On Monday night, the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education convened for their regular April meeting. All board members were present for the meeting except Jared Blough and Tom Kaywood.
MICIP: Michigan Integrated Continuous Improvement Process
The meeting began with a presentation led by Dan VanderMeulen, Director of Curriculum at LAS, about MICIP, the Michigan Integrated Continuous Improvement Process.
MICIP is a relatively new program that the district is using as a guide for school improvement. VanderMeulen explained that in the previous school improvement program, each school building would have their own improvement plans, and those individual plans were then compiled together to form a plan for the whole district. Now, with MICIP, there is one uniform improvement plan for the entire district that is formed in collaboration with each grade level. The overall goal of MICIP is to “ensure equitable opportunities, environments and supports resulting in students who are healthy, safe, engaged, challenged and supported.”
In order to develop the MICIP plan, LAS relies on data input gathered from various modalities including professional learning time for staff, which is when staff come together to discuss best practices. Also important in this process is continuing a multi-tiered system of support for students academically, behaviorally, and socially/emotionally. Plans for improvement take into consideration a range of potential student need; including those students who may require extra help and those who need more of a challenge.
LAS has already implemented some of these improvement processes with the goal of increasing math proficiency for all students. The district advancement in math curriculum has included hiring an elementary school-level math coordinator, incorporating paraprofessionals who aid in middle school math intervention, an entire new math curriculum for K-5 students, partnerships with GVSU to offer math tutoring for grades 6-12, and working with math consultants through the Kent Intermediate School District.
The next MICIP goal will be student literacy and reading improvement strategies. VanderMeulen said the plan will include incorporating current district resources for reading, like K-5 literacy coaching and intervention and will add in new resources such as creating a reading team of educators to examine best practices in literacy. They will also consult with the Kent ISD.
Another future goal of MICIP is to add a behavior and mental health-based component, considering existing student data and also adding in new data from an upcoming student survey regarding mental health. LAS plans to collaborate again with Kent ISD to explore restorative practices for students.
Pertaining to the MICIP presentation, Board President Brian Krajewski wanted to know if the improvement process would include parent input. VanderMeulen responded that the different buildings had various ways of collecting parent input, including monthly meetings of a parent advisory group. He said that he considered parent input a valuable component of the school improvement process, and that he is always available to meet with parents or talk with them over the phone regarding any input they may have concerning strategies and solutions.
Board members having been working with district staff, including Director of Human Resources Dustin Cichocki, during the last few months to research and review various LAS faculty contracts, including that of the Superintendent Nate Fowler.
Krajewski explained that in reviewing Fowler’s contract, one of the goals was to “…bring the superintendent’s contract as close to the midpoint as we could across the county and to improve the longevity of that contract.” To achieve that goal, Fowler will receive a 5% increase in compensation over the next five years and an additional bump in pay in years four and five. A specific salary was not shared during the meeting, but this adjustment would mean that now 13 of the 21 superintendents in the county make more than Fowler, both in contract and annuities, bringing his pay closer to the county average.
Cichocki said the district has been working to wrap up the Bus Driver Association’s contract as well. The objectives of that contract include recruiting new drivers, retaining the bus drivers the district already has, and incentives for drivers who have been with LAS for a long time.
Teacher contracts, as well as reasonable assurance letters for educators (letting them know they have a job to come back to in the fall) should be ready to be sent out by June.
Six people spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, and several public comments once again addressed the topic of books in LAS libraries.
Vinayak Manohar, a parent from Forest Hills Public Schools, read some passages from the book Tilt, which he said could be found at Lowell High School library. His complaints about the book included that it “…has glorified underage sex, lying to parents and cheating in relationships,” as well as “glorified drug use.”
Reading from the student handbook, Manohar said that regarding book review policy, the handbook states that the book be evaluated in regards to “…the appropriateness of material for the age and maturity level of the students with which it is being used.” He ended by saying that the board would need to decide if the content of the book “…is appropriate for the youth of this community.” The book is currently in the restricted section of the LHS library, available to be checked out by seniors only.
Another Forest Hills Public Schools parent, Mike Luyckx, said that though he didn’t have kids at LAS, he came to speak at the Lowell Board of Education meeting because he was “…contacted by some folks that are concerned.” Luyckx also brought and read from a Lowell student handbook. He read from a section in the handbook found under “sexual harassment policies,” which states, “…sexually suggestive objects, pictures, video tapes, audio recordings or literature…” were not permitted. He surmised that a student who checks out a book from the LHS library could potentially violate the district’s own code of conduct if the book were “not appropriate.” He added that he was concerned that “…state and federal laws are being threatened on your own code of conduct.”
Longtime Lowell resident Mark Blanding also spoke about the banned books controversy, saying that the attempted removal of books from the LHS library was “…part of a broader effort by some in our community to impose their views on others. This is part of what we refer to as the ‘culture war’.” He ended his comments by saying that, “We don’t need a culture war at our school board meetings. We need a culture of peace. A culture of respect. A culture of cooperation. A culture of free-flowing knowledge and ideas. A culture of education.”
