Business addressed by the Newton Board of Education at its meeting on Monday ranged from more talks on the bond election to the infrastructure of the new Opportunity Academy to multiple avenues being sought out to improve student safety and well-being. Here are a few of the highlights:

Opportunity Academy taking shape

Principal Tyler Swalley came before the school board on Monday to talk a little bit about the form the new Opportunity Academy (an alternative learning environment being established on the EmberHope Youthville campus) is taking prior to its launch next school year.

Namely, Swalley talked about the graduation requirements of 21 credits being established. That number is three less than credits required for graduation from Newton High School, but he also noted it is on par with other similar alternative models in nearby communities like Maize and Haysville.

Part of the reason 21 credits was settled on, Swalley said, was to provide a more manageable path to graduation (for both Youthville residents and qualifying NHS students admitted to the alternative school) and to develop more positive relationships between fellow students and teachers.

Swalley admitted opportunities for character development and team-building will be worked into the daily schedule at Opportunity Academy through structured breaks and check ups between staff and students.

Limiting the credit requirements will also serve students better in other classes, Swalley said, allowing time in the schedule for those students to fit in Career and Technical Education certification classes if they so choose. Also, while financial management, computer applications and speech are not among the required credits for graduation through Opportunity Academy, they will be offered as electives for students.

Putting student well-being first

Director of Business Services Matt Morford updated the school board on a couple of grants being sought out — one with an upcoming deadline and one the district already had to apply for — that would help make safety and security upgrades around the district.

The grant already applied for, which the district was alerted to by a vendor (DH Pace, Wichita), included an extensive process reviewing entrance points, access points, blind spots, etc. at the district buildings. If awarded the School Violence and Prevention Program grant, the district could receive up to $375,000 for said upgrades — including, but not limited to, remote/secure access to all district buildings, additional security cameras, school visitor check-in software, etc.

Meanwhile, the state also offers grant funding for similar issues and Morford noted, since the district is seeking out funding in excess of $20,000, board approval would be needed to move forward with the application. The board approved both grant applications.

In a similar vein, the board was also alerted to an opportunity to join the IRIS (integrated referral and intake system) network and allow district schools to tap into county resources to help students in need by more easily connecting them with the necessary services.

Handbook revisions resolve proposed honors changes

Coming before the school board for review, staff alerted the board to some recent changes to the proposed Newton High School student handbook for the 2019-2020 school year.

Following feedback heard at the last BOE meeting from parents and students, it was decided that no changes will be made to the high school's Cum Laude system for the 2019-2020 school year. While it was reported that may be considered again in the spring of 2020, NHS Principal Lisa Moore said that if the issue is readdressed the school will seek out additional input from the building site council, student council (STUCO) and students/parents affected by weighted grades.

The only other change addressed in the student handbook regarded the inclusion of bandanas in the section of the dress code regarding banned headgear — another issue that sparked some student feedback this past school year. Upon discussion with members of the STUCO executive board and a few other (female) students — as well as administration confirming the continued issue of bandanas being linked to gang affiliation with local law enforcement —the decision was made to officially list bandanas as part of the banned items in the dress code.

Issues regarding the wearing of bandanas were brought before the student council by the Student Racial Justice Club and Moore noted that the STUCO members and representative students were given equal voice in the matter of including an official policy in the handbook — a policy that came from and was supported by those student representatives.

"We generally work with the student council," Moore said, "and the student council is the voice for the students."