Mehlville looks at facilities, safety and personalization ahead of possible bond issue

Board could vote in January on bond and strategic plans

In+the+Rogers+Elementary+first-day-of-school+scavenger+hunt+in+2019%2C+second-grader+Aleah+Jacobsmeyer%2C+right%2C+and+other+students+went+straight+to+the+top+for+help%2C+asking+Superintendent+Chris+Gaines+if+he+fit+any+of+their+categories.+He+checked+the+box+%E2%80%98I+like+vegetables.%E2%80%99+

In the Rogers Elementary first-day-of-school scavenger hunt in 2019, second-grader Aleah Jacobsmeyer, right, and other students went straight to the top for help, asking Superintendent Chris Gaines if he fit any of their categories. He checked the box ‘I like vegetables.’

By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter

The next five years of the Mehlville School District’s strategic plan will largely be driven by facilities, safety and personalization.

The district spent the 2019-2020 school year gathering feedback from parents, students and the community about what they want to see from their school district. Two themes rose to the top: student safety and personalization.

The four listening sessions of the “Mehlville Listens” engagement process each centered around a particular aspect of schooling and the district. Mehlville also used online surveys called Thought-exchanges to gather more feedback.

The strategic plan was first discussed in fall 2014, before the board formally adopted it in 2015, just before Superintendent Chris Gaines came to Mehlville. Set to be renewed in five-year intervals, the current strategic plan is built around the elements of student preparation, teacher support and being effective and efficient.

“What we’ve done is try to narrow in on where we’re looking … and what we see happening in the next few years, especially with what’s been happening over the last number of months,” Gaines said at a Board of Education meeting Sept. 17. “If we think about the school year we just wrapped up a few months ago, COVID-19 hit, we were forced into remote learning and we kinda learned a lot there.”

The district is examining facilities as it updates the strategic plan, a concern Gaines directly tied to student safety — one of the top concerns parents brought up during “Mehlville Listens.”

A Facilities Steering Committee comprised of more than 40 parents, teachers and community members spent over 18 months touring the district’s buildings and using surveys from staff, students and parents at each school to develop a list of $35 million in facility needs, which could be funded by a 12-cent no-tax-rate-increase bond issue.

The school board declined in August to vote to place a bond measure on the November ballot, citing concerns that asking for a bond measure — even one that did not increase the tax rate —  would be tone deaf since families are struggling from the economic impact of the pandemic. Instead, the board left the option open to place the measure on the ballot in April 2021, which would require a vote at the Jan. 21 meeting alongside the strategic plan.

As a next step, teachers and staff are looking at conceptual drawings.

Prior to the pandemic, the district considered creating a 100-percent virtual school option, and Mehlville@Home was launched this year. Roughly 2,000 students of Mehlville’s total 10,000 are enrolled.

This year before the pandemic, the district was going to look at independent study for PE and a system to issue high school credit based on competency. In the next two school years, Gaines will focus on expanding early college and the middle school academies, as well as refining Mehlville@Home. In 2022-2023, the district will update its enrollment projections.