Changing of guard on JC school board

Tami Turner gives emotional farewell

In the wake of last week’s election, two incumbents and a newcomer — John Ruth, Ken Theroff and Stephen Bruce — were sworn in as members of the Jefferson City Board of Education on Monday evening.

Monday night’s changes to the board also necessitated changes in leadership.

After nominations were submitted, Dennis Nickelson was selected as board president, replacing outgoing president Tami Turner, who did not receive enough votes in last Tuesday’s election to retain her position on the board. Doug Whitehead was elected vice-president and John Ruth was elected as treasurer.

Turner teared up as she talked about her nine years of service on the board. She said she was glad to see the room filled with people who had recently participated in the district’s Vanguard leadership program.

“I love seeing people involved,” she told them. “I came from the PTA myself … being with my kids in the buildings. That’s where you learn what the district does.”

Educating some 9,000 children annually is a massive undertaking, she said.

Her colleagues credited her for doing a good job.

“I served with her all nine years…” began Whitehead, before he was interrupted by Turner, who said their relationship was longer than that.

“I beat you up on the playground,” she joked.

Whitehead took her teasing in stride and said Turner brought tremendous “passion, dedication, love and care” to the job.

“I’ve never seen a bigger cheerleader for Jefferson City, for our kids, for our schools,” he added.

As president, Nickelson said he’s interested in seeing the board do a better job of “focusing on two-way communication.” He noted a self-study showed the board should aim to do a good job of both listening and informing the public.

One way to do that is to host bimonthly coffees, he suggested. He also wants to see the district leaders reach out to groups — such as alliances of local ministers, retired teachers, parents and students — to share the district’s message.

“We need to increase the number of ways we address the community and staff,” he said.

Prior to the convening of the new board, the old board heard an update from administrators and counselors on the implementation of academies at Simonsen Ninth Grade Center. Starting next fall, the program will place students in one of seven career-oriented academies.

Myron Graber, director of secondary education, said he was pleased to report that “we were able to meet every student’s first choice” and still maintain a reasonable balance of demographic factors in each academy.

He noted that the academy with the most students was “Human Services,” with about 130 signed up to learn about careers such as law enforcement and social work. “Health Services” was also a popular choice. The smallest group will be Global Studies with 31 students enrolled.

Graber wasn’t surprised fewer students enrolled for that latter academy, because it’s the only category that isn’t a part of Missouri Connections, a state program designed to help teens explore their career choices. Graber said school officials added Global Studies because they felt there was a need for a Liberal Arts emphasis.

About the same number of students — 100 — enrolled in two academies: “Industrial and Engineering Technology” and “Arts and Communication,” however more boys enrolled in the former and more girls enrolled in the latter, Graber said.

“We were aware that was probably going to happen,” he said, noting that staff hope to reduce that gender disparity in the years to come.

Two other academies — “Natural Resources and Agriculture” and “Business, Management and Technology” — also attracted about 75 applicants each.

Also on Tuesday, Superintendent Brian Mitchell shared some new data gleaned from this spring’s kindergarten registration.

He noted 479 kindergartners have registered for school this fall, so far. Typically, at this point in the process, two-thirds of all the students have completed the registration. He estimated that next year’s class will likely fall between 725 and 750 students.

“This will be the sixth consecutive year of 700 students or more,” he said.

Not only are the secondary schools likely to be facing over-capacity, he noted it could cause issues for elementary buildings. Six years ago, in grades K-5, the district had 3,700 students. This year more than 4,400 students are enrolled in those same grades.

“That’s an increase of 700 more kids we’re providing services to … buses, meals, classroom instruction,” he said. “It means expanding sections in grade levels at the different schools.”

The information will be germane to the Long Range Facilities Planning Committee, a group tasked with creating a 20-year plan for facilities growth.

“In September, I’ll know the final numbers,” Mitchell concluded.

In other business, the board:

• Bid farewell to three retiring administrators: Patricia Wright-Tatum, assistant director of Nichols Career Center; David Luther, assistant to the superintendent for school-community relations; and Thomas Jefferson Middle School Principal Roberta Hubbs.

• Recognized the High School Student Council and Leadership Team for its work.

• Discussed plans for a board retreat, tentatively scheduled for May 27.

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