South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Knost assures residents board unified on tuition-free, full-day kindergarten


Executive Editor

Superintendent Eric Knost last week assured those attending a town-hall meeting that tuition-free, full-day kindergarten has the unanimous support of the Mehlvile Board of Education, “especially if it doesn’t cost the taxpayers more money.”

Nearly 50 people attended the Jan. 19 town-hall meeting at Faith Lutheran Church on Telegraph Road in Oakville.

Less than 10 people spoke, addressing such topics as tuition-free, full-day kindergarten, district needs, curriculum, facilities and technology.

The Board of Education met the previous night, and one of the topics set for discussion was full-day kindergarten. Knost gave an overview of his plans to establish full-day kindergarten with the 2013-2014 school year. The board did not discuss Knost’s proposal in detail due to the lateness of the hour.

At the town-hall meeting, Oakville resident Mike Baker said he addressed the school board last fall “about a misquote, which inflamed everybody. I asked that we all work together, put everything aside and then the board unanimously approves the (new) auditorium, and I’m thinking finally, we can move ahead, stop looking behind us. This is a different board, different administration.

“And then we throw full-day kindergarten on the slate and it looks like it’s going to be good and then we get some rhetoric from a couple of board members, which inflames the other side — and I’m not going to get into the quotes because it’s irrelevant of what we need to do to look forward. The board — both sides need to act like adults and work together and tone down the rhetoric and that goes for the Patch, the Call. We need to put the past behind us. The bond issue didn’t pass.

“Let’s look forward and move ahead, which leads me to my other point is the school board. Are there any guidelines or expectations of them spending days in a school in a classroom to see what goes on? … We elected them to lead the district or do they just go off of what you report on?”

Knost said, “… I really shouldn’t speak on behalf of board members. There are a number of them here and I’m sure they would be glad to address that, too. But I think board members are elected by their constituents and I think they have a responsibility to their constituents. And how that may look for one board member can look a lot different for other board members … There are board member ethics and you can view all those online. But I think we’d be hard pressed to say those things aren’t being considered.

“The other thing I want to point out in the name of unity and in the name of keeping it real — and I’m getting to know and work with all these board members and I do find the common ground … I want you to hold me accountable for making sure because the board hires me. I’m their one employee. The board hires and governs the school district through their superintendent … But a big part of them hiring the superintendent is for his leadership, and that’s leadership to assist the board as well. So I have some accountability there to make sure that we are capturing common ground.

“… I cannot expect board members who are elected by a constituency to depart from their constituency. That’s why there’s seven board members and that’s why it’s not two or three. That’s why it’s seven. You’re going to have votes — I’m a fool if I think we’re going to keep getting these 7-0 votes … We’re not going to, but we have been able to build on common ground …,” he added.

Knost then referenced the board’s recent goals-setting session. Of that session, the Call reported that tuition-free, full-day kindergarten and increased instructional time were among goals unanimously established by the board.

Referencing another publication, the superintendent said, “… But here’s what happens when you get quotes out of context — you get a whole different understanding of what’s going on. There’s been a whole conversation that has taken place, logged to some degree, that in my opinion took a quote out of context and did paint quite a different picture of I think what the spirit of the conversation was and what I happen to know about that board member’s thoughts and ideas …”

In meeting with his cabinet, Knost said, “… I’ll throw something out on the table in almost an argumentative way to consider a different perspective and it’s nowhere near what I think. But if we don’t consider that perspective, it’s not due diligence and they (cabinet members) can recognize that. But if you put people that are watching and listening and taking excerpts of that, it can paint a totally different picture somewhere else.

“So I honestly can tell you that there is unity on the full-day kindergarten idea, especially if it doesn’t cost the taxpayers more money. So in what we’re proposing, we’re not being careless about it …,” he said, noting that’s why full-day kindergarten would not start until the 2013-2014 school year. “… I think I can comfortably tell you and I’ll ask any board member to stand up and tell me I’m wrong if I am, but I think we have unity there provided we’re talking about a revenue neutral or revenue positive (scenario) …”

Sonny Ketcham of Lemay, who spoke at the district’s first town-hall meeting last fall, asked Knost several questions, including one about the district’s top three needs.

Knost said, “… I would say the top one need overall is just support. I know that’s generic and that’s not what you want to hear, but we need forward motion in this district.

“We need unity in this district and if we can come together to continue to support the efforts that we’ve had — we’ve talked about some of them tonight — continue to make sure that we have a rich curriculum for our students, highly qualified teachers to teach in those classes,” he said.

“I’ve said all along and I will always state this — this rang true in my life. It’s this way in my kids’ lives — the No. 1 thing we can do as educators, the most important thing is to put kids in contact with people that genuinely care about kids and genuinely care about their futures. So support — to continue to support our teachers and to give them the resources and the curriculum they need and the technology to stay with the times and just overall in supporting that concept of forward motion for the district …”

Some of the speakers were complimentary of recent additions to the district’s curriculum and inquired about facility improvements, including the construction of a new tennis-court complex at Bernard Middle School and a new stand-alone auditorium at Mehlville Senior High School.

Some speakers also said they were pleased with the district’s One-to-One Open Source Pilot Program.

For the program, a total of 54 freshmen in communication arts classes at Mehlville High and Oakville High are using a notebook computer instead of a textbook for in-class lessons and assignments.

Board of Education President Venki Palamand later encouraged residents to attend school board meetings, noting that during the recent goals-setting session, only members of the media were present.

“… I would encourage people to come to board meetings because maybe you read one quote about one person said this or one person said that. But we go through several hours (of discussion) at board meetings …,” he said, adding the discussions are professional. “We have disagreements, certainly, but people do state their cases, board members do, in a very respectful manner. Occasionally you’ll have more passionate discussions, but those aren’t the majority of the four hours when we meet …”

Knost said, “… The important thing is I want you to know that you do have a superintendent who takes what I do very, very seriously. I do care about the 11,000 children and I want you to rest assured, there’s never a decision that’s made haphazardly. You know me well. The bags under my eyes are a product of how I operate. I take things very, very seriously. I actually have a very thin skin. People don’t always realize that, but I do my very best to make the best decisions for children, and it’s never a decision — whether you like it or not — it’s never a product of me doing anything in a haphazard manner …”

He also encouraged residents to contact him.

“… I’m always willing to have a conversation. I’m not much into arguments, but I do like to have conversations and I always consider constructive criticism …,” Knost said.

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