Mehlville committee considers

By MIKE ANTHONY

Members of a Mehlville School District committee recently launched the second phase of a community-engagement program with a discussion of how to re-engage the community.

The Board of Education recently voted to begin the second phase of COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools.

The first COMPASS community-engagement program began in April 2007 and concluded in June 2008 when recommendations designed to make Mehlville a high-performing school district were presented to the Board of Education.

The recommendations were drafted by the COMPASS Facilitating Team — comprised of residents, administrators, employees, school-board members and students — after public input was gathered during numerous community-engagement sessions conducted at Bernard Middle School.

The four-phase plan to make Mehlville a high-performing school district also included a funding-scenario that no longer will work, Superintendent Terry Noble told Facili-tating Team members during a May 26 meeting. Noble noted Proposition T, approved by voters in November, stabilizes the district’s financial situation, but essentially will do nothing to implement the first phase of the COMPASS recommendations.

During the meeting, Facilitating Team members discussed at length what they believe the focus of COMPASS II should be and how to re-engage the community, emphasizing the need to attract residents who didn’t participate in the first phase of COMPASS.

While the majority of previous Facilitating Team members have returned to participate in COMPASS II, the team now includes Oakville resident Randy Lowry and Deb Baker of Oakville, publisher of Call Newspapers. Students serving on the panel include Grace Diekemper of Oakville Senior High School and Nicholas Eastwood of Mehlville Senior High School.

Former Beasley Elementary School Principal Jim Schibig returns as a co-chair of the Facilitating Team. He will share co-chair duties with former Board of Education member Candy Green, who replaces Dan Fowler, who re-signed as co-chair effective Jan. 1.

Dan Burns of UNICOM•ARC, which assisted the district with COMPASS I, presented a memorandum to the Facil-itating Team that outlined steps to “keep the momentum going,” including the formation of a COMPASS Resource Advisory and Fact-finding Team, or CRAFT. As proposed, the CRAFT team would study the COMPASS recommendations over the summer, examining revenue and resource projections and developing a recommendation to address the district’s long-term needs with respect to resources.

At one point, Board of Education member Micheal Ocello said, “I’m not disagreeing with re-engaging, I just don’t understand why restudying. That’s the part I’m having a hard time with. It just seems like we’re doing a little bit of what we did last year to what end, really? …”

Facilitating Team member Sandy Jacobs said, “… Although we had the community engagement, we didn’t get some of the people that we needed to reach.”

Ocello said, “I agree with you. That’s my point.”

Jacobs said, “We need to reach farther than staff, parents and …”

Facilitating Team member Cathy Mayrose, a district teacher, interjected, “… I kind of see where you’re coming from. If we don’t do something different, we’re not going to reach the right people, and the people we’ve already reached, I think they’re going to say: More of the same stuff, we’ve already talked about this …”

Green said, “… I think our major focus has to be how are we going to reach out to the people that are out here and not understanding what’s going on? Because we know people are out there not understanding why don’t we have certain things. Why don’t we? And if we’re not getting to them, we’re not answering their questions.”

Noble said, “And it does need to be community driven and Sandy’s point is the community is more than just parents and staff members. We’ve got to get the young families, the young parents involved. The community that doesn’t have the direct connection with the school district, we’ve got to get more of them involved this time. That would be one of our goals. The finance structure alone requires some study and I think input would be good from the community on how to restructure the finance plan for it …”

Unlike Mehlville, Board of Education President Tom Diehl later said, “… Other school districts will go to the community on a regular basis seeking support and they seek input all along the way … There hasn’t been an effort to keep the people interested and involved in their public schools and I think that’s the big problem we have today is the fact that because there hasn’t been that consistent communication with the general public that they don’t feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for these schools. That’s the culture we’ve got to change.”

Baker said, “In communication, you’ve got to have an exchange and unless you can get people in here and I mean you’ve got to reach people at the gut level where they are right now. People are just trying to survive and that’s why it’s going to be very difficult to go to somebody and say: I need more money when they’re trying to figure out how do I bring home milk when it keeps going up? The car industry’s going down the tubes. I’ve never been faced with anything like that before. I’ve never seen car dealerships closing their doors …

“People who own businesses view things differently, and people who get up and go to jobs and work 12 months out of the year, not nine months out of the year, view things differently, and I think those are the things you’re going to have to start really looking at to make things better … Your communication’s going to improve if we can get on the other side. Instead of just getting people on our side, we need to get on their side.”

Diehl later said, “The biggest problem is between the state and federal government, they provide maybe 17 percent of our budget, and they dictate close to 80 percent of how we spend our money, and that is a problem that we have to continue to educate the public about … A lot of this is being pushed at us from the outside and the question is, first of all, if we have to meet some mandates and then secondly, do we want to provide our kids with an education that will truly prepare them to compete in a global economy? I think most schools in America are falling down on that aspect and I think part of the reason is we haven’t done a good job of letting people know what’s going to be required for our kids to succeed.”

Ocello said, “I think that to me is really the heart of this. I’m not suggesting we don’t do community engagement. I’m suggesting studying what we’ve already done is to me a little bit of an exercise in futility … I think everyone here agrees communication is the secret. But how do we communicate? How do we get more people to our meetings so that they’re meaningful? If we go through the same process that we just did, we’re going to see about half the people that were with the school district, and I agree with Deb. I mean I’m very concerned about what the community is going to say, but do we really need to study? We know what the issues are. I mean there’s nobody around this table that doesn’t understand that if we don’t get a tax increase, we’re not doing phase one.

“I think the biggest problem we have is saying the people of the community don’t understand. They don’t understand what Tom just said. They don’t understand the Hancock Amendment. They really don’t get how the finances work in the school district, but we hold meetings and we kind of are there talking to ourselves and we get a handful of parents and a few interested people. Why don’t we take some time and energy and say: Let’s study how to get people to those meetings. How do we engage them? Because then if we engage them, then it becomes meaningful. Because then they say: You know what? We get it now, and we do want to see the schools be able to succeed. They’ll help us with getting that tax increase. I just feel like we’re kind of doing the same thing we just did.”

Facilitating Team member Paul Goldak said, “Dan (Burns), I think we’ve got a good opportunity here to — I would suggest for the entire month of June for a couple of meetings with this group heavily facilitated by you to pursue all of these possible angles to get people involved that haven’t been involved before who can make a contribution, and that if we took the month to do that, at the end of that month our objective would be to have a list of 50 people who we can count on to be objective and involved. And of those 50 people, I’d say half of them to be non-parents, non-child-in-school, retired, too young to have kids in school, teens … I don’t have kids in school — never did — didn’t go to school here. So I’m that aberration in the group. Why did I get involved and why doesn’t the guy next door to me get involved or the lady across the street? Find out … what it will take to get those people interested enough to get them involved and then come into July with a CRAFT meeting seeded with this 50 to 60 or whatever people that we can count on that have never been involved before. Then we do our background of COMPASS and our status and what we’re trying to accomplish and pitfalls and costs and so forth …”

Ocello said, “… If we can get beyond our little circle and we can truly reach out … that group of people that we have are the ones that we can start having the discussion with. It just seems like we start to get to a point where it’s us talking to us about what we want to do.”

Noble said, “Maybe everybody can bring a list of names in the community of people they think are movers and shakers and key communicators and start building a list.”

The Facilitating Team will meet at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 16, in the Mehlville Senior High School Library.