Opportunity gaps still exist for our students, even at this point in our district's decade-long equity journey. I am committed to continuing and improving our district's equity work--closing the achievement gap, eliminating disparities in discipline and participation in activities and advanced classes, and ensuring that all students feel supported, welcomed, and encouraged in our schools.
As board president during last year's superintendent search, I made creating a strategic plan a focus of the board's direction to our new leadership, Now that the district has adopted a strategic plan, our board needs experienced, dedicated leadership to oversee implementation of and accountability to that plan. By focusing on implementing the strategic plan, we will enhance the opportunities for success for our students.
The social and emotional needs of our students continue to grow. Teachers need supports outside their classrooms to ensure students can learn in the classroom. I have been a long-term supporter of our district's WRAP partnership with Bert Nash, and will continue to advocate for students' mental health and other social/emotional needs.
One of the greatest challenges facing public education is the looming shortage of talented teachers. By some accounts, between the beginning of the Great Recession and the end of 2016, the number of students entering teacher preparation programs dropped between 20 to 40%, and nearly 8% of the teaching workforce leaves the profession each year.
Mentoring and professional development, leadership opportunities, compensation, and "grow-your-own" programs all have to be part of the set of tools we use to address both recruiting and retaining the teachers we need and the talented staff we already have in USD 497. I will continue to support steps to address these issues, as I have throughout my board service.
I have worked tirelessly to help Lawrence Public Schools deliver on two highly successful bond issues in 2013 and 2017, totaling $179.5 million in investments in our school facilities. My work on the board's facilities committee, since it began planning in 2012, has helped guide the district through upgrading aging facilities, addressing extensive deferred maintenance, creating equity among our 21 school buildings, founding the College & Career Center, expanding the district's partnership with Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence to construct its teen center on the College & Career Center campus, and relocation and expansion of our Facilities & Operations facility to better support their work for USD 497. I will continue to lead on facilities planning to ensure a successful implementation of the construction plans for transforming Lawrence High School over the next three years, completing a vision for improving the district's facilities that sprang from my volunteer work on the elementary facility task force back in 2010.
Vaping has become an epidemic among youth across the nation, and it is definitely a growing issue in our schools. I am calling on the City Commission to take up the Tobacco 21 proposal again as soon as possible. A recent article in the paper about the prevalence of vaping in our high schools reconfirms for me that this is a crisis happening right in front of us and not being adequately addressed from a public health perspective. Our district needs a plan to address this in our schools, and needs to incorporate recommendations and best practices that are currently being developed by the State Board of Education's vaping task force, which expects to issue recommendations ahead of the start of this school year.