Schools must focus on preparation, diversity
Saturday, April 28, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:25 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 18, 2008
Hannah Easley, a third grader at Two Mile Prairie Elementary school, works on her spelling assignment March 6. The students used different techniques and games to work on their spelling.

On April 3, 13,032 voters approved a bond referendum to finance $60 million of new construction, building improvements, air conditioning and technology for Columbia Public Schools. School district officials expect the money to help alleviate overcrowding. One-third of schools are overcrowded and nearly a fourth of students attend classes in trailers.

About $40 million of the bond issue will be used to build an elementary school and begin constructing a fourth high school. The rest will pay for new windows, air conditioning and repairs at five elementary schools, as well as more technology in classrooms.


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In March, the Missouri House of Representatives approved a 2008 fiscal year budget that included a boost in school funding to $2.8 billion and a $5.3 million allocation to help pay for busing costs.

There also have been efforts to increase students’ knowledge of different cultures. For instance, MU’s International Center offers a program that allows the university’s international students to share their stories with younger students. The program is called Kaleidoscope and serves preschool to high school students.

But what else needs to happen in education in the next 20 to 25 years?

Many residents stress academic programs and teacher preparation to address the needs of future generations. Others would like to see programs in which adults of varying ages and skill levels could learn. Some want opportunities for both.

Lisa Jordan, a stay-at-home mom and former New Haven Elementary School teacher, is happy with Columbia’s public education system, but she wishes there was a better way to judge preschools. “We need a preschool rating system ... some way to help moms decide on a quality preschool,” she said.

Boyd O’Dell, 90, shares his concern about quality education, but for high school students. He is a professor emeritus of biochemistry at MU. As a university educator, O’Dell said he would like to see high schools better prepare students for college.

“The K-12 (education) is really important, although I’ve always been associated with the college side,” he said. “People have to be prepared and I think we’re failing there.”

Perhaps a pay raise for teachers would help. O’Dell said, “You have to pay teachers enough to get the best of the best these days.”

Tish Thomas, the 52-year-old director of Adult Day Connection, Columbia’s state-licensed adult day health care program, would like to see an emphasis on hiring and retaining quality special education teachers. She said there’s a shortage of special education teachers.

Amy Mace, a 37-year-old homemaker, said she believes parents can do more to help children fulfill the academic demands, but the parents may need some help first. She said she was surprised to find out that her daughter Ava, a kindergartner at Grant Elementary School, is already learning what Mace learned in first grade.

“A lot of the kids in her class can already read and write,” Mace said.

She suggested that the schools provide parents with textbooks to help their children with homework. It’s been a while since many parents were in school, and the textbooks would refresh their memories of what they learned and help their children, Mace said.

The textbooks should correspond to what students are doing and teachers are teaching in the classroom, she said. Teaching styles that deviate from textbook readings are a problem for parents who want to help with homework, Mace said.

Jan Klatt’s children attended Columbia Public Schools and had good luck with teachers, she said. She’s concerned with the number of transitions students make between sixth and ninth grades.

“With middle school, there’s no continuity,” Klatt, 46, said. “(Students) get split from their friends, teachers don’t really get to know them. ... The whole middle school thing is just really tough on them.”

The new public high school that the bonds will help finance is expected to decrease transitions by allowing students to start high school in ninth grade. Middle schools would house sixth through eighth grades.

Still, Thomas would like to see the school district work on transition planning for special education students in ninth grade to prepare them and their families for work and life after high school graduation.

Kim Dampier, 32, is excited about plans for a new public high school and Catholic high school. Though her family is Catholic, the stay-at-home mom said her children would probably remain in public school. She would have liked for her kids to begin their education in a Catholic school and graduate from there, but she doesn’t want them to have to switch from public school, she said.

After high school, there’s college and other adult education programs, which have their own challenges and needs in Columbia.

“The universities should offer more scholarships and other programs to attract a variety of students,” said Shirley Gallaner, 62. “I know the university offers scholarships and other programs but there should be more of TA (teaching assistantship) programs, internships and scholarships.”

Gallaner, who used to work in health care, said she wants Columbia to be famous for health research and education.

Catherine Snyder, who works in the meat department at Patricia’s Foods, believes lower middle-class people often lack the education to get good jobs. She desires a higher education and has tried to get grants to pay for it, but it hasn’t worked out, she said.

Snyder, 57, said most of the opportunities, whether jobs or financial aid, in Columbia are available for students. What the city needs is more programs available for the people who can’t get financial aid for school and those who just need a little help from time to time, she said.

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