School board briefed on instruction priorities

Senior administrators for the Jefferson City Public Schools shared the district’s priorities for instruction at Monday evening’s Board of Education meeting.

Myron Graber, assistant superintendent for secondary education, said the district is moving forward with a plan to distribute an iPad to every ninth grade student starting this fall.

He noted staff are in the process of composing a handbook — a user agreement — for students and parents.

“This project started well over a year ago as we started talking about technology and the direction we wanted to go,” Graber said. “What would it look like? And, where we could start a 1:1 initiative? As you know, many schools across the country and in Missouri have gone to 1:1 initiatives.”

Simonsen 9th Grade Center faculty began to learn how to use the devices as instructional tools in January.

Staff are currently working on composing a handbook, or a user agreement between the district and students and parents. He said the district will likely host a series of parent information nights to address questions about what will happen if the devices are stolen or damaged.

Graber also discussed with the board the district’s commitment to “project based learning,” a teaching method that asks students to work in teams to solve specific problems and present their findings in public.

“I think a lot of times people don’t understand, why we are doing project-based learning? Why is it important?” he asked rhetorically.

Graber noted students gain a deeper understanding of the content with project-based learning. And they learn how to work collaboratively, communicate ideas and be creative innovators, he said.

Graber talked about several of the integrated classes that faculty has added to the district curriculum over the last two years. One of those integrated classes are “Medical Physiology for Athletes,” an amalgamation of science, health and physical education; another course is “Perspectives in Citizenship,” a mix of English, government and computer applications.

At the elementary level, Assistant Superintendent Kathy Foster touched upon the literacy initiatives teachers are implementing in the earlier grades, but noted a comprehensive report is being compiled for the July board meeting.

Foster said elementary teachers’ instructional strategies have grown more sophisticated through the years.

Board member John Ruth wanted to know more about the correlation between ideal class size and literacy; he also wanted to know if students who are failing are being passed on to the next grade level.

And several of the board members wanted to know if the district’s teachers are feeling pressured by the proliferation of mandates, tests and accountability measures that have been handed down from federal, state and local policy-makers.

In other business, the board:

• Recognized Character Education Coordinator Gara Loskill, who is retiring after 34 years of service.

• Approved a $75,000 contract with Architects Alliance to make improvements to Nichols Career Center’s front entrance. District spokesman David Luther said the funds will improve the building’s security by constructing new office space and doors similar to the ones in the high school vestibule.

• Approved a budget amendment reflecting savings created when the district reissued some debt service bonds. The district was slated to have a $897,000 operating deficit for this fiscal year; the savings reduced the deficit to $708,000.

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