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Biggest issues facing Jefferson City Public Schools?

Biggest issues facing Jefferson City Public Schools?

School board members discuss priorities as new term begins

April 22nd, 2018 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

The Jefferson City Public Schools Board of Education is leading the district at an important time in its history, and board members are conscious of balancing the work of building new foundations while shoring up existing ones.

JCPS is building a second high school and extensively renovating its existing one. Even as work continues at the site of Capital City High School and is primed to start in earnest soon at Jefferson City High School, the district also has work ahead of it to address improvement of students' reading performance and community concerns about diversity, equity and inclusion issues.

There's a lot going on, and the newest board members who were sworn in two weeks ago want time to settle in.

The community voted Ken Enloe and Lindsey Rowden onto the board earlier this month, replacing incumbents Michael Couty and Pam Murray.

Rowden said last week one of her top three priorities — which the News Tribune asked of all seven board members — is to get up to speed on where the district stands with construction at its high schools.

She added she wants to get to know the staff and other people in buildings, first and foremost on the high school level, then the middle and elementary schools.

"My personal goal is to get to know staff, the leadership in the (parent-teacher) organizations, start to make those connections," Enloe said, adding: "My goal, personally, is to get out there in the community and start to connect with, to begin to be an ambassador for Jefferson City Public Schools."

He said it's still too early for him to have his own individual priorities, only a couple of weeks into his first term.

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For now, he said, he's focused on the board's discussions of business at hand — boundary line changes in development to accommodate Capital City High School, the district's budget and construction contracts.

The board most recently approved $13 million of work at the site of Capital City High School — utility, precast concrete and structural steel work — part of a total $19 million of work approved so far.

The construction budget for the new high school is $67 million. Additions and renovations of the existing Jefferson City High School on Union Street are projected to cost $46 million.

The goal is to have the first phase of construction at Capital City High School complete by Aug. 19, 2019, in time to have the first 600-700 students attend that fall, with the rest of the school to be finished by Dec. 31, 2019, or early January 2020 to serve a full capacity of 1,500 students.

"I think that we need to pay extra close attention and be ahead of the curve," Rowden said of another priority of hers — school safety and security issues, which was a key issue she campaigned on.

School safety issues have received a lot of renewed interest locally and nationally after the massacre by firearm of 17 people at a Florida high school on Valentine's Day, and the mostly student-led anti-gun violence movement that's followed.

JCPS is scheduling live, annual, law-enforcement-led active shooter training for staff at each of its buildings. The district has also considered other measures to take, such as installing an integrated alert notification system.

Rowden cited improvement of students' reading scores as a third priority.

The district's long-term goal is to have every student reading at or above their grade level or otherwise attaining individual educational goals if on a specialized plan.

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A reading and math assessment tool called iReady that the district started using at the beginning of the 2016-17 school year showed only 38 percent of the district's eighth-graders were reading at or above their grade level by spring 2017.

Board Treasurer Lorelei Schwartz also cited efforts to "continue to strive to make sure our students are reading at or above grade level" as a priority, along with staying on top of construction project developments.

She also noted efforts by Superintendent Larry Linthacum to address the structure and culture of the district's leadership as a priority.

"He's really been working on the organizational chart in terms of who handles what duties and making sure they are clearly defined for each position," Schwartz said.

Board President Steve Bruce is the most senior board member in a group of otherwise first term members — ranging from a couple weeks into their term as with Enloe and Rowden, to one year into their three-year terms as with Scott Hovis and Lori Massman, and to two years in with Schwartz and Vice President Rich AuBuchon.

Bruce said it's a priority for the board to establish clear expectations of Linthacum and his administrative team.

"Those issues continue to stay front and center for us on the administration," Bruce said of an expectation and further priority that the district address student behavior issues, particularly at the middle school level.

A recent pair of staff and family school safety surveys showed both the staff and families who responded expressed addressing student behaviors are a top concern.

Bruce said another priority is to make sure the district's high school construction projects stay on budget and on schedule.

Community members said in the lead-up to the successful passage of the bond issue paying for the high school projects that they also wanted a construction project to address elementary school needs on the east side of Jefferson City.

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"It's very common for past boards by either their words or policies to obligate future boards to certain expectations," Bruce said.v

"We heard the comments; we heard the concerns. We said we would take that up as the next possible construction project if the bond levy passed. That's an important thing to make good on going forward," he said.

The board last year held off on addressing east-side concerns to ensure the high school bond issue would pass, with the expectation to use future no-tax increase bond issues using the expanded bonding capacity to address the issue.

"We were very clear that that was something that we heard (from) a number of our patrons on the east side, and other areas in our community," he said.

He said what form addressing the issue takes in the future is open to discussion.

"I'm not opposed to building an elementary school on the east side if that's where the need is," Lori Massman said but added the district would need to evaluate where the greatest need is and then determine how to proceed.

"I'm anxious to learn more about that," Massman said about doing more research on a possible option of constructing buildings for grades five and six. She said she'd like to find out if that's something that could work in the district and added she's a fan of looking at all options.

Linthacum has previously mentioned the idea of constructing new buildings for fifth- and sixth-graders — one at each campus of the current Lewis and Clark and Thomas Jefferson Middle Schools, using space that's already there. The idea behind the concept, he has said, is to free up space in all elementary schools and the middle schools by moving fifth-graders out of the elementary buildings and sixth-graders out of the two middle schools.

"Staffing-wise, your operating (cost) doesn't go up a ton. It makes all your elementaries that are overcrowded K-4. It makes both middle schools that are overcrowded 7-8 junior high," he said of the idea in November.

Massman said her priorities are getting students at or above their grade level in reading and writing — reading, especially — monitoring the high school construction projects and working on student behavior issues.

Schwartz said she also would like to see the district's diversity conversations and initiatives continue.

Diversity training for administrators, board members, school resource officers and other community leaders who asked to take part began last month, and there are two more sessions scheduled over the summer.

The other immediate diversity priorities for the district are to continue to improve its hiring process so as to encourage the formation of a more diverse staff and to bring back the district's multi-cultural advisory committee.

The News Tribune reached out to JCPS Board of Education members Rich AuBuchon and Scott Hovis to comment for this story but did not immediately receive a response.