School board to vote on gun policy, hear English Language Learners update

Sunday, June 9, 2013 | 8:00 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — The Columbia School Board is expected to vote Monday on whether to allow two school officials to carry guns on school grounds. It will also hear an update on the English Language Learners program.

The proposed gun policy would be changed to let the district’s director and assistant director of security — currently John White and Ken Gregory — carry concealed handguns, according to a previous Missourian article.

Each official would be recommended to have at least 10 years of full-time law enforcement experience, as well as at least 24 hours of firearms training each year from the Columbia Police Department, at least 6 hours of cultural and social sensitivity training every two years and the appropriate licenses and requirements set by the state and federal governments. Permission to carry a weapon “is not inherent in the position of either director or assistant director” and will be decided on a case-by-case basis, a copy of the amended policy stated.

The policy currently lets only school resource officers, employed by the Columbia Police Department, carry concealed weapons. Funding for the changed policy would come from the district’s operating budget.

English Language Learners update

Since the 2005-06 school year, Columbia schools have seen the number of English Language Learners, or students who learn English as a second language, almost double. The number increased from 554 students to 978 in 2012-13, according to a presentation from the district’s website.

Although ELL students have made progress in targets set forth by the No Child Left Behind Act, across all the district’s standardized assessments, there is an achievement gap between ELL students and students who are native-speakers.

There is also concern over graduation rates. Columbia schools saw an 87.1 percent graduation rate in 2010-11 overall, but it was 47.1 percent for ELL students. The rate is below that for the state, which is 61.2 percent.

In an effort to combat the achievement gap, the district outlines some steps:

  • “Clustering” ELL students at elementary and middle schools so that teachers can better combine resources and collaborate.
  • Emphasize strategies for teachers working with ELL students in core content areas — math, English, social studies and science — through their professional development opportunities.
  • Establish “newcomer centers” at Jefferson Middle School and Douglass High School as a way to focus on teaching basic English proficiency and learning to adjust to American schools.
  • Continued focus on building relationships with families and encouraging parents to stay involved.

Other items up for vote

The board is expected to vote on four other items:

  • Whether to approve the submission of a grant application to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education that, if accepted by the department, would give Title I funds to the district to help implement the Douglass Priority School Plan at Douglass High School. The plan outlines ways to improve graduation rates and student performance.
  • Whether to approve a proposal for the search, review and selection process of new providers for the district’s employee retirement plans. The current providers’ contracts expire in September 2013. The process would be funded out of the 2013-14 Board of Education operating budget.
  • Whether to approve 2012-13 budget amendments. The amendments are for accounting purposes and reflect no net change in the budget.
  • The election of the board’s 2013-14 secretary and treasurer.

The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Neil C. Aslin District Administration Building, 1818 W. Worley St.

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