Metropolitan School District of Lawrence Township officials presented the annual State of the Schools update during a Sept. 19 luncheon hosted by the Greater Lawrence Chamber of Commerce at the district’s administration building on Sunnyside Road.
During the hour-long presentation, Superintendent Shawn Smith shared the microphone with what he called his “band,” calling up various department heads to speak about the accomplishments those departments have achieved.
Chief Academic Officer Troy Knoderer talked about the district’s “three E” approach to preparing students for the workforce. It starts with “exposure” for the younger children, helping develop curiosity. Middle school is when students gain “experiences” to help them find out what they’re good at, prepare them for high school and introduce them to technical skills in various fields, such as agriculture and construction.
High school is the time to gain “expertise” so that when students graduate, they have the skills needed to succeed in college or to enter the workforce.
Knoderer said the district has a graduation rate of more than 90 percent.
“We have no racial disparity (in that rate),” he said. “There’s no achievement gap in Lawrence Township. All our subgroups graduate at over 90 percent.”
He noted that there is some disparity in the type of diploma earned, and the board has set a goal of improving the rate of honors graduates in underperforming subgroups.
Assistant Superintendents Emily Haas Brown and Dan Kuznik discussed the district’s strategic plan, which was recently completed. Brown said the plan was developed with the help of focus groups that provided input. That input was compiled and grouped into pillars that mirror the board goals, she said, and that information was used to develop strategies and metrics to meet the goals.
Kuznik said the district already has started implementing those strategies and will publish the first quarter’s results on the district’s website in mid-October.
Chief of Operations Rodger Smith talked about the district’s buildings. He said that a decade ago, the district didn’t have a facility plan. Now, it is in the final stages of its Blue Ribbon Phase One plan, which involves improvements to every school in the district.
“We’re working hard to get great facilities in a cost-effective way, and giving the community the best we can give,” he said.
That includes significant renovations at Lawrence North and Lawrence Central high schools — both due for completion in mid-2024.
Rodger Smith said Fall Creek and Belzer middle schools are next, and those projects will take about two and a half years. The district also has started construction on a new administration building so that the Sunnyside Road building can use that office space for educating students.
“We’re getting shoved out of this building, which is a good thing,” he said. “We need to put kids here.”
That building, in the Fort Ben area, is due for completion in 2025.
Chief Finance Officer Matt Miles talked a little about the district’s $258.5 million budget, which includes about $108 million in salaries for the district’s 2,400 employees. He said the board has worked to maintain a cash reserves balance of $13 million in case of emergencies, and the district is pleased to be able to maintain operations without asking taxpayers for a referendum.
Superintendent Smith closed the presentation by noting how much of a difference individuals can have on a child’s future.
“We don’t think about the impact adults have on children,” he said. “We forget about all the kids who are inspired by all the adults who work in schools.”
He said Lawrence Township schools are strong and successful because of the people and the community support.