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Jefferson City School District leaders plan to ask the Board of Education next month to approve a proposal for weekly early release days. The proposal includes weekly 70-minute early- release days on most Mondays to allow for more staff professional development time in the 2021-22 school year.

In February, the Board of Education voted to approve the rest of the 2021-22 calendar but hold off on approving the early release days proposal.

At the March board meeting, Superintendent Larry Linthacum said the district plans to present more details on the weekly early release days plan and recommend the board approve it at the April 12 meeting.

Incumbents Ken Enloe and Lindsey Rowden, as well as challenger Ian Shadrick, are vying for the two available seats on the board in the April 6 election.

Enloe said he plans to vote in support of the early release days proposal.

"There's so many ways that we need to support our staff," he said. "In light of the commitment that they've made and they've demonstrated over the last year, this is one way for us to help support their efforts to absolutely do the best for our students."

Rowden said she supports the proposal but will go into the April meeting with an open mind. She said she believes teachers are the experts on how much professional development time they need, so she's waiting to see what additional information is presented.

"It's important to rely on those experts," she said. "However, we do have a responsibility to the families and children in our district as well, so I'm keeping an open mind. I haven't decided if I'm a yes vote or a no vote at this time."

Shadrick said he isn't sure how he would vote if he were a current board member because he doesn't know what further information the district will provide. He said the district should explore other options to provide more professional development rather than weekly 70-minute early release days.

"I think that I would currently support a different model than strictly the 70 minutes," Shadrick said.

Shadrick also said he's concerned about a "potential lack of community response or buy-in" on the proposal.

A reader submitted a question to the News Tribune asking the candidates how they would suggest the district improve its communication with students' families. The reader stated "parental input into changes in the school calendar, use of technology and changes in curriculum seems to be lacking."

Enloe said the board needs to continually consider the most practical, effective way to get input and the most "reasonable way to evaluate that input and consider it in the big picture" as the board moves forward with any changes.

"We have to evaluate and try to do the best job that we can, but there also are limits, I think, to what we can do and what's reasonable in terms of how long do you wait, how much time do you spend on that process, how do you collect it and then measure it and drill down to get good, solid data?" Enloe said.

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Rowden said she believes the district already has a strong communication system.

"We're surveying parents often, we are communicating with them via email, via phone calls, via text messages and via our website, so I feel like those are really open," she said.

Rowden said she encourages families to contact their children's schools if they have questions, concerns or suggestions. From there, if families have additional questions, they can contact the superintendent's office or Board of Education office, she said.

"Just keeping the lines of communication open and parents being comfortable to just ask those questions is really important," she said. "We need them to ask."

Shadrick said the district should receive feedback from families through multiple methods instead of just through technology.

"Electronic is important for a lot of parents, but I think there needs to be multiple methods of contact," he said. "They need to consider potentially focus groups or, because of the pandemic, electronic focus groups — something to that effect where they can get actual feedback."

Another reader submitted a question to the News Tribune asking if candidates would support a policy that would keep individual school board members from speaking directly to district staff, patrons and taxpayers, either in person or through use of email and social media, unless authorized to do so by the superintendent or board president.

Each candidate said they would not support such a policy.

The district's policy committee works with the Missouri School Boards' Association for oversight on policies. Enloe, a member of the policy committee, said he wouldn't support a policy like this and doesn't think MSBA would even approve it.

In the three years he's been on the board, Enloe said, a policy like this has never come to the policy committee.

The board has a policy that outlines guidance on social media usage, but there are no policies that indicate board members cannot speak to people without authorization.

Rowden also said she wouldn't support a policy that prohibits board members from speaking to people without authorization.

"One of the things I ran on was having an open-door policy so that teachers, administrators, parents were comfortable to call and visit with us about certain things," she said.

However, she said, board members should be careful not to speak on behalf of the entire board.

"While we are one group, we are seven individuals, and I think that's what makes us a strong board," she said.

Shadrick said he believes it's important for board members to support decisions the board makes whether or not everybody agrees, but he wouldn't support a policy that prohibits individual board members from speaking to people.

"Part of the process of being a board member is understanding the policies that you're bound to and the actions of the board," Shadrick said. "On the other hand, when you speak as a board member, you are not speaking as the board. You're speaking as one member of a board with varying opinions."

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