Jefferson City school board hosting forums

Officials hear residents’ concerns, suggestions during coffee hour

If you had the Jefferson City Board of Education’s ear, what would you say?

To glean more insight into how the community views the public schools, the board has renewed its efforts to reach out to school district patrons.

The first get-together, a coffee hour held earlier this week, was attended by several retired teachers who shared their concerns about difficult student behavior, a lack of diversity among the Jefferson City faculty, and a desire for school leaders to be more transparent in their decision-making.

Board of Education President Dennis Nickelson said he wants to hold the coffee hours twice monthly, with one of the meetings focused on a specific topic and the other open for public input.

Charles Gaskin, who is serving on the district’s Long Range Facilities Planning Committee, raised concerns that disrespectful — even dangerous — student behavior is being tolerated in the classroom and administrators are failing to respond.

He noted when a student is acting “berserk” the rest of the class is seated in the hallway until educators regain control. Meanwhile, students are losing valuable instruction time.

“This crap has got to stop,” Gaskin said.

Ann Gaskin, his wife, said teachers are facing a huge crisis in discipline.

“There’s the elephant in the room. I’m speaking for a lot of teachers when I say there’s a big morale issue,” she said.

“Teachers are facing huge discipline issues in their classrooms,” she added. “You can say all you want to say about what curriculum you want them to teach. But when they are dealing with children throwing chairs, biting, kicking, screaming, scratching, hitting them …. they’re not able to do what you’re sitting in your ivory tower telling them to do.”

“And until there’s some control, it doesn’t matter what buildings they’re in. It doesn’t matter how fancy they are.”

Anne Hutton, a retired JCHS science teacher, said teachers are afraid to turn students into the office.

“You don’t turn a kid into the office because (you are) going to be the one in trouble. I hear there are kids who are totally uncontrollable and when the teacher tries to get help … the administrators treat them like they are bad teachers,” she said. “That’s what I’ve heard.”

Hutton suggested it will take increased involvement on the part of the parents to turn the district’s problems around.

School board members in the room said they shared the Gaskins’ concerns. Board member Alan Mudd said he knows teachers are asking for help and the board has highlighted discipline as a need. A meeting for June 13 has been scheduled to discuss solutions.

Not everyone who attended the meeting was worried about the schools or dissatisfied with services.

Matt Davis, a native Iowan whose high-school-aged daughter has benefited from the district’s special education services, said the schools have been “outstanding” for his family.

“Every step along the way, with each transition, we have see new doors of opportunity and growth open for our daughter,” he said. “There are so many fantastic people in this school district.”

Former teacher Hugh Flowers said he’s disappointed to see retiring African-American educators have not being replaced with minority candidates. He said qualified, certificated people have applied for positions within the district but haven’t been hired.

“Slowly we’re going downhill,” he lamented.

Flowers said it’s important for African-American students to see people like themselves in positions of authority. And he noted that minority educators can sometimes do a better job of advocating on behalf of minority students. As a teacher, he noted he once encouraged a group of Hispanic students to take pride in their families’ heritage. And he encouraged his colleagues to consider the benefits of spotlighting Black History Month.

“Our student population is becoming more diverse,” he said.

Throughout Tuesday’s coffee hour, the group chatted about what might have caused the public to reject the district’s request for a replacement high school and a new elementary school a year ago.

Sue Snell, also a retired teacher, said she believed the Board of Education did try to inform the public about the land purchase and the construction projects, but she said other people in the community complained the decision-making process wasn’t transparent.

Hutton noted many voters wondered if veteran teachers truly supported the replacement high school idea. A photo that ran in the News Tribune indicated many of the teachers supporting the idea were new hires, she said.

“It really sent a big message to the community,” she said. “Where are the veteran teachers? Why aren’t you there?”

Board member Joy Sweeney said sometimes it feels as if leaders are shouting from the rooftops, but others aren’t hearing them. She asked: “How can we be more transparent?”

Snell replied: “Meetings like this.”

The next session is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. June 5 at Brew House Coffee in Warwick Village, 1507 E. McCarty St. The public is invited to participate.

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