The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education met this past Monday, Oct. 23, for a work session meeting in the administration building. All board members were present for the meeting.
There were no public comments during the meeting, which began with a presentation about the opioid crisis and included updates on academic achievement, athletics and other matters.
Naloxone/Opioid Crisis Presentation
District Nurse Delynn Wright was at Monday’s meeting to give a presentation to the board about the national opioid crisis and to introduce the idea of carrying naloxone in schools. Naloxone is a life-saving medication that can reverse an opioid overdose.
Wright started out with some frightening statistics: in the United States, more than 1 million people died of a drug overdose between 1999-2021. In 1999, the total amount of overdose deaths was about 16,000. By 2021, that number had skyrocketed to more than 106,000.
Wright went on to say that the number of young people dying of drug overdoses has also increased exponentially. From 2019 to 2021 alone, the number of young people dying from opioid overdoses increased by 109%, and about 35% of those adolescents who died had no known history of opioid use.
Opioids are a class of drugs that were developed to treat pain but can also cause a feeling of pleasure and relaxation, according to Wright. Opioids include drugs like heroin, fentanyl, codeine, morphine and oxycodone. She said that fentanyl in particular was of grave concern because of its strength (50% stronger than heroin, 100% stronger than morphine) and the fact that it is inexpensive and easy to manufacture.
Wright explained that an opioid overdose happens when someone takes an amount that is too strong for their body to process. Symptoms include slowed breathing and eventually, that leads to no breathing and hypoxia, where the brain is not getting enough oxygen. Wright said that at about four minutes without oxygen, brain damage begins to occur, and at about four minutes after that, death can occur. Wright said that in the U.S., depending on where you live, it can take EMS an average of 10 minutes to arrive on scene.
Naloxone is a medication that can stop an opioid overdose and reverse the drug’s effects. The medication is safe, and if given to someone not experiencing an overdose, naloxone has no effect on the body. Wright said that the medication is available here in West Michigan for free and without a prescription at the Kent County Health Department. It can also be found in vending machines on many college campuses, at police departments and fire stations, hospitals and many school districts across the state.
Wright said that ideally, naloxone could be carried in the MERT (medical emergency response team) bags already at all LAS buildings. It could be stored alongside another life-saving emergency medication, epi-pens, and that the district MERT teams would be trained in recognizing the symptoms of an opioid overdose and how to administer naloxone.
Lowell School Resource Officers Todd Summerhays and Chad Huizinga were also present at the meeting to speak with the board about their experience with naloxone and opioid overdose.
Huizinga said that at least once every two weeks, emergency services in the greater Lowell area are administering naloxone for opioid overdose. “It’s here, and it’s been here for quite awhile…we need to be ready for this.” He went on to say that the possible need for naloxone increases when schools have well-attended events, like sporting events, concerts and plays. Huizinga said naloxone is safe and easy to administer, “…if you can administer nasal spray, you can administer (naloxone).”
Superintendent Nate Fowler said that to move forward with stocking naloxone in Lowell Area Schools buildings, trainings would need to be scheduled so that the appropriate staff can be taught to recognize the signs of opioid overdose and to correctly administer the medication.
Director of Curriculum Dan VanderMeulen had printouts for the board of the Fall 2023 MAP testing results for the district. He said that, overall, LAS first through eighth graders scored well on the standardized testing for math and reading.
VanderMeulen said that the 50th percentile was considered the average so anything above that would exceed the national average score and should be seen as a positive. Results by building are as followings:
- Alto Elementary: 65th percentile in reading and 62nd in math
- Murray Lake Elementary: 66th percentile in reading and 63rd in math
- Cherry Creek Elementary: 59th percentile in reading and 51st in math
- Bushnell Elementary: 56th percentile in reading and 55th in math
- Lowell Middle School: 66th percentile in reading and 59th in math
VanderMeulen said that teachers can use the MAP testing scores to identify areas that may need improvement and also which individual students may need extra help and in what specific areas.
