The Lowell Area Schools Board of Education met Monday evening for its monthly work session meeting. All board members were present, and a handful of community members attended to listen in.
Retired LAS teacher Kim Lum stood to speak about the recent Pink Arrow football game and related community events. Lum said she thought the overall message behind Pink Arrow is one of hope.
She went on to explain that she remembered a time before Pink Arrow existed when the community would do various things to show care for families on a cancer journey, such as Relay for Life walks or neighbors bringing over a meal. Lum said that for four years, her own family was on the receiving end of monetary gifts from Pink Arrow. She explained that more than just helping to ease a financial burden, those gifts were a symbol that people in the community were thinking of her family and caring for them.
Lum felt that was the true gift of Pink Arrow: the gift of hope. She encouraged the community to put a more positive spin on the words and ideas associated with Pink Arrow and explained that it was more than who the community had lost to cancer, more than who had survived: Pink Arrow gives people the ultimate healing gift of hope.
Academic Achievement – Spring 2023 Data Report
Director of Curriculum Dan VanderMeulen was in attendance to give the board a recap of spring 2023 student assessments. These were the results of the district’s standardized testing which includes the M-STEP, the PSAT and SAT.
VanderMeulen said it was important to remember that standardized testing is “…a one-time snapshot of learning” and doesn’t give the entire picture of student learning at LAS.
Giving an overview of the testing, VanderMeulen explained that M-STEP testing at LAS begins in third grade. Then, in eighth grade, students begin to take the preliminary/practice SAT test (PSAT), and finally in 11th grade, students take the SAT. He added that this is the first year that PSAT and SAT tests will not be taken with paper and pencil but rather online via Chromebooks. Because of this, 11th graders will take the SAT twice this year: once in October as a practice in the new online format and then again in April 2024.
Looking at the testing data overall, VanderMeulen said that there were some wins:
- LAS scores were significantly above county and state averages in every area tested
- There were strong increases in test scores in English/Language Arts (ELA) for 4th and 5th graders from 2022 to 2023
- 83.2% of students met benchmark standards for PSAT 9
- LAS ranks high in PSAT/SAT scores when compared to similar districts
- Math scores are increasing across the district, including last year’s eighth graders having the largest increase in math scores in Kent County
Superintendent Nate Fowler added that though the PSAT is a practice test, it can be a good predictor of how students will do on the next standardized test. It can also give teachers an idea of where students did well and where they may need extra help.
Some of the board members had questions about the scores, including Board Vice President Laurie Kuna, who asked why Cherry Creek Elementary’s third grade M-STEP scores in math and ELA were significantly lower than those at Alto Elementary and Murray Lake Elementary.
In response, VanderMeulen pointed out that by 4th grade, the gap in scores had started to narrow. He also explained that a higher percentage of students at Cherry Creek are considered economically disadvantaged (those who meet federal standards for free and reduced-cost lunches). There is a tendency for economically disadvantaged students to struggle in academic achievement overall and on standardized testing in particular.
The percentage of students who meet federal standards for free and reduced lunch at CCE is about 40%. At Alto, that number is more like 20%, and at Murray Lake Elementary, only about 12% of students qualify for free and reduced-cost lunch under federal guidelines.
Board member Jen Dougherty pointed out that though the graph showed CCE third graders seemed to start out at a disadvantage, she noticed that by 5th grade, they were “…making up some serious ground.”
Feedback from First Community Forum
Fowler said the first community forum to discuss how to use funding to next make improvements at LAS went well. There was a “nice representation from the community” of about 35-40 people.
As far as community feedback from the forum, Fowler noted there was “universal support” for a funding focus on a remodel of Cherry Creek Elementary. He added that the attendees had a good general understanding that district buildings and mechanicals wear out and need replacing over the years and that these repairs are often costly.
Fowler said chief financial officer Sonia Hodge did an excellent job of explaining some of the complexities of school funding and said that she showed a short video that went over how school funding works. Fowler said the video and Hodge’s explanation of funding were appreciated by the community members there, and the board members who had attended the forum agreed. Board member Jessica Curtis said that if there were a larger/different group at the next community forum, she recommended that Hodge show the video again. She said it was a quick video but very informative and easy to understand.
The next community forum to discuss future district improvements will be held on Tuesday, October 10, at 6:30 pm at Cherry Creek Elementary. The community is invited to come share their opinions and ideas.
Superintendent’s Evaluation Timeline
At the October regular meeting, there will be discussion about what the superintendent’s annual evaluation by the board entails and what the process will like. Following the regular meeting, the board will go into closed session to begin to discuss Fowler’s evaluation in depth.
At the November Board of Education meeting, there will be an additional opportunity for the board to go into closed session to further discuss the evaluation. Then, at the December meeting, the public evaluation and presentation will take place.
Director of Human Resources Dustin Cichocki said that a candidate has been identified for the Director of Special Education position. She will be brought before the board for approval at the next meeting. The candidate, Liz McCall, is the current Director of Special Education at Delta Schoolcraft Intermediate School District in the Upper Peninsula. Her expected start date is October 30.
Other Board Items
A board self-evaluation tool put out by Kent ISD was explored, and the possibility of the board utilizing that resource was discussed. Ultimately, it was decided that because it was a free resource and that it may help the board define their duties and possible areas of improvement, the board will take the evaluation test in the first few weeks of October.
The board’s “strategic action plan” was discussed briefly, and board members Kuna and Pat Nugent will attempt to condense and revise the document to present to the rest of the board at the next work session.
The meeting was adjourned at 7:39 pm. The next LAS Board of Education meeting will be held on Monday, October 9, at 7 pm in the LAS Administration Building.