Perspective: Planning, preparation precede start of school year

As you read this, we have begun another school year in the Jefferson City Public School District.

Preparation for the first day of school is quite extensive and began months ago. It took lots of communication, training, organization, collaboration and countless numbers of meetings.

At this time, many of us within the JCPS district are working on two different tracks. On the one hand, we are preparing for the success of students this year. On the other hand, we are developing high school academies based upon specific student interests for the future.

It’s a lot of work but it is all necessary and beneficial. In fact, of all the meetings I attended in early August, not one failed to produce a conversation that was productive as far as the safety and success of our students was concerned.

Here are some noteworthy examples.

• Bus transportation — On Aug. 6 Jefferson City High School principal Dr. Jeff Dodson and I met briefly with First Student bus drivers. We got to visit with them about our priorities for students and also heard from them about safety issues and how they work with students and their families. I was pleased to hear how the drivers want to get to know their students and establish a good connection with them. All bus drivers deserve our deepest appreciation and gratitude.

• New teachers — Later during the same day administrators attended a meeting of new 6-12 teachers in the library of West Elementary. JCPS Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Myron Graber made a thorough presentation on the formation of the seven JCHS academies. He explained how they could help play a major role in providing a learning experience for students that is more effective and more relevant than anything schools have done in recent years. It is an instructional model that vastly improves the opportunities for students after high school.

• Fellow administrators — On Aug. 7 all JCPS administrators met with Superintendent Dr. Brian Mitchell at Lewis and Clark Middle School. Administrators reviewed and discussed the school district’s strategic plan, which, when finalized, will go to the JCPS board of education for approval. Dawn Berhorst, JCPS Assistant to the Superintendent in charge of Student Information, Planning, and Assessment, provided data from the Annual Performance Report (APR) which provides valuable guidance in making adjustments to meet students’ needs.

• Caring about students — In the same meeting, Dr. Mitchell spoke of how impressed he was with the new teachers hired by the school district this year. He said he told them, “We want you to know your content and love your kids. Don’t just love content and know kids.” If you think about that statement, it represents an important shift in thinking in education. In schools everywhere, there are some instances in which teachers joined the profession because of a deep fascination with a particular subject. But that shouldn’t be the only reason a person chooses to teach. While a teacher’s expertise is extremely important, many students will learn very little until they feel a positive connection with their teacher. We will always need teachers who know their stuff. There’s no doubt about that. But equally important are teachers who touch both the hearts and minds of their students.

• Future planning — On Aug. 8 teachers and business associates representing the seven different JCHS academies had a regular planning session in which they finalized course offerings, began to develop course descriptions, and made plans for a JCHS Academy Jamboree set for Nov. 25. (That will be an evening in which parents of future academy students can learn a lot about the opportunities that will be available. Stay tuned for more information). Making a transition from a traditional large high school to seven smaller academies can be a messy task. But the good news is we have countless numbers of conscientious, dedicated individuals (both teachers and community members) who are shaping the process and are committed to producing a valuable learning experience for all students.

Space won’t allow us to examine every effort that is being made to ensure a great school year. Nor will it allow us to give a detailed description of the contributions of all of our teachers, secretarial staff, maintenance and custodial staff, school cafeteria staff, nurses, paraprofessionals, and counselors.

But you should know that each of them, on a daily basis, carries out their duties in such a way that the awarding of a medal would be most appropriate.

And on any given day when your child comes to school, you can be assured that every adult in the building wants him or her to do well.

David Wilson, EdD, is one of the assistant principals at Jefferson City High School. You may e-mail him at david.wilson@jcschools.us.

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