On May 7, 2019, Lawton Community Schools voters will consider a $4.5 million bond proposal for renovations to Lawton Elementary School.
The Board of Education and Administration have been engaged in a facility assessment process of the elementary campus since the summer of 2016. The basis for that work has been a Facility Assessment conducted by Tower Pinkster architects who identified several areas at the elementary campus that were in poor condition and in need of renovation. The main wings of the elementary building were built in 1954 and 1962. The wear and tear of 60+ years of use is visible in many areas.
The original estimates called for approximately $7.8 million to bring the building up to an acceptable standard.
Much of the Board’s analysis has focused on how best to meet our facility needs in a manner that is responsible to taxpayers. In December of 2017, the district approved a QZAB project that has addressed lighting upgrades across the district and also a new HVAC system at the elementary school. This work is nearly complete. The QZAB project allowed the district to borrow $2.44 million dollars at zero interest payable over a 15 year term. Choosing this option for a significant portion of the renovation project has allowed the Board to reduce the bond funds needed from the original $7.8 million to the $4.5 reflected in the bond proposal.
A successful bond issue would allow:
The Board of Education and Bond Steering Committee considered many bonding options before settling on the 0.5 mil increase. A home with a taxable value of $100,000 would see an annual increase of $50. Some might ask, ‘why not just extend the current millage rate?’ Doing so would result in approximately $700,000 in additional interest paid by taxpayers over the term of the bond. Although the 0.5 mil increase will result in a slight annual increase to annual property taxes, the interest saved provides a more responsible long-term approach to funding the renovation project.
Questions, comments and concerns are always welcomed and should be directed to Superintendent Chris Rice at 624-7901 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It Starts With Safety
Our mission states that we exist to provide meaningful opportunities that challenge each student to reach their potential. Through strong connections with students, families, and the community, we will prepare our students with the 21st Century Skills necessary to compete in a global economy.
Accomplishing our mission can only occur if we are able to provide safe, secure learning environments. Our world has changed since the tragic events in Parkland, Florida on February 14. I recall the days, not so long ago, when school buildings had multiple access points that were open from dawn to dusk. People could come and go with minimal concern for what might happen. Those days are gone. Our current reality involves lockdown drills and debates over how best to address the issue of school safety. Personally, I would like to see school resource officers in all school districts and I call upon our government to step up and provide this added layer of security. Our children are our most valuable resource – we must do all that we can to protect them.
Since Parkland, schools across the country have seen a significant increase in the number of school threats. Thankfully, most of these are misguided attempts to gain attention. However, students and parents need to be very clear on the consequences of such threats regardless of credibility. Schools and law enforcement are taking the stand that enough is enough. School threats in some cases are being deemed terrorist threats carrying with them a prison term of up to 20 years. Michigan criminal law assesses fines up to $20,000 for using the internet or a computer to commit or attempt to commit a crime.
Parents are encouraged to talk with their children about school safety. Ask them if they feel safe at school and if they say no, find out why. Monitor their online activity. Look at their cell phones. And inform them of the consequences for misuse of technology. If something suspicious or concerning is found, please report it to school authorities.
Our schools will continue to provide instruction that prepares our students for successful futures. We will do so while also emphasizing the positive character traits necessary to a peaceful society.
School Facility Master Planning
I am excited to announce that our district recently signed a contract with Honeywell to provide energy conservation based improvements in our schools. This program provided a $2.56M zero interest loan to the district. These funds will be used to upgrade lighting across the district to more efficient LED technology. Also planned is a complete renovation of the HVAC system at the Elementary School that will provide new boilers, classroom unit-ventilators, and air conditioning. This work will commence this Spring with a goal of completion prior to the start of the new school year. These improvements come at no cost to the taxpayers of our district. That said, the Elementary school is now 64 years old and in need of additional improvements. Providing a single, secure point of entry is among those needs. Stay tuned for more information regarding opportunities to learn more about our facility needs and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have.
