Discussion of a potential name change for Santa Fe 5/6 Center's Lindley Hall has spurred a great deal of conversation among the Newton Board of Education and patrons of USD 373.
Initially brought up as an agenda item at a September meeting, the school board circled back to the topic of possibly renaming Lindley Hall at its meeting on Monday, hearing more testimony from Newton residents against the change during a period of public comment.
Timing of the discussion was called into question by numerous patrons (both at the September meeting and on Monday), and board member Angela Becker said she came to realize the timing of the conversation may not have been the best as current BOE candidates are having to address the issue during election season.
Over the past month, Becker has continued to have conversations on the naming issue both with those for and against change. While she said her personal opinion has not changed on the matter, she admitted she does not see a path forward to change the name of Lindley Hall at the present time.
However, as several community members pointed out once the topic was brought up, doing nothing to address the history of segregated Newton High School basketball teams under Frank Lindley's tenure as coach would be a wasted opportunity. In an effort to shed light on that matter, Becker proposed adding a plaque at Lindley Hall to address the history of the sport at the time — something with which fellow BOE member Steve Richards was fully on board.
"It requires courage and persistence to continue these necessary conversations. This is not about burying or erasing or changing the history. History is a set of stories that we choose to tell ourselves about our understanding of the past, and history is most often written by the winners and dominant cultures," Richards said. "I would suggest at a bare minimum we need to move in directions seeking appropriate information to create robust, prominent displays and teaching resources about the exclusionary practices of Newton athletics and other activities."
"That to me is the most important aspect is that we value the shared history of our community so that we can learn from the past and not repeat some of the practices that have happened," said board vice president Carol Sue Stayrook Hobbs. "How do we not lose sight of this conversation? I don't want us to lose forward movement in understanding the diversity of experience of people in the community."
Educational elements for the right age group — like the fifth- and sixth-grade students on the Santa Fe building campus where Lindley Hall sits — also were important to both Hobbs and Richards. Board members like Jennifer Budde questioned if teachers who have done similar units in the past could be called upon to help create building-wide or even district-wide curriculum.
Other board members said there is a place for similar units already, but some questioned whether giving direction on curriculum — in the form of a motion — would be overstepping on the part of the school board. Board member Toby Tyner, a Social Studies teacher, seconded that ample opportunities to teach such lessons exist in the current curriculum, but he was hesitant in taking direct action to shape district curriculum and what goes on in the classroom.
A call was made to draft a resolution to support district efforts regarding the educational element, and the BOE unanimously approved a motion to add an informational display at Lindley Hall detailing the segregationist practices of Newton basketball during the Lindley era.
Knowing the discussion around Lindley Hall has been important and divisive, Budde encouraged district patrons to continue speaking out and sharing their input in all avenues of Newton schools.
"If only people could be that passionate every day about what's going on in our schools, in our buildings. That's what we really desire from you. We desire for community engagement all the time," Budde said. "So please, I encourage you as we move forward with our plans, whatever they may be, that you don't just say, 'okay, now the issue's over' and you walk away and don't look back. Please continue to stay engaged and know what's going on in your district."
In other business, the Newton BOE:
• Recognized 2020 Kansas Horizon Award nominees John Buchanan (Santa Fe) and Mollie Mills-Weis (NHS).
• Approved the consent agenda, including renewed agreements for the use of Traversa software and SmartNet hardware.
• Following a work session where two potential superintendent search firms (the Kansas Association of School Boards and McPherson and Jacobsen) were interviewed, the board approved KASB as the search firm with which it would move forward.
• Received a report on the safety and security needs of USD 373 from superintendent Deb Hamm. The report outlined a number of improvements that have been made in the last five years, addressing needs identified by Chuck Clanahan of the Department of Homeland Security in a 2015 district audit. With a number of improvements still needing to be made, a motion was made and unanimously approved by the board to look at the safety and security needs of the district and willingness of the board to spend down reserves to meet those needs.
• Thanked Casey's General Store for a $100 donation to the NHS RaileRobotics program.
• Discussed options for recording or livestreaming BOE meetings, with some proposals planned to be brought before the school board in the near future.