Mitchell outlines challenges, responses

Three-pronged approach eyed for Jefferson City Public Schools’ future

Superintendent Brian Mitchell on Monday laid out some of the challenges facing Jefferson City school district, but he also talked about his plan for meeting those challenges in the years to come.

“This is where I see the district moving,” he told the Board of Education at its meeting Monday night.

He noted the district began the school year with 9,123 students enrolled pre-kindergarten through the 12th grade. Of those kids, 52 percent qualify for free- and reduced-priced lunches, a 32 percent increase in just two decades.

He also said this school year 1,000 new students have transferred in the Jefferson City Public Schools. One in every eight students in the first through 12th grades are new arrivals, he added.

“It speaks to the transiency of our community,” he said.

The majority of those 1,000 children will take state tests designed to hold the public schools accountable, Mitchell noted. But it’s a challenge for the district because, in many cases, teachers only had a few scant months to prepare those students and yet “their scores count under the JCPS banner,” he said.

He also noted the district will serve 1.7 million meals this school year, transport children 794,000 miles, clean 1.4 million square feet of indoor space and will employ 1,175 full-time employees — making the school

district Cole County’s fifth largest employer.

To address those challenges, Mitchell said administrators have been working on a three-pronged approach:

• The development of a Strategic Plan, expected to be adopted by next fall;

• he creation of a Long Term Facilities Plan, to better anticipate the cost of future projects;

• A proposal to hold more community forums, to glean input from the public on a diverse variety of topics.

“How do we better engage the community and communicate what’s taking place in our buildings? In our profession?” he asked rhetorically.

The district’s strategic plan identifies five main goals, but Mitchell said the first one his administrative team is going to work on is “building effective relationships.”

Mitchell said the district is also facing the next round of the Missouri School Improvement Plan, which he called a “double-edged sword.”

“It’s incredibly important we have an accountability system, because we have a $81 million budget and we are responsible for more than 9,000 children,” he said.

But meeting the state of Missouri’s expectations for school performance is a tough challenge. The new “Common Core” national standards are more challenging than Missouri’s Show-Me standards. Students are going to be facing more frequent assessments than they do now. And, those tests must be administered online.

So, if Jefferson City’s third graders are asked to submit writing samples online, the students will have to become proficient at keyboarding.

“If they are hunting and pecking and it’s a timed test...” he said.

“It’s a recipe for disaster,” board member Joy Sweeney interjected.

Mitchell said the need for more computers may make “changing and even eliminating” other programs more likely.

“MSIP 5 creates a number of challenges we’re left to find solutions for,” he said.

Mitchell said staff are facing a constant barrage of change at every turn and new technology is driving much of it. He pointed to the Mac iPad, which only was introduced to the marketplace in 2010, but already is integral to instruction in some classes.

“We’re throwing more at our faculty and staff than ever before,” he said.

Mitchell has long been a proponent of procuring a “data warehouse” for the district, but he admitted the process has been fraught with setbacks.

He has said such a warehouse will allow administrators to do a better job of collecting and analyzing data, so not only can trends can be spotted early on, educators can do a better job of retrenching when necessary.

He lamented the current system tests students in April and delivers the results the following October, leaving only a few brief months for teachers to react to scores.

Mitchell also wants to beef up the way administrators and the Board of Education communicate with the public.

He favors a series of forums to glean insight from the community. He’s open to discussing with the public a variety of topics, including the efficacy of block scheduling, the possibility of school uniforms, and alterations to school day start-and-stop times.

Despite the board’s failure in April to convince the public to raise the district’s operating levy, Mitchell said some needs can’t wait, including security measures, bus transportation and technology. “We’re going to have to appropriate resources so we can address some of these pieces,” he said.

Returning to the voters again for more tax money isn’t on his radar, he said.

“There’s no timeline for the next tax proposal ... it will develop organically. We’ll know when the community is ready for the next proposal,” he said.

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