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School Board seeks to increase communication, community involvement

Wednesday, July 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – Community members can expect not only to be more informed about Columbia School Board decisions during the 2009-10 school year, but also more involved in the process.

Board members and other district officials reviewed and revamped some of the board's goals and practices at a retreat Tuesday. Increased community involvement and improved communication methods were recurring themes throughout the discussion.

Meeting before the retreat

Prior to the School Board's three-hour retreat, a nearly-two-hour meeting was held to discuss items requiring attention. The board took the following actions:

  • Approved a contract to pay eight School Resource Officers $188,780 for the 2009-10 school year.
  • Rejected a proposal that added an addendum to teacher contracts for the 2009-10 school year.
  • Approved a $3,300 addendum that reimbursed superintendent Chris Belcher for his moving expenses, which had mistakenly been left out of his contract.
  • Approved a newly-recommended teacher evaluation cycle, which means tenured teachers will now be evaluated every five years instead of every three years.
  • Introduced the possibilities of converting Field Elementary School into either an early-education school or a special-needs school.
  • Approved the special education assurance statement.
  • Discussed the forestry grant that is in the works for West Boulevard Elementary.
  • Approved a request for a $93,550 grant that would be spent on new kitchen appliances and upgrades for certain schools.
  • Approved easement requests for improvements being made at Building Services at 6006 Van Horn Tavern Road.
  • Approved a request that the board have authorization to conduct school district business through Sept. 14.


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"I am so upset when in large communities or mid-size communities there are civic meetings and nobody shows up," superintendent Chris Belcher said to a room whose spectators included a few journalists and four or five others.

David Lineberry, Missouri School Board Association associate executive director for education, explained that the state's Comprehensive School Improvement Plan was specifically engineered to encourage community members to help make decisions for the schools.

"What I really want to see from our CSIP is to get the public involved with the goals," Belcher said. "I'd like to see that it's more of an action of the community than of the system."

Lineberry encouraged the board to develop, and follow through with, a strong plan for the 2009-10 school year. In 2009-10 the program begins its fourth year in a five-year cycle.

The group also considered other proactive methods that might get community members more directly involved with the School Board and its decisions.

One suggestion included reorganizing board committees to encourage community members to seek positions within them. Lineberry said this option would help the board identify possible future candidate

School Board member Michelle Pruitt said she thought the board should be more committed to the bigger picture of communicating with members of the community than with getting them involved with board committees. Pruitt suggested the board "strategically think about who's being affected" by an issue if it wants increased community input.

The board also brainstormed ways to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of its communication to achieve this input.

Belcher said he doesn't think the Columbia Public School District's Web site nor its blog effectively communicates information to the public.

"I would like to use technology better," he said. He jokingly suggested the School Board utilize the social network Twitter to keep the community aware of new developments.

Nick Boren, Columbia School District chief operations officer, showed the board the latest addition to the district's Web site over the past few weeks. In the next few days the "Board of Education" tab will include a new link listed as "Board Committees," which will include a calendar that posts the board's committee meetings, as well as the agendas and minutes for these meetings.

"This is going to be very important to keep current," Boren said.

Many in attendance exuded ambition and a sense of accomplishment upon the retreat's adjournment, even though they had been deliberating at 1818 W. Worley St. for nearly five hours.

"We're not going to engage in all this community growth and community involvement only to accomplish a third of our objectives," Lineberry said.

The School Board will likely hold a special meeting sometime in early August to discuss further developments.


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Comments

Mike Martin July 8, 2009 | 9:03 a.m.

In many ways, this represents same old same old debate over the need for better communication at CPD. I addressed it four years ago:

http://archive.columbiatribune.com/2005/...

...and it continues being a problem.

It's interesting to contrast Supt. Belcher's perspective on this issue:

"I am so upset when in large communities or mid-size communities there are civic meetings and nobody shows up."

to Nick Boren's position:

Nick Boren...showed the board the latest addition to the district's Web site...which will include a calendar..."This is going to be very important to keep current," Boren said.

This is "get out of the office to interact" vs. "stay in the office to interact," with paid staff essentially putting the onus on volunteer board members to do the running around in the community.

That gets pretty tough after a while, and is one reason strategies that rely on volunteer board members -- who work and have other jobs -- are bound to flounder.

Get the superintendents (plural) out more into the community. They are paid exceedingly well and attending some community meetings and functions once in a while wouldn't kill them.

(Report Comment)
Mike Sykuta July 8, 2009 | 10:46 a.m.

Perhaps the Board would gain more community participation if they acknowledged the participation they currently receive. I emailed the entire Board on Monday expressing concern about the proposal to reduce the amount of evaluation and feedback tenured teachers received. Only Dr. Segert bothered to send a brief email thanking me for my thoughts, and fairly promptly at that.

Apparently the Board as a whole disagreed with my opinion. Be that as it may, it seems that either 1) they are receiving so much community input via email that they don't have time to send a simply acknowledgment in reply, or 2) they really don't care about the input they receive now enough to warrant communicating with them in the future. Either way, it makes the concern expressed in this report seem disingenuous.

(Report Comment)

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