LAS students in first through fifth grade will repeat MAP testing again in the winter and spring (middle schoolers are only tested in fall and spring), and VanderMeulen said that at the January and May Board of Education workshop sessions, he would have additional data for the board to review, including numbers focused on areas of growth.
Of note: VanderMeulen added that for some teachers, the MAP testing brings with it some anxiety because the state mandates that their students’ scores are used in teacher evaluations. VanderMeulen explained further, saying, “Currently…40% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on data from (MAP scores) and Acadience testing.” He added that there is some legislation in the works that could eliminate completely or reduce the amount of data from standardized testing that’s used in a teacher’s final evaluation.
VanderMeulen also mentioned an upcoming trauma-informed training on Oct. 31 for all parapros and certified staff. The virtual training will focus on recognizing trauma in kids and tips for working with children with a history of trauma.
Community Forum #2 Follow-up
The second community forum to discuss an upcoming bond proposal met Oct. 10 at Cherry Creek Elementary. Fowler said that there was a good turnout, and that specifically, a number of Cherry Creek families showed up to hear more about the proposed renovation of Cherry Creek Elementary.
Overall, the community members in attendance seemed to like the idea of maintaining the 7 mil millage rate without an increase, and the proposed renovations to Cherry Creek would include collaborative learning spaces and a safe and healthy learning environment. Fowler said that those in attendance seemed to understand the need for heating and cooling updates at the high school and the potential costs associated with that. Some new items that were discussed as possibilities included an auxiliary gymnasium at the middle school, and a new orchestra room at the high school.
The next and last community forum will be held in the high school band room on Tuesday, Nov. 7 at 6:30 pm. All those in the community are invited to come share ideas and ask questions related to the proposed district improvements.
Chief financial officer Sonia Hodge said that the new accountant working in the financial office started that day, and she is excited to have the extra help. She said that the finance department is currently working on grant applications for categoricals that the state has released. Staff is also completing some reporting from last year and are also are discussing the budget for next year.
Board Self-Evaluation Tool
Fowler said that all of the board save one member has completed an online survey that serves as a board self-evaluation. He said they would wait until that board member filled out the survey and then hopefully have some good information to review with the board at the next work session.
NSBA Scholarship/Washington DC Trip
The National School Boards Association advocacy trip to Washington DC is coming up in January, and Fowler informed the board that if they thought they might like to attend, there is a scholarship that will cover the registration fee.
OK Conference Update
At the October regular meeting, there had been discussion regarding the submission of a formal withdrawal letter to the OK Conference, stating the intention of LAS to withdraw. The school is expected to create a new athletic conference with other area districts.
In response to that letter, all 48 member schools in the OK Conference had the opportunity to vote whether to accept or reject the request of LAS to immediately withdraw. Thirteen schools voted to accept, and 35 voted to reject the request. The OK Conference has now requested that LAS and the six other school districts who asked to withdraw submit their intentions “by the end of this week”, i.e. whether they intend to withdraw or continue with the OK Conference next year.
Some members of the board expressed frustration that other schools unaffected by the athletic conference realignment should have a say in whether LAS and the other schools should be allowed to withdraw immediately. Several board members said that the withdrawal seemed to have a lot of community support and that they agreed with the intent of LAS to withdraw immediately, despite the vote.
Strategic Action Plan
Board Vice President Laurie Kuna and Board Secretary Pat Nugent have worked on the board’s strategic action plan, which defines the roles and responsibilities of the board. Kuna and Nugent presented what they had worked on so far but said the process was ongoing and they would hopefully have an updated plan for the board to review at a future meeting.
Superintendent’s Evaluation Process and Scoring
Fowler briefly described the process of the board’s role in evaluating the job performance of the superintendent, including the scoring rubric and rating categories. He said that the board would go into closed session to begin that process.
At 7:25 pm, the board went into a closed session to begin their superintendent evaluation. The next Board of Education meeting will be held Monday, Nov. 13 at 7 pm in the administrative building.