The East Lansing School Board met Monday, May 8, just weeks before the Class of 2023 graduates and the school year draws to a close.
Board President Terah Chambers and Trustee Monica Fink were both absent Monday, so Vice President Elizabeth Lyons filled the role of chairperson. Past president now Board Treasurer Kath Edsall frequently offered helpful instruction to Lyons as she ran the meeting.
During the recognition portion of the agenda, often reserved for acknowledging achievements of students and staff, the board thanked East Lansing High School seniors Gabriel Benavides and Alexander Mielock for their time as student representatives on the board. Benavides will attend Michigan State University and Mielock will study at Grand Valley State University. ELHS graduation is June 2 at the MSU Breslin Center.
While there was no formal discussion on the hiring of a new high school principal, Superintendent Dori Leyko did indicate the interviews were beginning this week. The district is searching for a new principal after the resignation of Shannon Mayfield last March. Ashley Schwarzbeck is serving as interim principal.
Board hears about the 2023 teacher professional learning experiences.
Assistant Superintendent Glenn Mitcham and Director of Equity and Social Justice Klaudia Burton gave a presentation covering the professional learning experiences offered to teachers in the district over the last year.
“Our goal this year,” Mitcham said, “was to offer professional learning that had clarity, that was focused and also gave our teachers choice.
“Professional learning this year in East Lansing was so different than it’s been in the past,” he said. “We’ve had these late start professional learning days in the last few years, [and] honestly, I don’t think a lot of our parents loved those days. They were tough for child care and it was tough for our teachers to be in this professional learning mode, really get wrapped up into something, and then literally minutes later, kids are in their classroom.”
The goals for this year’s professional development days revolved around the district’s mission statement: Nurturing each child, educating all students, building world citizens. Mitcham and Burton explained to the board that activities were split up into two main focuses, one for elementary teachers and the other for secondary teachers.
Elementary teachers focused primarily on Bookworms, a new language arts curriculum the district adopted in the last year. This curriculum is split into three 45-minute instructional blocks. Professionals available to support the teachers included one of the developers of the curriculum, Dr. John Strong of the University of Delaware, and Michigan State University assistant professor Dr. Laura Tortorelli.
Secondary educators were able to choose between four courses: a social emotional learning course focusing on staff wellness and student mental health; an early-warning intervention and monitoring system that taught a seven-step process for helping struggling students; a course introducing social justice and allowing educators to recognize their own biases and prejudices; and an opportunity to go further and introduce social justice principles in lessons to students.
Two step to microphone to speak during public comment.
During public comment, Shari Brooks, representative of the East Lansing Parent Advocacy Team (ELPAT), again requested the board provide committee descriptions for their six standing committees and links to attend the committee meetings virtually. (In later discussion, the board decided to bring committee descriptions to their June meeting and approve them then.) Brooks also expressed her happiness that Graduation Alliance graduates will be celebrated at the high school’s convocation ceremonies on May 19.
Del Chenault also spoke, again asking for transparency regarding safety and academic success in the district. He lamented a panic button in the high school office that, according to Chenault, does not call police if pushed but instead sends an email to administrators.
“We’ve had more incidents of violence against faculty, violence against teachers,” he said. “We had a teacher suffer a concussion, hit in the head, and the student was, as I’m told, given a two-day suspension.”
Chenault also asked the board what it would do about falling scores of students, particularly Black and Hispanic students who, he warned, “continue to fall behind.”
Safety measures at the high school have been an ongoing item of discussion during the 2022-2023 school year following a variety of incidents including lockdowns and fights. Superintendent Dori Leyko updated the board at the April 12 meeting about measures that have been put into place so far.
The board considered four action items before adjourning for the night.
Thrun Law Firm, which represents the school district, informed the board about nationwide litigation against Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tik Tok, and other social media platforms. The litigation alleges “social media companies targeted minors to maximize profits despite knowing the severe detrimental effects excessive social media use causes to minors…social media use is associated with increased rates of depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicide, and property damage.”
Thrun, working with Frantz Law Group in California, has given the district until December 2023 to determine if it wants to join the suit. With two members of the board missing, the group voted Monday to table the motion until a future meeting, but not before Edsall and Trustee Chris Martin said they were inclined to support the action.
Remaining board action included the approval of a food service contract for the 2023-2024 school year and the purchase of 190 Chromebooks for third grade students in the district.
The board will next meet at 7 p.m. Monday, May 22, in the boardroom at the East Lansing High School.