Elementary schools focus of COMPASS II session

UPDATED: Tuesday session postponed due to inclement weather

By MIKE ANTHONY

Elementary schools and early childhood education will be the focus of the second community-engagement session of the Mehlville School District’s COMPASS II effort.

COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — kicked off last month with an overview of the first chapter of the district’s public-engagement program at which Board of Education President Tom Diehl told participants that Mehlville can be a top-performing school district, but it needs the community’s help.

The plan for elementary schools and early childhood education formulated during COMPASS I is scheduled to be discussed at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16, at Bernard Middle School. A repeat session is slated for 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, at Point Elementary School, 6790 Telegraph Road.

Superintendent Terry Noble told the Call that participants in the COMPASS II session on elementary schools and early childhood education will have the opportunity to learn specifics about the long-range plan for their particular school.

“… I think we’ve got a pretty good format established for the program,” he said, noting participants first will receive “a brief overview of what all the district’s elementary schools can expect when the plan comes to fruition. And then we’ll divide everyone up at tables specifically designed for their building …

“The specific changes for each building can be reviewed I think more efficiently, more effectively by that format.”

Mehlville has 10 elementary schools and an early childhood center and building principals will lead the discussions at each of the tables, the superintendent said.

“Everybody will have their own questions,” he said. “They’ll know what the is-sues are pretty much at their building so their questions would be different from questions that might be heard at other tables. So I think that’s going to be a good way to cover the issues.”

Organizers are continuing to tweak the format for the community-engagement sessions, Noble said.

“I think another change to the format that’s going to be good is having each table submit two or three questions on a card and we will have a panel of individuals prepared to answer (some questions) … Anyone in the room who is the most appropriate person to answer the question will be asked to come forward and answer it,” he said. “What we’ll do is there’ll be a little bit of time while people are doing their table activity that we can look at the questions, sort them and decide who is the most appropriate person to answer them.”

Noble said he hopes offering that type of two-way dialogue ultimately will attract more participants to the COMPASS II sessions.

“… The two-way dialogue is really what everybody wants, but to stay focused and stay on topic, this is a good way to do it by having people submit questions first in writing,” he said. “That’s a good way to make sure the discussion stays on target. If they ask a question that’s about a specific building, that will be answered right back at the table as opposed to a question that might be more of a districtwide concern.”

During a meeting of the COMPASS II Facilitating Team last week, members discussed the kickoff of the second chapter of community-engagement sessions, which attracted 163 people to Bernard Middle School on Tuesday, Jan. 19, and 54 people to Buerkle Middle School on Saturday, Jan. 23. Saturday sessions were not conducted during COMPASS I.

“… I thought the most positive thing we heard was about the Saturday morning session …,” Noble told the Call, noting he particularly was pleased with the parent turnout. “Of those 50 or 60, I’ll bet there wasn’t five or six that I knew were also staff members that were there. I mean it was purely parents and the dialogue was really good. The size of the group actually was really good because we could spend more time one on one with them.”

The Board of Education voted last April to begin COMPASS II and directed the COMPASS group to report its recommendations to the board no later than May. The exact charge given to the Facilitating Team “is to make recommendations to the Board of Education regarding next steps to be taken to implement the comprehensive plan for improving the performance of the district as proposed by COMPASS …”

During the first chapter of COMPASS, which was conducted in 2007 and 2008, hundreds of participants — residents, parents and district staff — helped craft a long-range plan with guiding principles designed to make Mehlville a top-performing school district.

The Board of Education later voted to adopt the four-phase long-range plan as the district’s “shared vision.”

The COMPASS Facilitating Team recommended sending two proposals to voters: a transfer of 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund and a 37-cent tax-rate increase.

The school board voted to put the transfer proposal on the ballot, and more than 62 percent of voters approved the measure — Proposition T — in November 2008.

Prop T is expected to generate roughly $5.6 million a year for the operating fund to stabilize the district’s finances.

The 37-cent tax-rate increase would have restored the district’s levy to the 2006 amount of $3.64 per $100 of assessed valuation, funded the first phase of COMPASS recommendations and helped fund the remaining three phases. But board members rejected the proposal after a survey found that 59 percent of 400 participants would oppose it.

As initially proposed, that 37-cent tax-rate increase would have been the first of four phases of elections to fund the long-range COMPASS plan. The COMPASS I plan also called for $40 million in capital improvements to be funded by asking voters to extend the district’s capital-improvement tax rate for eight years. But that cannot be done now because of the decrease in the district’s assessed valuation, according to Noble.

Because of the delay in phasing in the COMPASS plan, capital-improvement costs have increased roughly 14 percent and the costs for programs and services have increased roughly 18 percent.

The long-range plan’s first of four two-year phases included such programs and services as all-day kindergarten, early childhood expansion, English Language Learner teachers, counselors and elementary remedial-reading teachers and boosting staff salaries so they would “become equal to the county average.”

Of the staffing recommendations, participants at the community-engagement sessions on elementary schools and early childhood education will learn the district has hired one English Language Learner teacher, one social worker, four remedial reading teachers, three literacy coaches and a district communications coordinator.