Members of the Facilitating Team leading the Mehlville School District’s community-engagement process were urged last week to expand their outreach efforts to encompass all segments of the community.
Facilitating Team members were pleased with the attendance at two recent community-engagement sessions focusing on elementary schools and early childhood education. Those COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — sessions took place Feb. 16 and Feb. 20 and attracted a total of roughly 550 people.
But during a Feb. 23 Facilitating Team meeting, former Board of Education member Dan Fowler asked what was being done to attract participants to the COMPASS sessions who are not district parents and staff. Fowler, who served as co-chair of the first COMPASS effort, was filling in for Candy Green, a former school board member and current co-chair who was unable to attend because of health reasons.
During the first chapter of COMPASS in 2007 and 2008, hundreds of participants helped craft a long-range plan with guiding principles designed to make Mehlville a top-performing school district.
The school board later voted to adopt the four-phase long-range plan as the district’s “shared vision.”
“What are we doing to drive attendance outside of parents and staff?” Fowler asked. “… I think in order for COMPASS II to succeed just like COMPASS I that we have to do more of an outreach to the community. We will not succeed if we only deal with parents and staff. Somehow we’ve got to reach beyond that …”
Fowler later suggested contacting some of the local retirement centers and staging “full-blown” community-engagement sessions at those sites.
“… We can reach 500, 600, 700 people at a time and actually have a full-blown — not just a speakers’ bureau — but a full-blown what COMPASS is about, what we’re trying to achieve, what’s your feedback, what are your concerns regarding the Mehlville School District. And if there are perceptions that are wrong out there, we can correct those. We can also tell them about what our goals and our dreams and our aspirations are,” he said.
Superintendent Terry Noble said, “Good idea.”
Fowler later said, “Look, I’m really impressed with what I saw over the last week. It’s incredible. It’s better than COMPASS I, the attendance. It’s incredible. But I think in order to succeed — for this to succeed, you’ve got to reach out. If you can’t get them to you, you’ve got to reach out and go to them, just my personal opinion.”
Noble said, “Well, initially what this was supposed to be was an outreach first and then bring them in. And we got our calendar compacted and we didn’t get the outreach in time. The desire was to get this thing rolling in January, so we didn’t have time to do the outreach before …”
Fowler said, “If I can’t get a customer in my office, I’m going to go see them in their home. That’s what we have to do. I mean you can invite them, but if they don’t show up, sometimes you have to go see them.”
Noble said, “Sure.”
Facilitating Team member Paul Goldak asked Fowler, “… What do you mean by succeed?”
Fowler replied, “In order to fulfill the dreams of what COMPASS is all about.”
Goldak said, “No. Give me a different answer.”
Fowler said, “… I don’t know what answer you’re looking for.”
Goldak said, “We don’t need nursing homes to fulfill the dreams of what COMPASS I is all about. We need nursing homes and …”
Fowler interjected, “I’m not talking about nursing homes. I’m talking about retirement centers.”
Goldak said, “What we’re looking for is a broader community exposure to understand the difficulties being faced by Mehlville School District becoming or staying a high-performing school district.”
Fowler said, “Right.”
Goldak said, “And the only way that happens is through funding. And the only way funding happens is through a tax increase. And the only way a tax increase comes about is if a broader perspective of the community believes that that money is necessary and will be well spent.”
Fowler said, “Right. I agree with everything you just said.”
Goldak said, “So to me, that’s what success is. Now that’s what you need the parochial schools for and chambers of commerce for and retirement communities. So to me — I don’t want to say it’s misleading to present COMPASS without talking about the implications of what COMPASS’ success depends on.”
Fowler said, “I completely agree with that.”
Goldak said, “OK, but we haven’t done that and we continue — we didn’t do it the last time we were here and we continue not to do that. And it’s a reality that we can’t avoid.”
Fowler said, “I think the phases (of the long-range plan) do talk about that.”
Jim Schibig, a retired district elementary principal and COMPASS co-chair, noted the funding issue was raised during question-and-answer periods at the recent community-engagement sessions focusing on elementary schools and early childhood education. Board of Education Presi-dent Tom Diehl responded to that question, he said.
“… Tom, you answered that question. What was the answer?” Schibig asked.
Diehl said,”… It’s going to be based on the response of the community and they’re going to tell us when they’re ready to go forward with it. And the one thing the economic downturn did cause is the fact that we’re no longer wedded necessarily to a four-phase roll out and we’re asking the community, people who are participating, do we do it in two phases or three phases? When do we start, et cetera, et cetera. And also, do we move some of these items up the list and others down the list based on trying to find a way to do this?
“As Terry said at those meetings, this is a long-range plan. It’s a vision that’s not just for the coming school year but it’s the direction we want to take our schools in the future, and we have to have this plan so that when the economic situation starts to improve and the community’s behind it, we can start implementing all these changes.”
Goldak said, “And we did that in COMPASS I. We necessarily phased COMPASS I activities based on a time line over some six years or eight years that said phase one we can do this and it’s going to cost this. Phase two, this is what it’s going to cost. And I just don’t want to be engaging the community in the things that are necessary without engaging the community in how those things happen.”
Fowler said, “Oh absolutely. I think everybody agrees with that.”
Schibig said, “And that’s coming and the word ‘funding’ has been used in both of those last two sessions … Up until last Tuesday (Feb. 16) and Saturday (Feb. 20), funding was the unspoken elephant in the room, but I think the elephant is moving around now and everybody is talking about it …”
Fowler later said, “Well, it’s clear. In order to obtain the objectives of COMPASS II, it requires additional funding, which will require more taxes … I think you’re right.
“We need to be very up front with folks as to what our objectives are.”
Noble said, “I think the difference this time is we’re not saying we’re headed for an immediate tax proposal. Like Tom said, inform the public what the plan is and then when the public says it’s time to go, it’s time to go. There were a few people beating on the desk Saturday (Feb. 20) saying it’s time to go …”
Fowler said, “You have to wait until that time comes, though.”
Noble said, “Well, I know. So that’s what we’re saying.”
Board of Education Secretary Larry Felton said, “I kind of look at success as when the community asks us why aren’t we doing more? When the community tells you that, then that’s your opportunity.”