More than 950 Jefferson City Public School educators gathered at the Miller Performing Arts Center Monday morning to rev up their engines in anticipation of the 2013-14 school year.
Five Jefferson City High School students helped kick-off the district's opening session by co-hosting a mock television talk show called the "JC Vue." The students greeted speakers, interviewed guests, honored educators with awards and introduced several musical acts. The annual event was designed to energize the spirits of the community's teachers before classes begin Thursday.
Superintendent Brian Mitchell and School Board President Tami Turner were among some of the first "guests" to pull up seats next to the student interviewers.
Co-host Sloan Pleus, a JCHS senior, teased Mitchell about his relationship with his daughter, a Lewis and Clark Middle School student.
"Does she acknowledge your existence?" Pleus asked.
Mitchell replied: "I've been given strict instructions not to (address her at school) ... I completely disregard that," he said. "But I let her pretend I'm not her dad."
More seriously, Mitchell noted that "opening session is a great way to kick off the school year."
"It allows for some serious conversation, with some levity as well," he said. "And it's a chance to enjoy each other's company."
Touting the district's achievements, Mitchell noted four schools in the district - Southwest Early Childhood Center, East Elementary, Lawson Elementary and the Jefferson City Academic Center - have been recognized in Washington D.C. for exhibiting "promising practices." He also said the district's mentoring program was also honored.
Mitchell and Turner also told the JCPS staff that "building effective relationships" will be a key goal this next school year and is critical component of the district's strategic plan.
"From the board level down, we know the stronger the relationship is, the more effect the instruction is. And the more effective we'll be in touching the lives of children," Turner said.
The talk show "hosts" also played a game called: "Do you know your school board?"
Emcee Jacob Ruboneka, a junior, seemed taken aback when six of the seven board members crowded on stage.
"Whoa!" Ruboneka cried. "I've never been so close to the power source at JCPS!"
Each board member was essentially introduced with a factoid or two about their careers and their connections to the school district.
Also on Monday, Jefferson City Public School's Foundation leaders Dan Renfro and Karen Enloe talked about how the non-profit organization helps kids. The foundation is known for delivering oversized checks intended to underwrite school programming.
"We're here to serve you. Also, it lets me fulfill my dream of working for Publisher's Clearing House," Renfro joked.
The Opening Session also emphasized the wide variety of second jobs and hobbies that teachers engage in while they're not working.
Carissa Ash, a math teacher at Simonsen 9th Grade Center, talked about her "side hobby," a small business called Buttercream Creations that specializes in cakes. Her creations were handed out to three of the district's newest teachers - they won luck of the draw - to welcome them to Jefferson City.
Other teachers operate firework stands, umpire baseball games, work in ministry, offer lawn care advice, plan weddings, make jewelry and enjoy paddle boarding.
The district also handed out its annual "starfish award," named after the story of the small boy who threw back into the ocean every starfish he could save.
This year's award was given to school nurse Tracy Frank who is credited with saving the life of third grader Emily Hotz, who nearly died from choking on a gumball while her mother was driving past Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Frank was flagged down by Trish Adamson, another member of the TJMS staff. Both women struggled to remove the candy; Frank finally succeeded.
The opening session closed with a farewell from the high school students and a video montage celebrating the district's programming.
"We look forward to seeing you in the classrooms, the offices," said senior Jack Gamble. He stopped for a moment and rethought that response. "The offices? Hopefully not."