LAS Board of Education Recap: Retirees Recognized, Math Curriculum Update

On Monday evening, the Lowell Area Schools Board of Education convened for their regular monthly meeting following a reception for this year’s district retirees. All board members were present.

Student Council Report

Giving his last student report before graduation was LHS Student Council President Antonio Casarez. Casarez thanked Lowell Area Schools, saying, “ It has been an honor being able to represent my peers and my school, which I love so much. This district has helped raise me to be the person I am today and for that, I’ll forever be thankful.”

Of high school current events, Casarez said that the next day, Tuesday, is “senior give-back” day, with seniors volunteering to go various places in the district and in the community to lend their help. Later that day, senior honor night will take place, where scholarships will be awarded. He noted that Wednesday will be the seniors’ last full day of school, and final exams would also be happening that day. Next week, seniors will have a celebratory breakfast and a rehearsal of graduation followed by actual graduation the next day, May 23.

Recognition of Retirees

Board President Brian Krajewski read the names of the nearly dozen LAS retirees. Retirees stood for recognition and were met with applause and thanks.

Superintendent Nate Fowler read a quote from local author Gary Schmidt, who recently visited the middle school to speak with students. The quote, from a character in the book who is a teacher, read, “We’re here to help you carry the sky when you have to, and we are here to help you put it down when you need to. Why else would anyone ever become a teacher?”

Fowler thanked the district’s retirees for their years of service, saying, “On behalf of the board and all of us at Lowell Area Schools, we express our deepest appreciation; your labor has meant everything.”

Recognition was also given to Student Council President Antonio Casarez, who was awarded a plaque for his service as student representative at board of education meetings.

Lastly, Girl Scout and Lowell High School student Mackenzie Wyant was recognized for receiving the Gold Award, the highest honor given to a Girl Scout.

Math Update from Alto Elementary

Alto Elementary Principal Paul Papes was in attendance at the meeting to present to the board some information regarding the implementation of a new math curriculum for kindergarten through fifth grade throughout the district.

Reveal Math was piloted by several classes last year and ultimately adopted by all district K-5 classes. Implementation began this year. Teachers met several times over the summer to go over materials and familiarize themselves with the new curriculum.

Alto first grade teacher Pam Bement, whose class piloted Reveal Math last year, showed the board an example of a lesson plan, and said she liked how the curriculum utilizes videos of different characters who discover how to use math in real life situations.

Alto fifth grade teacher Andrew Sargent, who is teaching all fifth grade math classes at Alto, told the board he liked that the new curriculum made math more approachable.

District Math Coordinator Carmen Tawney showed the board some impressive MAP test data that revealed a big jump in the percentage of students testing at or above grade level in math from fall to winter testing. The spring data isn’t yet in, but Tawney said she was excited to see student success continue to grow.

Action Items

The board voted on a number of items Monday, including the following:

  • Revised bylaws
  • Purchase of a new Spanish language curriculum for the middle and high school
  • Purchase of a new math program for the middle school
  • Acceptance of a food service management bid
  • Resolution authorizing the sale of bonds, made possible by the May 7 bond proposal vote

Chief financial officer Sonia Hodge explained that the resolution authorizes the district to issue the first series of bonds. The May 7 election allowed LAS to borrow up to $104 million, and the first series of bonds is for roughly $32 million in order to begin the renovation at Cherry Creek Elementary.

Human Resources Update

Director of Human Resources Dustin Cichocki said that he and Special Education Director Liz McCall had begun the process of determining what paraprofessionals will be needed for which buildings in the coming school year.

The HR department will also be taking a look at the district’s mentoring program for incoming teachers and how to best improve it. The current program, which has been in place for the past 10 years, has new teachers meet with the board of education and other staff in the district. With the help of Kent ISD, Cichocki said LAS will look at surrounding districts and best practices for possible ways to improve the program.

Budget and Curriculum Updates

Hodge reported that the finance department is still working on setting up the database with the new software program for finance and HR.

Auditors visited virtually last week, looking at federal grants and other requested information. Hodge said the audits are going well, and the finance team will be ready for the auditors to be back for their visit in July.

Director of Curriculum Dan VanderMeulen said the last professional development day for staff will take place on May 24th and will focus on math and reading school improvement goals.

Public Comment

Retired LAS teacher Kim Lum said she appreciated the way in which the district collaborated with the community in forums about the bond proposal leading up to the May 7 election. She noted that LAS really listened to the ideas and concerns of parents and voters and adjusted their proposed improvement plans accordingly.

Superintendent’s Report

Fowler said he wanted to thank the community for their support in the bond election and that the work had “kicked off” with the authorization by the board for the sale of bonds. He added that a meeting next week would help to determine the exact timeline of the proposed improvements.

Fowler thanked staff from Alto Elementary for their presentation on the new math curriculum and said none of that student success would be possible without the quality instruction of teachers at LAS. With teacher appreciation month in mind, Fowler spoke to LAS teachers and support staff, saying thank you “…for all of the work that you do to nurture curiosity, creativity, a love of learning…you build our students’ confidence and you set them on a path for success.”

Fowler ended by saying congratulations to the LAS soon-to-be graduating class and said he was looking forward to graduation on May 23.

Board Comments

Several board members thanked the retirees and thanked Casarez for his monthly student reports.

Board Secretary Pat Nugent said that he was excited to see what the new math curriculum will bring to the district and thanked the teachers and support staff who helped with that transition. He also thanked the community for the bond proposal “yes” vote, saying, “It is important, as a district, that we maintain our buildings. Those are built by and for the community.”

Board member Jennifer Dougherty thanked Cichocki and VanderMeulen for looking for ways to improve the mentorship program, saying, “It’s easy to do something for 10 years and say ‘good enough,’ it’s harder to keep trying to improve.”

The board went into closed session for negotiations at 8:17 pm. The next Board of Education meeting will be held next Monday, May 20 at 6 pm, a week early due to Memorial Day. The public is always welcome to attend these meetings.

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