Morning traffic flowed fairly smoothly, according to both Lakota high school principals, as prior changes to busing in the state’s seventh-largest school district seemed like a distant memory on the first day of school Thursday.
New changes like further teachers cuts, shorter school days for high school and junior high students, a healthier food menu for students, a pilot program to see how personal wireless devices like cell phones could help in the educational process and an influx of new school principals were among the fresh topics in the district.
However, despite all the new changes, parents continue to be concerned with the lack of busing. According to Lakota West principal G. Elgin Card, it is still the biggest issue he hears about.
The busing cuts began in January of 2011 and additional cuts, which went into effect on the first day of school in August of that same year, officially left the district with state minimum busing.
“Back then, it was really concerning just because it was easier for a lot of us to take the bus,” Lakota East senior Claire Casper said.
“Now, I think everyone (students) has adjusted really well. It helps that they all have a certain route that they used to taking.”
- New to Lakota: Healthier food options
- New to Lakota: Wireless devices allowed in classroom
- New to Lakota: Shorter school days
Overall, cuts in recent years totaling more than $25 million – including just more than $10 million in reductions for the 2012-2013 school year – have forced the Lakota Board of Education to make some tough decisions.
Those decisions have naturally led to larger class sizes through teacher layoffs and fewer electives due to shorter school days.
“When they cut a lot of teachers that affected the students because the classes got bigger and a lot of us miss those teachers,” said Casper, when asked what was the most damaging cut recently made by the school board.
“Our teachers are all basically good, so they can effectively teach a class when it is a little bit bigger, but you definitely notice teachers who have been cut or switched around to different schools … Every time it happens it is never a good thing.”
One of the good things the district is doing, according to Casper, is allowing the use of wireless devices in the classroom. Casper believes that it will help students, especially those who use those same devices for schoolwork while at home.
Both Lakota East and Lakota West are piloting the “Bring Your Own Technology” initiative. Overall, 20 teachers at each high school (each school has approximately 100 teachers) are helping with the initiative where students can use wireless devices, like their cell phone, for educational purposes in those selected classrooms.
“Kids know technology and when our superintendent met with several kids last year to find out what they thought of the district, they said, ‘We have technology, so let us use it,’” Lakota West principal G. Elgin Card said.
“We are kind of taking it slow. We have some ideas that we have read about and will come back together periodically as a group to see what worked and what hasn’t worked. Hopefully … we will be able to open this up to the whole school. That would be great. That is definitely what we want to see.”
This initiative could also lead into some things that the school district may not want to see, which could cause the district to discipline students and confiscate devices if students violate school policy.
Meanwhile, in the cafeteria, Lakota students are also being asked to embrace a more nutritional food menu that features changes on how food is prepared and what ingredients are being used.
Some of those changes include less fried food and more baked or grilled meats, as well as substituting pork hot dogs for ones made of turkey.
“I think our child nutritional department has always done an outstanding job of offering a full complement of very healthy options,” Lakota East principal Suzanna Davis said.
“When we watch our students on a daily basis, they make very healthy decisions. While there is some minor tweaking to that, I don’t think our students will push back or notice much of a change. For the most part, I think they embrace a very healthy diet.”
Among the student body, Casper said she has heard some complaining from students who prefer the unhealthier food, but believes that it is a good thing for her classmates to eat healthy.
In addition to dealing with new food items, many students in the district will have a different principal this year.
In total, 10 of the school district’s 22 schools have new leaders. Many of those have been promoted within, replacing retired principals or others who have moved on to better paying positions in other school districts.
“Our new administrative team that we have in place, some of them have strong ties,” said Davis, who is now the principal at Lakota East High School after being promoted from East’s freshman campus.
“Obviously, there is some history here in the district and they have done an outstanding job for us. They have been wonderful in terms of the culture of Lakota and being able to maintain those expectations.”
In addition to Davis, Card was promoted to lead Lakota West High School after previously serving as the principal of West’s Freshman Campus. Other new principals (full list below) include Brad Lovell (Creekside Early Childhood), Paulette Grady (Cherokee Elementary), Joanna Sears (Endeavor Elementary), Christina French (Hopewell Elementary), Ben Brown (Union Elementary), Eric Bauman (Liberty Junior), Stacy Millburg (Lakota East Freshman) and Jason Jackson (Lakota West Freshman).
On another note, not all Lakota students began class this morning, kindergarteners will have their first day next Tuesday, Aug. 28.