As the smell of barbecue filled Hickman High School on Tuesday night, Columbia Public Schools Superintendent Peter Stiepleman showed a large number to the intimate crowd gathered in the room.

It was 8,760: the number of hours in a year. For the district, students are in school for only 1,218 of those 8,760 hours. As a result, Stiepleman was there Tuesday night to ask for parents’ help.

“The notion that schools can do it all (for kids) is not a fair notion,” Stiepleman said. “We do this work together.”

This was the theme for the rest of the evening as 22 community members joined Stiepleman and district representatives for dinner and open dialogue at the district’s first Parent-Community University event of the school year.

The first of four events in the year-long series, the meeting introduced the district’s intended focus on achievement, enrichment and opportunity in education.

The meeting began with an introduction of the series and continued into a panel discussion and small group conversations facilitated by district students.

“Be that critical friend,” Rock Bridge High School Principal Jacob Sirna said to parents during the panel. “Call us. If you hear something, if you think something is going on, let us know. Because if there’s anything we can do to remedy those situations, we absolutely want to.”

By the end of the series, Stiepleman said all of the feedback received by participants at the meetings will be gathered and sent through the district’s own qualitative analysis to determine what is going well and where the district can improve.

Battle High School senior Nick Sheaffer participated in the panel and group conversations and said that the meeting was incredibly productive.

“I think that Columbia Public Schools as a whole has gotten very strong insight into the pulse of the community and the inner workings of what people are thinking,” he said.

The next event in the series will take place from 7 to 8:30 a.m. Dec. 4 at Blue Ridge Elementary.

Education reporter, fall 2019

Studying magazine journalism

Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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