Feb. 28, 2018
Dear LCS Parents,
With the tragic events in Florida still fresh in our minds, many schools across the state and nation are dealing with reports of threats or other dangerous behaviors. Ensuring the safety of our students, employees, and school visitors remains our top priority. In the event that Lawton Community Schools receives such a report, the following protocol will be followed:
1. Ensure the immediate safety of all students and staff.
2. Investigate the credibility of all reported threats. This may involve collaboration with the local, county and/or state police departments.
3. Depending on the credibility of the information, the accused student may be removed from school and referred to county agencies for a thorough assessment of risk. These agencies may include Van Buren County Mental Health and Van Buren ISD Crisis Management.
4. Following the investigation and the assessment of risk, the enrollment status of a student involved in a school threat will be reconsidered.
In recent days, our Middle and High School students have been reminded of the OK2Say resource www.OK2Say.com which provides a confidential reporting platform. Please check with your students to ensure that they have downloaded the OK2Say app on their mobile phones.
We also encourage parents to closely monitor the online activity of their children and remind them that their spoken words and social media activity can have serious consequences.
School administration continues to review available resources and adjust school-day processes to provide the safest possible school environments.
Dear Parents and Students of Lawton Community Schools,
Since the nation’s latest school shooting tragedy, I’ve struggled not only to comprehend why these senseless acts continue to occur in our schools but also with my own silence. Frankly, until today, I struggled to find words that express my anger, empathy, and concern for our students and staff.
I vividly remember having similar feelings in the days following Sandy Hook. Even though the latest incident took place more than 1,000 miles from here, I still grieve for the victims and their families as if they were our neighbors.
I really don’t want to have to learn any more difficult lessons from these tragedies but that simply isn’t our reality. Sadly, events like this become unwanted learning opportunities that remind schools of our obligation to provide the safest possible environments for all who study, work or visit.
In the days to come, I will be reviewing our security processes with each building principal who in turn will do the same with their staffs. We’ve maintained fairly restrictive building entry policies for several years. However, increased restrictions may be advisable.
It is important to note that all of our school building staffs have now participated in active shooter training sessions conducted by the Van Buren County Sheriff’s Department. We maintain a close working relationship with our first responders and will continue to do so. We are fortunate to have such a caring and capable group of people in these important roles.
We will also do all that we can to maintain learning environments that provide all students the experiences and supports necessary to become productive and peaceful citizens of our great country.
In 2010, Lawton Community Schools ranked #6 among Van Buren county schools in the percentage of School of Choice students enrolled. At that time, 10.4% of our students resided outside of the Lawton district. Since 2015, Lawton Community Schools has ranked #1 among county schools in this category. For the 2016-17 school year, 19.7% of our student body (over 200 students) came to us from other districts. This is certainly a statistic to be proud of as it indicates that LCS is becoming a desired educational destination for families in our area. Thank you to both our resident and non-resident families for supporting our efforts and making Lawton your school of choice. Thank you also to the teachers, staff and administration for your ongoing focus on quality learning for all students. We hope to continue attracting new students both from outside and within our district. By remaining committed to a shared vision, we’ll continue to grow and prosper as a school district. The loyalty of all Blue Devil families is sincerely appreciated. We look forward to a successful 2017-18 school year full of meaningful learning experiences for all.
The following is an excerpt from comments made during commencement exercises on May 26, 2017.
Class of 2017, you’ve certainly left your mark on Lawton High School. As I reflect on the many accomplishments of this class, I’m truly amazed, impressed and optimistic about your futures. As a school district, we have strived to provide you with meaningful opportunities that allow each of you to achieve your potential. As a group, you are a strong representation of that mission. You are a class of many talents having demonstrated success in academics, career and technical education, athletics, and the arts. While there are many examples of this success that I could share, I will highlight just a few today.
Thought #1: Live life with Integrity. What exactly is integrity? I believe it can be summed up quite simply. A person of integrity follows through when they give their word thereby earning trust. The relationships we’ve developed and will develop in the future cannot thrive in the absence of trust. Be a person whose word means something.
