Mehlville Board of Education could vote on strategic plan next month

Board may vote on the plan at a meeting in September


With parents and a student sitting behind him socially distanced, Mehlville Superintendent Chris Gaines presents bond issue information to the Board of Education, including conceptual drawings, at the Oct. 15, 2020, board meeting held in person at the Mehlville High School Library. The presentation was ‘very thorough,’ board President Kevin Schartner said. The meeting was also livestreamed.

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

Work is wrapping up on the next iteration of the Mehlville School District’s strategic plan, with a vote by the Board of Education expected sometime in September. 

Superintendent Chris Gaines told the board Aug. 19 that the final draft of the strategic plan was being put together for approval sometime in September. 

The district spent the 2019-2020 school year collecting feedback from students, parents and the community about what they wanted to see from the school district, with two themes rising to the top: safety and student personalization. 

“We think about our strategic plan going back to our 2015 plan … that was kind of our basis as we looked to form the next iteration,” said Gaines. “We went through all the community engagement during the fall of 2019 and preparation but what we really heard over and over again were safety as well as personalization.” 

The engagement process in the 2019-2020 school year, Mehlville Listens, consisted of four listening sessions that centered around a particular aspect of school. Mehlville also used online surveys called ThoughtExchanges to gather additional feedback. 

Melville’s first formal strategic plan was adopted by the Board of Education in 2015 under interim Superintendent Norm Ridder, just before Gaines became Mehlville’s superintendent. The strategic plan is intended to be renewed in five-year intervals, and the first plan is built around the elements of student preparation, teacher support and being effective and efficient. 

The next iteration of the strategic plan includes the tenant themes of student preparation, effectiveness and efficiencies and teacher development – now dubbed workforce development, as well as the additions of safety, personalization and access and opportunity. 

“A piece of (student preparation) is student engagement because we know our kids learn best when they are engaged, so they are pieces that focus on teachers and practices. … Continue to implement best practices,” said Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Brian Smith. “What we’re looking to do is continue to expand student choice. … This includes theme schools, the expansion of student choice programs, developing our teacher capacity.”

As for the safety component of the strategic plan, facilities across the district are being upgraded. 

“So the work of Prop S will be firmly embedded in the plan but as this will be a five-year plan, the plan will challenge us to look beyond Prop S at the same time,” said Executive Director of Planning and Development Chad Dickemper.

Proposition S, a $35 million, 12-cent no-tax-rate-increase bond issue was passed by voters in April, and will be used to fund facilities improvements at all of the district’s buildings, including the addition of secure entry vestibules at every school. 

Improving air quality, securing front entrances, increasing perimeter safety,  improving exterior lighting, expanding security cameras and expanding safety glass are all elements of student safety that tie into the facilities work being done around the district, said Dickemper.

The district will also implement anti-bias/anti-racist training for all staff, hold annual audits on classroom and school libraries to update instructional materials, and increase workforce engagement and transparency, all to increase student belonging. 

“We talked about safety in terms of facilities and I’m going to speak about safety in terms of belonging,” said Executive Director of Student Services Adam Smith. “We also want to work on an environment that encourages intelligent risk-taking to achieve innovation … and increase student access to quality physical and behavioural healthcare.”

Members of district administration will give reports to the Board of Education throughout both the fall and spring semesters about the how the implementation of the strategic plan themes are going, with a focus on student preparation and access opportunity. 

“You can see from broad strokes kind of what we’ve been looking at and working toward … having biannual reports on each of those (themes) to the board,” Gaines said. “We’re well behind where we would like to have been in terms of having a document finally completed and ready for adoption.” 

Gaines added that he anticipated having a formal document ready for approval in September. The board is scheduled to hold a regular meeting Sept. 16.