Incoming Columbia schools leader prepares for local issues

Tuesday, November 15, 2011 | 10:13 a.m. CST

COLUMBIA — As Jolene Yoakum prepares to become a leader in Columbia Public Schools, one of the issues on her mind is child poverty.

In the district, almost 40 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.


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Yoakum is familiar with the subject. In the Seguin Independent School District in Seguin, Texas, where she is assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, 66 percent of students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch.

"I noticed that trend has been growing upwards gradually," Yoakum said. "From what I’ve experienced, that’s a trend across many states."  

In the Houston Independent School District, where Yoakum worked as the director and interim assistant superintendent of secondary curriculum, instruction and assessment, 79 percent of students qualify.

She said she and Columbia Superintendent Chris Belcher have discussed the academic achievement gap as it relates to poverty. 

"One of the strategies that has been consistently successful with meeting the needs of students in poverty has been partnering with parents and ensuring that we are working together," she said. "Having the strong parent partnership is going to be key. How can we continue to build on what is already there?"

Yoakum, who will succeed Wanda Brown as assistant superintendent for secondary education beginning July 2012, said she has also started to familiarize herself with the discussions over school boundary realignment in Columbia.

"It seems like the district is doing a lot to have those discussions and give people the opportunity to have discussion," she said of the ongoing redistricting forums. "Communication seems to be a strength."

Yoakum received a doctoral degree in education leadership from Nova Southeastern University and taught family and consumer science at Excelsior Springs School District, near Kansas City, from 1981 to 2001.

Yoakum grew up in northern Kansas City and said Missouri has always felt like home. She said she is excited to move to Columbia and be closer to her many family members in Kansas City. Four of Yoakum's siblings and one of her three adult children and daughter-in-law all live in that area.

"It seems like the community itself has a lot to celebrate — a lot of positives," Yoakum said of Columbia. "The school district has just been very successful and I think that has to be a result of the teamwork between the community and the school system. I'm looking forward to joining and being a part of it."

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Ray Shapiro November 15, 2011 | 11:15 a.m.

Get a public school student to bring in an application regarding their eligibility for free or reduced school cafeteria lunch and they become a statistic as a child of poverty.
Then run some data to determine the achievement gap of these children of poverty vs. the more affluent and the school system has guilt about not doing enough for these children of poverty.
It's refreshing to see that our new assistant superintendent addresses the parent/family role, which will incorporate cultural attitudes towards the "system," the quality of guidance the children receive from non-governmental and nonprofit sources, the degree of spirituality in the household and the functioning/dysfunctioning relationship dynamics each family unit and child exhibits.
Reported income/"poverty levels, do not take into consideration the services, gifts-in-kind, programs which provide housing, health, food, education workshops, "free entertainment," remedial assistance, loan assistance or help with utility bills or weatherization and other "freebies" and unreported sources of cash flow which do not make it unto the calculation of "poverty."
Better to not point at poverty for children failing in school as it breeds resentment and disdain as we all try to cope with our lives, try to survive and deal with those pesky kids that somehow appear out of nowhere into our households.
It's about relationships, not "poverty ."
The degree of dysfunction will impact the degree of success.
I hope parent-teacher-student associations bring out and educate parents to be better parents.
I also hope that dysfunctional children and their family members have an opportunity to learn about the value of cognitive behavior and emotive behavior approaches to conflict/resolution and women take care not to engage in substance abuse and eat properly during their pregnancy.
It would also benefit "the poor" if more traditional family values and days-gone-by family/community/church values overrode the influences of mainstream television, movies, advertisements, video games, media values and consumerism.
So too, what we and our children eat, drink, and pollute impact our quality of life.
Gangs, violence, drugs, racial tension, mistrust, failure to "do well" are not directly related to poverty. "The money" becomes the excuse.
Good luck, Ms. Yoakum. You'll need it.

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