The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education met this past Monday for its regular monthly work session. The meeting was sparsely attended, but informative and touched on topics including mental health resources, a possible bond election and staffing updates. All board members were present.
There was only one community member who stepped up to the podium to speak on Monday night: Kim Lum, retired LAS teacher and longtime Lowell resident. Lum brought a children’s book entitled “The Tree Lady” with her and explained that the book was a true story about a woman who noticed the complete lack of trees in her San Diego community. She decided to start a massive movement to plant and cultivate trees in that area. One hundred years later, the trees still stand and the once desert landscape has forever changed to the green, tree-filled city we know today.
Lum said she hoped that LAS staff, parents and community members took note of this kind of effort to better one’s community and to consider this approach when wanting to see change happen here in Lowell. She asked that the community look to and seek to emulate people who “…do wonderful things, just because. Because they care. Not because they’re going to be noticed.”
Academic Achievement: Mental Health Resources
Director of Curriculum Dan VanderMeulen gave the board a presentation on some new mental health resources that can be found on the district website. The information can be found by heading to the main site, choosing a school building from the main page, then going to that building’s drop-down menu to choose the “Mental Health Resources” tab. On mobile devices, the menu is found by clicking on the “subpages” option. On desktop devices, the menu will be in a column on the right side of the screen. All of the school buildings will have this tab in their menu going forward.
As you scroll down, you’ll see answers to questions such as, “How do I know if my child needs mental health support?” or “How do I get support for my child?”. Scroll further, and you’ll find a listing of the school contact information for all LAS mental health support staff, including guidance counselors, social workers and school psychologists.
The new addition to the LAS website includes a link to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and has links to various community mental health programs, including resources for crisis services, counseling and health services, and organizations/information for dealing with grief and loss.
Following the presentation, Board Vice President Laurie Kuna asked VanderMeulen about de-escalation training for LAS staff. Director of Human Resources Dustin Cichocki reported that administrative assistants had already taken some de-escalation training and that there would be Crisis Prevention Intervention training coming up soon for LAS teachers and other staff to help them learn how to manage students in crisis.
Chief Financial Officer Sonia Hodge said that the facilities ad hoc committee met recently to go over building needs and to formulate a spending plan in preparation of an upcoming bond election. The team sought to identify repairs and upgrades that needed to be made in LAS buildings and to give special attention to those projects that needed to be completed as soon as possible because of safety or functionality concerns.
Besides items needing immediate repair or replacement in all LAS buildings (such as doors, windows, flooring, ceilings, lighting), the committee also proposed a full renovation of Cherry Creek Elementary and mechanical and HVAC upgrades at the high school. Because Cherry Creek Elementary was formerly the middle school building, some temporary fixes were made so that the building could function as an elementary school. Hodge said that the original building plan is still set up for a middle and not elementary school and that it needs remodeling to better serve the needs of students and staff. Of the upcoming bond election, Hodge added that, “With this timing, if we do a May election, we’re able to hold our debt levy at 7 mills with no increase to taxpayers.”
Hodge explained that the next step in talking about a bond would be to get input from the community regarding what improvements they would like to see for LAS. There will be three public hearings where residents can discuss their ideas:
- Monday, September 18
- Tuesday, October 10
- Tuesday, November 7
The hearings will all take place at 6:30 pm. The location is yet to be announced but likely will take place at the newly renovated middle school or at Cherry Creek Elementary so that the public can see clearly the building’s needs.
Once the ad hoc committee has heard from the community, plans will be refined and the board can vote to approve the plans. Then, they will go to the State Treasury for its approval. Once that happens, the board can finalize ballot language in January.
Middle School Dedication and Open House
Board members were reminded of an open house for the new Lowell Middle School scheduled for Tuesday. The event included brief remarks and the unveiling of a plaque and dedication at the Foreman Street entrance. That was followed by light refreshments and an open tour of the newly renovated building until 8pm.
Superintendent Nate Fowler said that the middle school’s three year-long renovation project started with the design plans going through in 2019 and then breaking ground in the fall of 2020.
Cichocki said that there were some updates to staffing in the technology department since the former director, Eric Stanek, left LAS. Currently, Jason Wasciuk, who has 25-plus years experience in technology and has been working as a network technician for LAS, is serving as the acting network administrator. Cichocki reported that the Kent ISD is currently doing an audit of all of the systems and networks at LAS to determine what is needed for technology and staffing. Fowler added that the system is currently functioning as it should, is secure and able to fight off any potential cyberattacks, but that the longer term planning and what’s next for technology is paused right now as Kent ISD conducts their assessment.
There have been some changes in the central office at LAS as well. Heather Worm, who has worked at LAS for many years in pupil accounting will now serve as two positions combined into one: she will continue her work in pupil accounting and also serve as an accountant for the district to help Hodge and the financial team.
Director of Special Education Heather Sneider will be leaving LAS to work for Kent ISD. The position has been posted, and HR is currently reviewing applicants. Sneider will stay on as director until late September/early October to ensure a good candidate is found.
The board wrapped up their public meeting with some discussion about revamping their “strategic action plan,” which spells out for the board their responsibilities and vision for LAS, including school improvement goals, goals for student learning and well-being, board communications and other future objectives. The board will continue to review and reorganize the document throughout the coming school year.
The board members went into closed session at 7:05 pm to discuss a “written legal opinion.” The next board meeting will take place on Monday, September 11, at 7 pm in the administration building.