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Perspective: District mission to remain in forefront of schedule debate

Perspective: District mission to remain in forefront of schedule debate

January 11th, 2019 by Steve Bruce in Opinion
Julie Smith/News Tribune Steve Bruce, candidate for JCPS Board of Education.

When most of us hear the word "mission," we either think of the planning and precision that is expected and goes into a successful military operation, or we think of the process involved in developing a mission statement. If it's the latter, you almost always think of the number of hours of in your life you will never get back from sitting in meetings arguing over the smallest of word choices. If you've done it, you know that particular pain. Regardless of what comes to mind, most folks acknowledge the kind of approaches a team or organization adopts in pursuit of accomplishing a mission has an impact on whether they are successful or not. Thoughtful prior planning and vision usually make the crucial difference in achieving successful outcomes, and separates high performing organizations from those that end up treading water.

A public school district's mission is pretty straight forward. They exist to educate children to the fullest extent possible; and, over the course of 12 years, help to prepare students for productive adult life. While the mission sounds pretty clear, it gets a lot more complicated from there. As you might expect, there are a great many competing priorities that impact that mission in one way or another, and we all have opinions about their order of importance. For some of you, the academic success of the school district's mission is paramount because it affects the lives of your own children or children and grandchildren in your friends' families. For others with no children in their home, the priority may be the district's financial stewardship and importance of being responsible and prudent with the expenditure of tax dollars. For me, and well as many of you, it's both.

Two current items put forward by Superintendent Larry Linthacum and the administration that appear to have great potential to increase our district's success are a revision of middle and high school class schedules to a seven period day, and whether we move to standardized beginning and end times for elementary and secondary buildings. Just like the district's renewed, significant focus on reading and the implementation of proven classroom tools and resources, both of these proposals have strong potential where student performance and instructional quality are concerned. The change in class periods also has the benefit of being first proposed to district administrators by a number of JCHS staff based on their classroom experiences, and the standardizing of school start times has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of dollars each year in transportation costs — real funding that will stay in classrooms and buildings to support things like reading, math and science.

Both proposals have the power to fundamentally change the way our school district goes about the business of educating students and the degree to which it accomplishes its mission. To be clear, no solution is going to be right for every student and family. As a board of education, we understand and accept that, and we appreciate those of you who attended or spoke at the December board meeting, as well as others who have reached out to us or Linthacum to have constructive discussions. As to the issue of high school juniors and sophomores who have their schedules fully planned out, we are committed to the expectation that, to every extent possible, students negatively affected by a schedule change would be allowed to complete their planned course of study.

I said several years ago in a comment published in the News Tribune that these are your schools — they're not mine, the board's or the superintendent's. We may have the honor and privilege of helping lead them, but they belong to you. Soon, the Board of Education will determine whether to support either or both of these proposals, and it's very important we, as elected leaders, hear your thoughts.

So, if you haven't yet become informed on the changes being considered to the middle and high school schedules, please check out the board's previous meetings on the JCPS' YouTube channel, come to an upcoming "Coffee with Larry" event, or contact a middle or high school building principal or Linthacum's office to schedule a discussion. Also, be sure to attend one of the town hall meetings the district has scheduled later this month where start and end times will be discussed. The first town hall will be at 6 p.m. Jan. 29 in Lewis and Clark Middle School and again at 5 p.m. Jan. 31 in Thomas Jefferson Middle School. Additional details for events can be found on the district's website and social media platforms, and I hope to see you at a meeting or coffee.

Thank you for supporting the Jefferson City Public Schools and the trust you have placed in your Board of Education. We look forward to seeing you out and about or at a district event or meeting over the next several weeks.

Steve Bruce is the president of the Jefferson City Board of Education. His perspective is published monthly on the editorial page of the News Tribune.

The story has been edited to change the start time of the second town hall meeting.