USD 383 anticipates more comments on cultural training

·4 min read

May 31—Manhattan-Ogden Superintendent Marvin Wade said he is anticipating plenty of public comments regarding cultural training for teachers at the USD 383 school board meeting Wednesday.

Wade said he is "looking forward" to having more input from people who have thoughts on the recently withdrawn purchase of culturally responsive teaching and learning seminars for educators from consulting company BetterLesson.

"It's an issue that people within our community feel strongly about, and we respect their opinions and do appreciate hearing them," Wade said.

The Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice sent an email Friday calling for people to attend the board meeting to show support for the trainings, and for speakers to give testimony on why the training tools are beneficial for teachers and students.

At the May 19 board meeting, nine people spoke against adopting the training sessions, saying the programs from BetterLesson promote a concept called critical race theory, which explores how systemic racism is embedded in U.S. laws and how non-white people are affected by those laws. The main concern among those people was that the seminars would teach teachers to "indoctrinate" students.

Carl Treece, a candidate in the upcoming USD 383 board election, was one of the speakers at the May 19 meeting. He told The Mercury he does not agree with the BetterLesson trainings, and said he believes people can "agree but disagree."

The board voted to adopt the educator training sessions at their April 21 meeting, but district administrators later withdrew the $61,500 purchase at the May 5 board meeting. The board voted 4-1 to adopt the training sessions with Darell Edie dissenting and Jurdene Coleman and Brandy Santos.

Wade said district officials were planning to use money from a certain account to pay for the BetterLesson seminars, but accountants in the district business office told administrators that purchase would "not be an appropriate use" of that money. The state allows schools districts to designate certain funds related to programs and services for at-risk students who are not on grade level in either reading or mathematics, frequently absent from school and homeless or migratory.

"That meant we had to pull back and not do it," Wade said. "There's just certain circumstances where that money doesn't quite fit what we want to use it for."

Wade said public opinion had nothing to do with their decision to withdraw the BetterLesson purchase, however this has drawn attention to the need for district officials to better explain and understand "whatever it is we present" to the board.

"It's about asking, 'Do we need this, and if we do, tell us why we need it and how it'll meet that need,'" Wade said.

Wade said training district staff on matters of equity, diversity and inclusion is part of their strategic framework, yet he is "not sure" when administrators will bring something like the BetterLesson trainings back to the board. He said the focus for the month of June is on the district budget and preparing for the 2021-22 school year.

"The issue has not gone away, and we will be addressing it in the near future, we're just not sure when," Wade said. "We are open to, and do want, people's input."

In other business, the board will consider:

— Approval of adding a girls' wrestling program at Manhattan High School for the 2021-22 school year. Girls in Kansas can wrestle at the middle and high school level, but they must wrestle boys if there are not other girls in their weight division. Kansas is one of 14 states with sanctioned girls' wrestling at the high school level. The Kansas State High School Activities Association proposed a two-year plan to implement girls' wrestling in high schools, including their own regional and state tournaments. MHS wrestling coaches had a meeting in March to gauge potential participation in girls' wrestling; they had about 20 girls who showed interest. Officials want to hire a coach.

— Final approval to appoint one board member and two administrators to serve on a committee exploring possibilities for creating a career academy at Manhattan High East Campus in partnership with Manhattan Area Technical College. During the May 19 meeting, the board nominated vice president Kristin Brighton to serve on the committee. MATC received a planning grant to develop a proposal for a facility that would be co-managed with the district. Officials have set a goal of opening the academy in late 2023.

— Approval of buying for $25,224 per year a digital app called "Here Comes the Bus" that allows parents to track their child's school bus from their phone or other device.

— Approval of i-Ready personalized online math training for elementary students from Curriculum Associated for $268,896.

— Approval of administrator contract extensions for the 2021-22 school year. This is a routine approval of an array of administrator contracts across the district recommended by Wade. This doesn't include Wade, whom the board evaluates separately. Newer administrators are up for one-year extensions and others are up for two-year contracts.