Lowell community member and parent Heather Gray touched briefly on the book debate by saying, “I think it’s great that we have a system in place that allows each parent to decide what books are appropriate for their own children, and that’s exactly as it should be. But for any one person to demand that a book be censored for the entire student body based on their personal opinion, to me, is absurd and repressive.”
Gray then mentioned that she recently participated in the career fair here in Lowell to share her experience working in a creative field and found the 50-60 LAS students in her sessions to be “attentive, courteous and bright.”
LAS parent Stefanie Boone spoke in her comments about concerns with the DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) team at LAS and how she felt that DEI at Lowell schools is “…weaved into almost everything that goes on in our schools anymore, across all subjects, platforms and curriculum.” Boone added that she believed the aforementioned MICIP program to be “DEI at its core” and “riddled with DEI.” Boone remarked that earlier that day, she filled out school of choice paperwork for her son to attend LAS, as they live in the Forest Hills Public Schools district, but that she wanted to see focus on “…caring teachers who see kids, not color, or rainbows, or money.”
Lowell resident and LAS parent Bobby Yeary stood to thank the Board, LAS faculty and the community. In his comments, he differentiated between the role of parents vs. the role of schools when it comes to the education of children. He said that:
“…the job of the parent is to teach the child to be a respectful, productive, contributing member of society. It is the job of the school to offer a quality opportunity for learning…It is the parent’s responsibility to make sure their child knows right from wrong, not the school’s. The school is responsible for establishing conditions for learning…the parent is responsible for the fiber makeup of the child. These differences cannot be confused.”
He added that “…assigning parental responsibilities to others and then criticizing the fashion with which those responsibilities are executed is neither mature nor beneficial to the child.” Yeary specifically thanked high school principal Steve Gough, Media Specialist Christine Beachler and the “unsung heroes,” cafeteria staff at LHS. He said his family would always be thankful for the ways in which Lowell Area Schools and staff have facilitated an excellent learning environment for his two children.
Fowler said it had been a rough day at LAS, and at Alto Elementary School in particular, as it had been the first day of school since staff and students learned about the death of Alto first grade teacher Heidi Greer who passed away after an illness. He said that he wanted to offer condolences to her family, to her current and former students and her colleagues. He said that personally, he would “…remember Heidi’s ability to light up a room with her smile and her positive energy, the love that she had for each of her students, and we will remember her as a mentor and a leader and a friend across the district.”
Fowler said that the Monday after spring break also marked the first day that Lowell Middle School students were able to eat lunch in their new cafeteria. New flooring and a sound system will be installed over the summer to complete the new lunch room.
He added that the new sign had been installed over spring break at the Vergennes entrance to the high school and that the Alden Nash entrance sign should be installed later in the week.
Fowler addressed a public comment made at the the last board meeting by Boone, who had said she knew of another parent who was upset with Principal Gough. At the last meeting, Fowler and members of the board urged this parent to come forward so that they could work toward a resolution. Fowler said that the parent and Gough were able to sit down and have a positive and productive meeting in which the parent felt she could share her concerns. He emphasized that LAS is committed to having good communication, respect and collaboration with parents and the greater community to create positive outcomes.
Fowler said he wanted to recognize some school clubs who have been having great success, including the esports team which won first place in a contest in March, the robotics team which won third place in a recent competition, the FFA program which had excellent representation at the state convention, Model UN, and Odyssey of the Mind.
Pat Nugent thanked Krajewski and Cichocki for the work they put into the superintendent contract. He said that though it has been a challenging year, Fowler has done a great job as superintendent, and Nugent said he hoped to work with him for many more years.
Jen Dougherty said that she had also been able to present at the recent high school career fair and was “…astounded by the questions and attentiveness. There’s some pretty classy students at Lowell High School.” Regarding the recent success of the robotics team, Dougherty said that she was especially impressed by the way the team stood up and helped other teams. She said that she admired the way students recognized there was more to competing than just winning or losing and were willing to help their competitors when needed.
Laurie Kuna thanked all LAS staff for their efforts and hard work and thanked Dougherty for “jumping in with both feet” in her new role on the board. Kuna spoke in response to an earlier public comment regarding literature, saying that as a former literature teacher, the definition of literature in terms of books, poetry, etc. is different than the broad definition of “just literature” which could include pamphlets or, for example, the packets of paper that had been distributed to board members for the meeting. She added that “…the person who was telling us that we don’t know our business in terms of holding our policy, you don’t have (it) right.”
Krajewski said that he couldn’t believe we only had roughly five weeks left of the school year. Of the board, he said that “…we’ve been through a lot together and I couldn’t imagine doing it with better people, so thank you to my fellow board members, the administration, the teachers, the bus drivers, the lunch people…you all make this worthwhile, sitting up here, so thank you.”
The meeting was adjourned at 8:12 pm. The next board meeting will be a work session in the administration building at 6 pm on Monday, April 24.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated at 5:15pm on April 28, 2023 to add that Tom Kaywood was also absent for this meeting.