The Board of Education met March 2nd, with curriculum development and review a dominant topic of discussion.
The meeting began with recognitions for the high school wrestling and girls swim and dive teams for their accomplishments at State competition, and recognitions for teacher of the year Jessica Dierking and support staff employee of the year Julie Bunton.
Mendi Spencer, GVHS science teacher. spoke during patron comments regarding the curriculum development policy and administrative procedure on the agenda for discussion. Spencer had several pointed questions for the board, asking if any board member attended a curriculum writing session prior to the issue being raised, and how it would be determined which parents are qualified to serve on a curriculum development committee.
"Has data been collected that indicates there is a need to change the current policy? If the answer is no, it is important to note that change and new initiatives are based on data and not whims or wants of a few patrons," Spencer said.
The district's Salary and Benefits Committee presented its recommendations to the board as a part of its annual process. Member and district elementary teacher Shannon Stone presented for the committee. The committee is comprised of team members from each building in the district. The committee recommended a levy increase be placed on the April 2024 ballot, noting there has not been an increase since 2003. The committee noted that with a levy increase of $.71, the district will continue to have one of the lowest levy rates in the area.
The committee noted concerns regarding the district's ability to offer competitive salaries, particularly in order to attract experienced staff. The committee noted the average years of experience for certified staff is 14.7 years, and stated the district is receiving 1/4 of the resumes received three years ago.
In addition to concerns regarding competitive salaries, the committee outlined additional issues they believe could be addressed through a levy increase, including additional resources for students, additional support staff, and reduced class sizes.
Under action items, the Board approved an amendment to the 2022-23 budget with adjustments made due to construction of the new Leadership Center and phase 6 of the high school and approved the preliminary non-binding tax rate for 2023. Superintendent Brad Welle reported the district submitted its preliminary estimate of the 2023 tax levy to Jackson County. The non-binding estimate for 2023 totals $4.9271.
Under unfinished business, the board was offered an opportunity to discuss curriculum review for eight courses: AP Calculus, Biology, Honors Biology, AP US History, PLTW (Project Lead the Way) Human Body Systems, PLTW Biomedical Innovations, PLTW Engineering, Design, and Development, and PLTW Principles of Engineering. There was no discussion and no questions for these courses.
Moving to curriculum development, the board discussed recommended changes to curriculum development policy and administrative procedure (Board Policy IF/Administrative Procedure IF-AP).
Board President Jared English requested clarification regarding what exactly the changes mean at the ground level in curriculum review meetings. Welle clarified that the superintendent would appoint committee members, and pointed to the positives he sees in having parents and potentially students involved in the process, pointing to community involvement in events around strategic planning as an example.
Board member Eddie Saffell pushed back on the comparison, noting there is a difference between a community member voicing opinions regarding placement of a new building, or what park amenities the city needs in terms of the city's recent strategic planning efforts, and a member of a curriculum committee having the background knowledge needed to be helpful in the process.
"I struggle with this a lot. What is the function of that parent? How does a parent come in and offer any intelligent insight about what we should be teaching. I struggle with it. I'm not saying our parents are dumb by any means, and we may have some parents out there with this type of expertise, but that's not the person you're going to get. You're going to get me. You're going to get the parent that wants to try to be involved, but when I stand my ground and say 'no, you're not teaching this'. At what point are you going to say, 'yeah, we are and thank you for your time," Saffell said.
Board member Jeff Coleman countered by saying "I don't think that is the function of that committee. I think the function of that committee is to listen to what they are doing. You might have that strong of an opinion, but that is not their role. Their role is to be a part of the committee to report to us as a board who then makes that decision," Coleman said.
Saffell disagreed. "That is not how the policy and procedure is written. The policy and procedure is written under curriculum development. These people are going to be brought in to be part of curriculum development. They are going to be offering insight into what curriculum these guys are offering. And I struggle with non-educators who are uneducated in these topics offering insight."
"Now if we need to change the wording of that policy to where it is a review, fine. We know there are books and other things in our libraries that have been used as resources that shouldn't have been. We went through that earlier this year. Maybe that's where parents can help. The way it's written, they're part of a committee that is going to help with curriculum development. I struggle with that. They don't have the background to be offering insight into what these guys are developing," Saffell said.
"I agree with Eddie on that, and I don't think parents should be involved when it comes to that. I think parents should be allowed to see what the curriculum is and what that entails in case there is controversial issues, which is the reason why we are here," board member Tisha Homfeld said.
"That piece is another policy. Parents already have the right to request any of the materials and have access to what we are teaching," Welle said.
"But even as board members, we don't see the different books that are a part of that. That's what I'm talking about," Homfeld said.
"I don't know if this will fix it, and I don't know that it is necessarily a bad thing, but I know I have some heartburn over the way it is being presented right now. Parents who are not educators and/or uneducated in that topic, should not be helping with curriculum at all," Saffell said.
Board member Jeff Porter, who raised the issue initially for discussion, emphasized the administration holds the power to determine how these committees will function.
"It is up to the administration to set the guidelines on what the whole committee or those parents and guardians and students, how they're going to be involved. No one is saying they are going to be involved for the whole sausage making process. They're going to be used where it is deemed necessary or useful to review some of the materials just to make sure they can add input where they can and to see what is happening and what it is going to be about," Porter said.
Assistant Superintendent for Academic Services Dr. Beth Mulvey shared her concern and pushed back on comments regarding transparency.
"We wanted to be as transparent as possible about the process and the product. And I feel like I should say that I feel we have, because every time we bring something to you, whether it is a working document or something that needs approval, you've had the link. School board members are part of the review, and you are also parents and community members. Elected community members that represent this community. You've had the highest level of transparency and access to this for its approval. I feel like that needs to be mentioned. There is nothing that we were trying to hide about this process. In fact, we shared it all. And I want to say that resources and material are listed as suggested, because the reason behind developing curriculum when Glenna (Bult) and I started was because teachers didn't have anything. When teachers were hired, we did not have anything to hand them. We might have a textbook, we might have a computer program, but we did not have a board approved curriculum to hand to the teachers. So the resources on those documents are listed as suggested resources intentionally. A teacher should have some freedom to make selections based on their students' needs. If the rub is about resources, I think there are measures that we can take outside of this policy to put safeguards in place to make sure parents feel at ease about whatever content is being covered. We do have some of those things in place already where if a book, in an English class for example, is offensive to a particular parent, they have the option to choose something else. We can go even further than that and provide a list of the readings before the class even starts and parents can make an informed choice then. I just think we're going after a policy for curriculum development when it is not about the curriculum itself, it is about the resources."
English added that when he drills down into the curriculum links provided by Mulvey, he often asks "Why are we teaching this?", and the response is often that it is a state requirement.
"I just want to make sure that roles and responsibilities are really clear, because people are going to get frustrated when they join a committee, spend a lot of time, and find out that they can't change a lot of what they think they can, because it is mandated by the state," English said.
"I do feel like we have framed both the policy and the administrative procedure in a way that emphasizes the importance of the role of the professional in that process, but also validates the importance of engaging our community, meeting the needs of our community," Welle said.
Porter requested the policy be brought up as an action item for approval. With member Eddie Saffell as the lone 'no' vote, the changes were approved.
Prior reporting: Quick News - Grain Valley News
Curriculum development policy and administrative procedure:
View Policy IF: CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT (eboardsolutions.com)
View Administrative Procedure IF-AP(1): CURRICULUM DEVELOPMENT (eboardsolutions.com)