Mehlville COMPASS sessions on elementary schools, early childhood education draw 550

Middle schools will be focus of next COMPASS sessions

By MIKE ANTHONY

Two Mehlville School District community-engagement sessions focusing on elementary schools and early childhood education attracted roughly 550 people, according to district officials.

The COMPASS II — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — sessions took place Feb. 16 at Bernard Elementary School and Saturday morning at Point Elementary School. About 350 people attended the Feb. 16 session, rescheduled from Feb. 9 be-cause of inclement weather, while Saturday morning’s session drew roughly 200 people.

District officials were pleased with the attendance at both sessions, according to Superintendent Terry Noble.

“It was a great turnout. I felt like the participants were really engaged. While we really haven’t had a chance to review all of the feedback we got, I’m sure it’s going to be very helpful,” he told the Call.

COMPASS II kicked off last month with an overview of the first chapter of the district’s public-engagement program at which Board of Education President Tom Diehl told participants that Mehlville can be a top-performing school district, but it needs the community’s help.

The Board of Education voted last April to begin COMPASS II and directed the COMPASS group to report its recommendations to the board no later than May.

During the first chapter of COMPASS in 2007 and 2008, hundreds of participants — residents, parents and district staff — helped craft a long-range plan with guiding principles designed to make Mehlville a top-performing school district.

The school board later voted to adopt the four-phase long-range plan as the district’s “shared vision.”

At last week’s COMPASS II sessions, participants were grouped by tables according to their child’s school.

Mehlville has 10 elementary schools and an early childhood center, and building principals led the discussions at each of the tables while reviewing the specifics of the long-range plan for their school.

“I thought there was a lot of enthusiasm and interest in the discussions surrounding our elementary schools,” Noble told the Call. ”This was the first one (where) we focused in on that grade level group, and I think that’s the way to really engage people is to find something that’s really current to their situation. Even though it’s important to look ahead — if you’re a parent of an elementary student that’s going to someday be in high school, it’s important to look ahead. But people are very interested in what’s happening at the moment, what today and tomorrow are to provide, even more so than well into the future.”

To establish a two-way dialogue at the community-engagement sessions, a panel that included Noble and Diehl responded to written questions posed by participants.

When asked at the Feb. 16 session what the panel views as the most pressing issue facing the district, Noble said, “I think we all know that that’s funding and it’s not just funding at the local level, but it’s also the state budget. I’ve just spent two days in Jefferson City and the state’s facing some serious problems there and we have our own issues here locally … So regardless of the COMPASS plan, we have some issues that we need to deal with ….”

The Board of Education recently directed district administrators to create a contingency plan to address a potential budget crunch in the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years.

Noble combined a number of questions that asked “how do we consider the improvements in COMPASS at the same time that we know we’re facing some financial difficulties due to the recession and the state budget and local revenues that are not growing?”

He said, “And my answer to that is this: Every successful organization has a vision. The COMPASS plan that you see is our vision for the future and we need to stay focused on our vision. What we really want to accomplish with COMPASS II more than anything else is for all of you, for our entire community, to know what’s in the plan.

“And we believe once everyone sees what’s in the plan, they’ll be supportive of it. So we’re trying to spend this time now to communicate what’s in the plan and we’re going to stay focused on our vision. That may be changing a little bit through this process, but that is our vision for the future.

“Meanwhile, it’s imperative that we protect and maintain what we have. We can’t say just because we’re in some times of struggle that we can’t have a vision. We have to have a vision. It’s necessary for us to progress in the future. So that’s how the two intermingle. We’ve got a vision for the future while at the same time we’ve got to focus on protecting and maintaining what we have,” the superintendent said.

A tax-transfer of 31 cents per $100 of assessed valuation from the district’s debt-service fund to the operating fund recommended as part of COMPASS I was approved by voters in November 2008 and helped stabilize the district’s finances. But a funding scenario to finance the long-range plan no longer will work because of the downturn in the economy.

Diehl responded Feb. 16 to a question that asked about a time line for seeking additional funding.

“… The time line is actually going to be determined by you folks,” he said. “It’s a question of do we create that groundswell of support in the community so that people are demanding these changes so we can be a high-performing school district? As you may recall, our original plan was going to roll out in four phases, but because of the turn in the economy we’re no longer wedded to that particular plan.

“And so we need each of you to play a role here in helping us to set priorities and help us push this project forward. As Terry said, it is our vision … This is the direction we’re moving in because we want to make sure that all of our children get the education they need so they can compete in a world economy,” Diehl said.

“So in the coming weeks and months, we’ll be talking about middle school priorities and high school priorities. So even if you only have little ones right now, you need to come to those meetings as well because eventually your child will be in one of our middle schools and one of our high schools, and we need you to help us communicate to the people in Oakville and Mehlville that our schools are the best education value in Missouri,” the board president continued. “We do more with less than anybody. We’ve got test scores that show that our teachers are doing their job.

“We’ve got great parents out here and we need to make sure people know what a good job is going on with the Mehlville School District and so that everybody else when they listen to you and hear that Mehlville is doing the best, they’ll be ready to come along and support us as well.

“So we have not set a time line yet, but we’re counting on input from everybody here to help us set those priorities and when to move forward,” Diehl said.

Middle schools will be the focus of the next community-engagement session set at 7 p.m. Monday, March 1, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road. A repeat session is planned for 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 27, at Washington Middle School, 5165 Ambs Road.