Engagement process to result in ‘blueprint’ for success in Mehlville School District

School district’s facilities to be one focus of upcoming public-engagement process


A “blueprint” designed to make the Mehlville School District the best in St. Louis County will be the end result of the district’s upcoming public-engagement process.

“… The ultimate product that we deliver to the Board of Education when this is done will be a blueprint, a map, to make the Mehlville School District the best school district in St. Louis County. This will be without a doubt, the most comprehensive study into a school district ever undertaken certainly in the state of Missouri and possibly in the nation. The board has really been good in giving us latitude to study every aspect of the Mehlville School District,” Dan Fowler told the Call last week.

Fowler, who served three terms on the Board of Education before stepping down in 1998, and Jim Schibig, who was principal of Beasley Elementary School for 15 years before retiring in 2001, are serving as co-chairmen of the public-engagement program.

The district recently issued a call for six to 10 residents to serve on a Facilitating Team that will schedule, plan, coordinate and facilitate all meetings that will be conducted during the public-engagement program. Besides residents, Fowler and Schibig, the 12- to 15-member Facilitating Team will include educational planning advisers and representatives of the district.

Fowler and Schibig told the Call last week that the district received 20 to 25 applications from residents seeking to serve on the Facilitating Team. An announcement on those selected for the team is expected to be made this week.

Those not selected for the Facilitating Team will have plenty of opportunities to participate, according to Fowler and Schibig.

“For those who were not picked, we will have important positions for them,” Fowler said. “We, at some point, will have every single (school) board member involved. Obviously, we don’t want them all together. But we do want every board member involved in this. We need their input. We need all the leadership we can find.”

Schibig said, “There’s going to be so much activity with this that those people (who were not selected for the Facilitating Team), we’ll find a place for them.”

Fowler said, “In fact, I think that some of the other committees are just as important. So we will definitely find a place for every one of these folks that have applied to work with us, and hopefully even in a leadership role.”

The process could involve as many as 10 subcommittees.

For example, one of those subcommittees will examine the district’s facilities with the goal of developing a facilities master plan — similar to what was done in 1999 and 2000 by the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities.

During a planning meeting last week, the district’s facilities were discussed, Fowler and Schibig said, noting Dan Keck and Dwight Dickinson were among those present. Keck has extensive experience in school planning as a practitioner and academician and recently performed a facilities study for the Columbia School District. Dickinson Hussman Architects served as the architectural firm for Mehlville’s Proposition P districtwide building improvement program.

Schibig said, “I was extremely impressed with Dwight Dickinson and Dan Keck’s presentation about tying the school building to the curriculum and making the building work for the curriculum of the kids. That was impressive … It’s an exciting time. It really is.”

“We’re going to see another CACF sort of committee formed in which we’re going to take a look at each building,” Fowler said, noting residents, staff and school board members would be involved in the process. “This is what Jim was talking about … We want curriculum to drive the facilities and not the other way around, which is what’s happening right now. Our facilities are what’s driving the curriculum …”

As tentatively discussed, that subcommittee would draft a five-year facilities plan designed to enhance academic achievement and individual student success.

“I guess the thing that was enlightening to me is the subtle things that you can do. You don’t have to knock down the building and rebuild the building. There’s some subtle things you can do inside the building. It’s not going to be free, but will make a school much more curriculum and kid friendly and community friendly,” Schibig said, citing ambient lighting as an example.

Fowler said, “One of the things that is going to be a big mountain for us to climb is that our schools were built on a 1940s model, and to a certain degree they still are, and that is with corridors. The thinking is that they’re doing away with corridors because corridors are wasted space and very expensive to put up because they’re load-bearing walls. When you’re trying to engage the community, and let’s face it, we live in a very conservative community that believes in traditional things and traditional schools.

“But one of the things that we’ve got to discuss with the community is new ideas regarding education and bringing the Mehlville School District up to par academically. And I think that’s our No. 1 goal is really academics.”

Schibig said, “Paradigm change is hard sometimes. Changing your paradigm can be a tough process and you do that by slowly going and engaging as many people as you possibly can. I keep going back to that. I think that’s the focus of this committee. I really do.”

Noting that people are resistant to change, Fowler said, “We expect that. We expect to see resistance. We also expect to see people who feel that we should maintain the traditional ways of our buildings and the way we conduct education in the Mehlville School District, and that’s OK. That’s what this engagement process is all about.

“Ultimately in the end, we’re not going to do anything that the community doesn’t give us the green light on, and that’s why I go back to the listening skills. We’re going to lay a lot of things out to the community — a lot of ideas, a lot of concepts. We’re going to bring in a lot of outside experts in education, but ultimately that’s why the engagement process is important. We want their feedback. When we bring a facilities expert that says: ‘Here’s what you need to do to your buildings to make them more curriculum friendly or academically friendly.’ We’re going to lay those things out to the community and then we’re going to ask for their feedback. If the community says no, well then the answer is no. If the community gives us the green light, then we’ll pursue that. But all this is going to be in the end is a plan we’re going to take before the Board of Education,” he said.