Thought #2: Live a life of Service. There is an old gospel song that includes the following lyrics – “If I can help somebody as I pass along then my living shall not be in vain.” This song and its message affected many great leaders including Martin Luther King who said “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is What Are You Doing for Others”. Imagine a world where everyone was as concerned with serving others as they were about serving themselves.
Thought #3: Slow Down. And while it may be good and needed advice, I’m not talking about your driving. Rather I encourage you to slow down and think before passing judgment. Just last week I was in a McDonalds drive thru. This day was like most others for me and I was in a hurry to get back to the office. There was just one vehicle ahead of me. In the vehicle were two elderly gentlemen who seemed to take more time than was necessary paying for their order. I immediately grew impatient about the delay. As I pulled up to the window, money in hand, my impatience quickly turned to remorse as the cashier informed me that the gentlemen in that vehicle ahead of me had paid for my meal.
And finally, Thought #4: Think Freely and Act Responsibly. I am honestly concerned about the current state of American society. We are rapidly losing our ability to engage in respectful discourse with those who hold differing viewpoints from our own. We are becoming more and more politically fractured. When bones are fractured, we place a cast on them. I encourage the youth of today to be that cast. Don’t allow anyone to place you in a silo and insist that you think in a certain way. Stay informed on the issues that affect you and the world around you and then engage in the process in a respectful, responsible manner. Remember, whether we lean left or right, we all pledge allegiance to the same flag and we are all Americans.
And you will always be Lawton Blue Devils. Thank you.
In each of the last two issues of Connect (the LCS district newsletter), I’ve made reference to the concept of continuous improvement. From the district overall to each school, department, and individual, this ideal is applicable at all levels of the organization. It’s far too easy for organizations including school systems to rest on their laurels, especially when things are going well. This doesn’t mean we aren’t proud of what we’ve accomplished and there is certainly much to celebrate. Successful individuals, teams, and organizations do not allow themselves to become complacent. Detroit Tiger slugger Miguel Cabrera had a .338 batting average in 2015. And while that’s a great statistic, I imagine he has every intention of improving this year. This mindset of continually improving is something we strive to impart on the people and processes of Lawton Community Schools.
If there is one area within education that is changing more rapidly than any other, it would be technology. The current generation of students have never known life without personal computing devices and social media. Most have never seen an overhead projector or even a chalkboard. Remember phone booths with pay phones? Our kids don’t. Our students are now accustomed to having instant access to information. We’ve made access to technology a priority for our students and staff with each building seeing a significant increase in the number of computing devices. In 2015 and again in 2016, Lawton Elementary School was one of the only schools in SW Michigan to give the state MSTEP assessments entirely on iPads.
How does all of this sudden change affect teaching and learning? The role of teacher has changed from giver of information to facilitator of information. Thankfully LCS has a solid core of tech-savvy staff who are utilizing technology in a variety of ways. All relevant student information including achievement data is now maintained in digital formats. To maintain and enhance our teachers’ technology knowledge and skills, we’ve dedicated considerable amounts of professional development resources to this topic. In February, all Middle and High School teachers were trained in the use of Google Classroom. Have a high school student? Ask them about Google Classroom. In March LCS sent six teachers to the annual MACUL conference in Grand Rapids. MACUL exists to help educators identify sound educational practices related to technology as well as understand the implications of rapid changes in technology (www.macul.org).
4th Grade Teacher Andrea Oswald is excited about: “………taking technology from basic substitution (using technology to substitute exactly what we are doing in class) to a level of redefinition that gives students opportunities they never would have had if that technology were not in front of them.”
Middle School Math Teacher Chad Williams said: “I thought the MACUL conference was outstanding. It was great to be able to bounce ideas off of others’ in the same field, same subject and even other instructors in different subject areas.”
Middle School Language Arts Teacher Amanda Lindemulder commented: “………..It was an incredible experience. So inspiring and informational. I wish everyone from the district could attend! I learned a great deal”.
