Jeffrey Stec, who is the executive director of Citizens for Civic Renewal, was hired to facilitate Lakota’s Community Conversations to help find out what the community wants from its school district. Photo taken during a conversation session Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012 at Lakota West High School. Photo by Adam Kiefaber.
Roughly 40 parent council members of the state’s seventh-largest school district met at Lakota West High School Wednesday to talk about concerns with the type of education their children currently receive and will receive in the future at Lakota schools.
The discussion was part of Lakota’s new “Community Conversation” program, which began in late September and involves various community members hosting forums to help inform the school district on how to better serve its students.
“The goal is reach out into the community, to get to hear from people we often don’t get to see,” Lakota Superintendent Karen Mantia said. “If you have an interest in the school district or in the growth of the community … we invite you to either host a conversation or be a part of it.”
So far there have been five sessions, which have included mainly parents of students in the school district. However, there will be some different perspectives shared this month when Cornerstone Church (Oct. 15), Chesterwood Village (Oct. 24) and the West Chester Chamber Alliance (Oct. 24) will host conversations.
“The more we can invite diversity to the table to give their opinions, their thoughts, their ideas, suggestions and constructive criticism will only help us plan and better understand what we can do as a school system to help our community,” Mantia said.
On Wednesday, the parents, who participated in the latest conversation, were not shy to share their constructive criticism and voiced their concern about many topics including attending to individual student needs, teachers instructing students to tests instead of encouraging creativity, students not getting classes they signed up for, lack of transportation to school and the community’s overall perception of Lakota.
Many of the concerns have been affected by the district’s inability to pass a school levy. Three straight failed tax levies in the last two years have led to roughly $35 million in cuts, including just more than $10 million in reductions for the 2012-2013 school year.
Those cuts and teacher layoffs have led to fewer electives, larger class sizes, high participation fees and little to no transportation for many of its students. Due to those cuts, some parents in the group admitted that they are looking for alternative education options for their students. Others are afraid the community believes the school district is performing “better than ever” even after the cutbacks.
Despite the small sample size, Citizens for Civic Renewal executive director Jeffrey Stec, whose group is being paid $40,000 by the school district to facilitate the conversations, says that the lack of individualizing education because of testing has been discussed in some form at each conversation.
“Every group has said that since we have to do these state-mandated tests, the kids at the top still get their AP courses and the kids at the bottom get what they need, but the kids in the middle are not really getting an education that is tailored to their strengths,” Stec said. “That topic has come across in a different way in each session, very strongly.”
As part of the program, Stec documents the positives, negatives and concerns from community members and provides feedback to the Lakota Board of Education, which typically has a few representatives at each meeting. However, those representatives are there just to listen.
“I feel the most important thing I think is just the energy level that people have to be heard and to express themselves,” Stec said. “People just want to be able to talk and know that someone is listening and they don’t want to be lectured to … there is just a lot of energy. You can tell people think it is important.”
The school district is strongly encouraging its community members from all different perspectives to host conversations. There is no time table to when the conversations will end, but the plan is continue these talks for a long period.
For more information on how to host or where to attend a conversation, visit Lakotaonline.com for details.
Posted in: Board of Education, Levy news, News, Schools |