The Board of Education for Lowell Area Schools met for an hour last night at the Performing Arts Center in Lowell High School. The regular December meeting of the board was attended by all school board members as well as nearly three dozen residents who observed in the audience.
In addition to receiving its regular district updates and listening to public comments, the Board of Education approved the purchase of a new bus garage lift and reviewed Superintendent Nate Fowler’s performance.
Superintendent Rated Effective in Recent Review
The LAS Board of Education held a closed session earlier in the fall to conduct Fowler’s performance review, and at Monday’s meeting, the results of that review were made public. Board member Pat Nugent presented the results and noted that an annual superintendent evaluation is required by state law.
The evaluation rated Fowler’s performance in 36 different areas, which were broken down into these main categories:
- Governance and board relations
- Community relations
- Staff relations
- Business and finance
- Instructional leadership
Other components of the evaluation included student growth and progress toward goals. For each metric, the school board assigned a score of 1-4 which correlated to the following:
1 – Ineffective
2 – Minimally effective
3 – Effective
4 – Highly effective
Fowler’s scores were almost entirely 3s and 4s, with business and finance being his strongest area. He received a score of 4 for all metrics in that category. Fowler did not receive a 1 rating in any metric, and the lone 2 was in the area of providing information to the board. Nugent said that partly fell on the board to be clearer about its expectations.
“Mr. Fowler can’t read our minds, and we can’t read his,” Nugent said.
Overall, Fowler’s score was 83% which places his performance in the effective category. Nugent explained the board conducted a mid-year evaluation in February, and Fowler’s score at that time was 79%, which also falls into the effective category. Nugent said the board was pleased with the score growth and noted that not only was Fowler a relatively new superintendent but his first year in the position had been marked by significant challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic and social upheaval.
The evaluation was accepted unanimously by the school board.
Board Approves Purchase of New Bus Lift
Among the meeting’s agenda items was a first reading of changes to the Board of Education bylaws. These include updated financial rules and changes that reflect new case law and state legislation. A final vote on the new bylaws is expected in January.
The board unanimously approved payment of $56,979 to Allied Inc. for the purchase of a new bus garage lift. The current lift is 40 years old and failed its last inspection. A lift is needed to conduct mechanical work and maintenance on district buses.
“This is a big expense that were able to keep out of the general fund,” Fowler said. Money for the purchase will come from the sinking fund instead.
The new equipment will be capable of lifting 18,000 pounds, and Allied estimates it can have it on site in 40-45 days.
As it does every meeting, the school board heard informational reports in the areas of human resources, finances and curriculum. The following are some highlights from the December reports:
- The district has hired a new bus driver and brought back a previous driver. While the district seems to be in good shape as far as drivers go, efforts are being made to recruit more workers.
- Each education level within the district – elementary, middle and high – has two floating substitute teachers who are helping the district achieve an 80% fill rate for requested educator absences.
- State revenues are about $230 million higher than expected. It’s unclear whether any of that money will be passed along to local school districts this year.
- Efforts are underway to reorganize K-12 career readiness programs in the district.
- The reproductive health committee is continuing to meet and will make curriculum recommendations to the Board of Education later in the spring.
High school student Emily Struckmeyer also provided an update on behalf of student leadership. She noted that it is a spirit week at the high school, and a recent blood drive resulted in enough donations to save 130 lives.
Public Comments in Support of School Board
Four residents spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, and all four shared their support for the district and school board. They also expressed concern that some parents were trying to remove books from school libraries and recall Board of Education members.
“I think this business about school board recalls is ridiculous at best,” said resident Mark Blanding.
“There are so many people in this community that support you, all the staff and the teachers,” said parent Katie Rademacher.
Parent Lacey Charboneau thanked the district for their recent email clarifying the cell phone policy for freshmen and said she would be supportive of limiting cell phone usage for all grades. She also felt it should be left to parents to monitor what books their children were reading and that the district should not have to remove books some parents deem questionable. Finally, she extended kudos to Struckmeyer for the excellent job she does as a member of student leadership. “She is oozing school spirit,” Charboneau said.
The final speaker, resident Perry Beachum, said that it was difficult being part of a board, and he thought the group trying to recall board members could make more of an impact by advocating to state legislators for an overhaul of the school funding model.
To wrap up the meeting, Fowler provided a superintendent’s report. But first, he extended his condolences to Oxford Community Schools in the wake of the school shooting there. He added that Lowell Area Schools is meeting with local law enforcement and reviewing its security policies and procedures.
Fowler also said that after the new year, it will no longer be required that students wear masks in the classroom. However, the requirement that students wear masks on buses will continue since that is part of an order from the U.S. Department of Transportation which is not set to expire until March.
After the Christmas break, students at Lowell Middle School will be moving to classrooms in their building’s new addition. Then, renovation will begin on the current 6th grade space and changes to the front of the building will take place over the summer.
The next regular meeting of the LAS Board of Education will be on January 10, 2022 at 7pm.