Mehlville passes next five-year phase of district’s strategic plan

Next phase of strategic plan adds themes of personalization, safety

With+parents+and+a+student+sitting+behind+him+socially+distanced%2C+Mehlville+Superintendent+Chris+Gaines+presents+bond+issue+information+to+the+Board+of+Education%2C+including+conceptual+drawings%2C+at%0Athe+Oct.+15%2C+2020%2C+board+meeting+held+in+person+at+the+Mehlville+High+School+Library.+The+presentation+was%0A%E2%80%98very+thorough%2C%E2%80%99+board+President+Kevin+Schartner+said.+The+meeting+was+also+livestreamed.

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

The Mehlville Board of Education passed the next five-year iteration of the district’s strategic plan last month, after years of planning and gathering feedback from the community about what the next phase should look like. 

The Board of Education unanimously approved the next iteration of the strategic plan at its meeting Sept. 16. 

For the last several months, Superintendent Chris Gaines has provided updates to the board about ongoing work on the plan, in addition to collecting feedback from students, parents and the community about what they wanted to see from the district through surveys and listening sessions. 

The district’s first strategic plan was adopted in 2015 under interim Superintendent Norm Ridder, just before Gaines became superintendent, and is intended to be renewed in five-year intervals. The next iteration of the strategic plan includes the original themes of student preparation, effectiveness and efficiency and teacher development – now called workforce development, as well as the additions of safety, personalization and access and opportunity. 

Mehlville already offers several personalization options for students, such as MyPath and Project Lead the Way. Part of the next phase of personalization in the district would include expanding on choice programming, college and career readiness opportunities and the concept of a “school within a school.” 

Board Director Tori Behlke said that while she appreciated the opportunities the district offered to students, she was concerned that it could be stretching itself too thin. 

“I’m looking at the expansion of learning opportunities for our students which I think are awesome. … I’m thinking about that innovation and where it can take us and the opportunity it can give to our kiddos,” Behlke said. “What causes me to pause is support services … within our schools currently and how do we not spread ourselves too thin when I feel like there’s so much room for improvement.”

Behlke added that she was particularly concerned with how English-learner students fit into some of the concepts and timelines presented by the strategic plan. 

Director Peggy Hassler echoed Behlke’s concerns, adding that the district was still recovering from the learning disruptions caused by COVID. 

“It worries me that we’re focusing on the wrong things. … I’m afraid right now, after coming back after a year of COVID, I’m afraid that we’ve lost a few children,” Hassler said. “I know that we have a strategy to use our ESSER funds for that stuff but I think there’s a group that needs a little more concentrated specialist learning and we need to make sure we address that. … We have so many great programs as it is … but we have to not leave any children behind.” 

Gaines said that the strategic plan was meant to layout out the process and criteria for different schools within the district to implement different programs, but not to force those programs onto a building if it couldn’t support it. 

“The only thing we’re trying to push forward … is to create a process and the criteria to decide what programs are created at the building that will move forward. We’re not pushing any building to do anything … (It’s) at the discretion of the building,” Gaines said. “Because the innovation … is going to be driven at the building level and part of that is making sure that they have the support to move forward within their building and in their community.”

Director Patrick McKelvey, who graduated from Oakville High School in 2015, said that moving forward with personalization programs while continuing to provide specialists and interventionists for students who needed it didn’t have to be an either-or.

“I had a great experience when I graduated in 2015 but hearing about what all the high schoolers get to do now … some of the stuff they do is really cool, I wish I had the opportunity to do that,” McKelvey said. “So to expand choice program … things like that, I don’t think it’s either-or.”

Board President Kevin Schartner offered a different perspective, pointing out that the district had come a long way in the past six years after passing Proposition R in 2015, which provided funding for more math and English language-learner support staff and interventions. Schartner suggested looking at ELL and math data at a board meeting every quarter to make sure the district was meeting its necessary metrics in both areas.

“I think this ELL and math is this 10 to 15 year, maybe longer, Mehlville question. … The concern is maybe that it’s we don’t have a clear set of metrics so we don’t know that we are at the point that we should be so we’re looking at some metrics that aren’t the final ones,” Schartner said.

Hassler said she still would like to see the data on ELL and math waitlists in the future.

“I still think there’s a right now concern about waitlists we need more data on,” Hassler said. “I think we can continue to talk about the strategic plan but I think as a side item, we need to ask for … a plan of action for what we’re going to right now, this year, for our waitlists.”

Other aspects of the strategic plan, such as safety, include updating facility across the district through Proposition S, as well as continually looking at future facility needs (See Page 2A). Improving air quality, securing front entrances, increasing perimeter safety, expanding security cameras and more are all elements of student safety that tie into the facility work around the district. 

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 and engagement and transparency

Members of district administration will give reports to the Board of Education throughout both the fall and spring semesters about how the implementation of the strategic plan themes are going.