Mehlville Board of Education elects Diehl as new president

Diehl encouraging residents to attend COMPASS sessions

By MIKE ANTHONY

Mehlville Board of Education President Tom Diehl plans to continue the school district’s community outreach efforts that have been under way since Jerry Chambers was named interim superintendent last June.

Diehl was unanimously elected president during the Board of Education’s annual reorganization meeting last week when new members Larry Felton and Venki Palamand took their oaths of office.

Felton and Palamand were elected April 3, defeating four other candidates for seats being vacated by Tom Correnti and Rita Diekemper, who did not seek re-election.

Besides Diehl, other officers elected April 10 were Karl Frank Jr., vice president; Michael Ocello, secretary; and Chief Financial Officer Brent Bell, treasurer.

Diehl, who was elected to the school board last year, told the Call that he was “honored” to be named board president.

As president, his priorities include building on current efforts to regain public confidence in the district and improving academic achievement.

“I think we’ve made great strides in being more open and honest with the community and with our staff,” Diehl said. “Morale has greatly improved among the employees in the district. Many people feel like they can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We do have many challenges still before us to regain the trust of the community that was lost in previous years.”

The board president serves as a facilitator and spokesman for the school district, he said.

“… I would hope that I can communicate our vision and our philosophy of public education and work with the community to develop the priorities for making Mehlville a first-class school district,” Diehl said.

Terry Noble will become the district’s permanent superintendent on July 1, and the new board president said he expects a smooth transition to occur.

Noble, who currently serves as superintendent of the De Soto School District, was unanimously hired by the board in September. Last May, the board had voted to extend a three-year contract to Noble, but he could not accept it because the De Soto Board of Education would not release him from his contract. As a result, Chambers was hired as interim superintendent.

“I anticipate a smooth transition from Dr. Chambers to Mr. Noble. We have contracted to bring Jerry back in a consulting role to assist Terry with that transition and to help us with our community-engagement process,” Diehl said.

Deputy Superintendent Eric Knost was scheduled to deliver Mehlville’s first state-of-the-district address Monday night — after the Call went press — kicking off the first of 11 community-engagement sessions for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools. Each community-engagement session will run from 7 to 9 p.m. and continue until April 14, 2008.

After the community-engagement sessions have been completed, the Facilitating Team will in May 2008 present a summary of the community’s recommendations from those sessions to the school board.

Diehl encourages residents to participate in the community-engagement process.

“… I hope that the community-engagement program will bring as many residents into the process as possible. We need to hear from our residents what their concerns are, what their desires are for public education and work on building a consensus as to how to reach those goals,” he said.

“Personally, I am concerned about public education from the standpoint as to whether we are truly preparing our students to compete in a global economy.

“Other countries have much more rigorous curriculum. They focus on teaching their students skills they need to compete and interact on a global basis. We can’t be truly satisfied with just meeting state minimum requirements if we really want to give our kids the chance to succeed in the 21st century,” Diehl added.

Increasing academic achievement is another priority Diehl has for his term as board president.

“I’ve had some conversations with Terry Noble about the direction he feels the district should be moving in, and he has some very good ideas on how we can improve academically, especially with our younger children. He also has some thoughts on expanding our curriculum in the upper-grade levels, and he is very committed to improving academic performance,” he said.

“I think he will demand accountability and expect results, but at the same time, will be very fair with our entire staff as we work to find the resources to do the best we can for our students,” Diehl added.

The school-board president said he believes Palamand and Felton will be “a great addition” to the board. Palamand and Felton were the top vote-getters in the April election, receiving 2,886 votes — 25.23 percent — and 2,363 votes — 20.65 percent — respectively, according to official election results from the county Board of Election Commissioners.

Also running were Phil Black, who received 2,106 votes; Chris Brown, 1,927 votes; Randy Lowry, 1,147 votes; and Mark Carter, 856 votes.

Diehl said, “I was quite pleased with the election results. We had six very good candidates. I believe that both Venki Palamand and Larry Felton will be a great addition to our school board. They are committed to listening to the taxpayers and doing what is best for the children of our district.”

At the beginning of the April 10 meeting, Frank, who had served as board vice president for the past year, read a statement announcing he would not seek the board presidency and would nominate Diehl for the post. Frank’s statement noted that he and his wife, Elaine, had filed for bankruptcy in October 2005 as a result of a failed business venture.

Diehl said, “When I was told that certain people in the community had learned of Mr. Frank’s financial situation and were going to use that information to try and embarrass him and humiliate him and his wife in a petty, vindictive act of political retribution, I was deeply distressed. More than 20,000 businesses in Missouri go through bankruptcy each year. These past few years have been especially difficult for small-business men and women.

“Mr. Frank has been a tireless advocate for south-county taxpayers, the children of our district and public education. His personal setback should not be an issue in the public arena. He is a man of integrity. He has shown me repeatedly that he believes and acts in a manner that all elected representatives should act.”

Furthermore, he said, “Using this type of character assassination and threat to influence the actions of the school board shows true callousness and lack of morals.”