live in.”

Construction has started on Washington Street, and Fowler said there will be times when there is no access to the administration building parking lot but that city lots are still available for parking.

Fowler reminded everyone of the May 7 bond proposal vote and invited district residents to a community forum at Cherry Creek Elementary on Tuesday, April 16, at 6:30pm. This forum is for anyone wanting additional information or wanting to ask questions about the bond proposal. Fowler said that he had heard many questions from residents about what the bond proposal might mean for the tax rate and said he wanted to reassure the community that the bond proposal does not mean any increase in the rate. Instead, it is an extension of the debt the district currently holds.

He added that the bond proposal is important “…to continue to provide learning spaces that are safe, are comfortable, that prepare our students for careers that…involve collaboration with other people, collaboration with technology so that they can work to solve problems and work to be good citizens… I’m really hopeful that we can continue to provide spaces for our kids to be prepared for when they move on from Lowell schools.”

Board Communications

Board Vice President Laurie Kuna congratulated fellow board member Jared Blough’s son Carter for being named an Academic All-Big Ten wrestler this past winter and also praised the personal finance class at the high school, saying that she saw a report recently that such a class can drastically improve the financial success of students as they move on to their futures.

Board member Jen Dougherty commented that she was recently able to attend the career fair at the high school and said she was “…really impressed with our students…they were polite, they were friendly and they asked great questions.” Dougherty added that, “The next generation is pretty impressive.”

Krajewski echoed the congratulations to Boudro and the entire wrestling coaching staff. Of Boudro, he said, “I know personally that Coach Boudro isn’t just about winning state championships; he’s about making leaders out of the men and women that go through the wrestling program.”

The meeting was adjourned at 7:44 pm. The next Board of Education meeting will be a work session held on Monday, April 22, at 6 pm. The public is invited to attend all board of education meetings.

1 Comment

  1. “There is no First Amendment right to bullying, harassment or misinformation.”
    Holy Crap! This guy is a top administrator in our school system? He obviously hasn’t read the Constitution in awhile. All three of these things are highly subjective. Mrs. Boone appears to be the only adult in this situation. Glad my kids have escaped this dumpster fire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.