Good teaching and learning tools are only as valuable as our ability to effectively utilize them. LCS will continue to work with our employees to identify their needs and provide relevant training while we continue the journey from good to great!
Formative Assessment is a strategy that helps teachers remain aware of how well students have mastered content or specific skills. Rather than wait until the end of a unit, the teacher is constantly questioning or assessing student knowledge and adjusting instruction accordingly. For example, a teacher may assign an exit ticket at the end of a lesson. The exit ticket might ask students a few key questions about the lesson. The teacher then reviews student responses to determine how well they learned the material and reteaches the following day if needed. For the 15-16 school year and beyond, Lawton Community Schools has made Formative Assessment a focus of our professional development and school improvement efforts. We expect that as our teachers continue to hone this skill, students will receive better feedback and increased achievement.
As indicated in our Strategic Plan, LCS has developed a Technology Advisory Committee. This group first met in October with plans to meet bi-monthly. The committee includes the director of technology, four administrators, nine teachers and a representative from the Secant technology company in Kalamazoo. The over-arching purpose of this committee is to provide guidance to the overall process of acquiring and utilizing technology. At our initial meeting, we developed objectives for our work which include:
Education Beyond Expectations
Lawton Community Schools recently adopted the brand slogan of Education Beyond Expectations. What exactly does that mean? For the educators of LCS it means going over and above what might be expected because our kids deserve our very best. We should always strive to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing to do. I am so very thankful to be a part of such a dedicated team. Examples of exceeding expectations occur every day in our classrooms, offices, playgrounds, cafeterias, and buses. These examples are too numerous to list but it’s important that our employees know how much their efforts are appreciated.
My how things have changed in the last 5 years. Not so long ago, graduating from college with a teaching degree was far from a guarantee of employment. It was not uncommon to have over 100 applications for single teaching positions. Here at Lawton we hired 6 new elementary teachers following numerous retirements back in 2010. The public posting of these vacancies resulted in nearly 200 resumes received. I sometimes wonder how many of those people, many of them fine teachers I’m sure, eventually gave up and chose another career path.
Today, schools across the country are struggling to fill vacant teaching positions. Last week I met with the Van Buren County Superintendents who all shared their concern and difficulty filling vacancies. Hartford hired (2) teachers from Alaska. Another district went to Spain to find a Spanish teacher. This is a trend we can’t afford to ignore. All of society could be negatively affected if we aren’t able to attract more of our young people into the education profession. Perhaps this is just a normal balancing of supply and demand. However I know that market saturation goes back to the late 80’s and early 90’s when I was first hired and felt very thankful to have a teaching job.
So, what can we do about it?
Well, it would certainly be helpful if the education profession received the respect it deserves. Interesting phenomenon – when surveyed, people seem to indicate satisfaction with their local school but when asked to assess education at the state or national level people are anything but satisfied. I could write for hours on this topic and will spare you that diatribe. Let’s instead focus on things within our control including the message that we send to our students about our profession. I’m proud to be an educator. I’m proud to say that I was a teacher, coach and principal before becoming a superintendent. Has it been easy? Of course not – you all know that. Ours is a difficult vocation with a level of responsibility that doesn’t necessarily match the income potential. But we knew that going in. We all chose education for a variety of reasons and hopefully making a difference in the lives of young people was at the top of the list. As we portray our own personal satisfaction with our jobs, kids need to know this and hopefully also know that we do enjoy what we do. Education is a rewarding profession. Frustrating at times, yes, but I imagine that to be true for most professions.
High achieving students considering education should be encouraged to do just that. I’ll admit having done the opposite a time or two and I now regret it. The pendulum has swung and we all need to do what we can to ensure that education is a respected and desirable career. I don’t mean to over simplify the problem. It’s certainly more involved than what I’ve shared today however, it is an issue in need of our attention.
I’m very proud of and thankful for the educators we have here at LCS and wish you all a great year and a long, rewarding career.
Random Thoughts will be shared here from time to time by Lawton Community Schools Superintendent Chris Rice.