South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

South St. Louis County News

St. Louis Call Newspapers

Mehlville planning to add two juniors to Facilitating Team

First public-engagement session for residents set April 16 at Bernard Middle School

In an effort to delve into all areas of its public-engagement process, the Mehlville School District will include on that program’s Facilitating Team two of the very people the process affects — students.

The Facilitating Team for COMPASS — Charting the Oakville-Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — will add one junior from Mehlville Senior High School and Oakville Senior High School.

Jim Schibig, co-chairman of the Facilitating Team and a former Beasley Elementary School principal, said if COMPASS is to be truly all-inclusive, it must include the students for whom the district-improvement program was designed.

“One of the criteria for an effective school or an effective school district is active and meaningful participation by students,” he said. “And this is just a perfect way for them to become active and meaningful in what this process is. And I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for them to be the voice of the whole student body through the two of them. It’s going to be great. If we’re doing it for the kids, it only makes sense for the kids to be involved in it.”

The Facilitating Team will meet at 6 p.m. Monday, March 26, at the Administration Building, 3120 Lemay Ferry Road.

Fellow Co-chairman Dan Fowler, who served three terms as a school-board member, said he is eyeing the district’s April 16 community-engagement session as the first chance to invite a large number of district residents to participate.

That opening session will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday, April 16, at Bernard Middle School, 1054 Forder Road. Future community-engagement meetings are scheduled for May 14 and June 4 at sites to be determined.

At the April 16 session, pending the COMPASS facilitating team’s approval, Fowler said he hopes for district officials to issue a “state-of-the-district address.”

“That’ll be the first time in the history of the Mehlville School District,” he said. “In other words, we want the school district to tell us what their successes are and what they find their challenges are. And I think that that is really going to be an intriguing address.”

Fowler said he also would like to allow residents who attend the first community-engagement session on April 16 the chance to criticize the district or perhaps the public-engagement process itself.

“We’re going to open ourselves up at the first meeting to be critiqued as to what we think the subject matter should be,” Fowler said. “We want the community. Part of one these worksheets will be: ‘What do you think are the topics that the Mehlville School Dis-trict should be looking into?’ And ‘Do you necessarily agree with the topics that we’ve come up with?’ because they may come up with a different list. So we’re go-ing to open ourselves up to be critiqued and the process to be critiqued.”

All community-engagement sessions are aimed to attract a large number of residents and will be schematically designed around several group work sessions with each group focusing on a particular study topic.

Some of those group work sessions also will be formed around various study-topic committees that the Facilitating Team is working to fill. The district already has highlighted such possible community-engagement study topics as student achievement, state requirements, staffing, demographics, school safety, budget information, class and school size, programs and facilities as potential areas to solicit public feedback.

Besides welcoming criticism and additional study topics within the work sessions, Fowler and Schibig said they would have an “open mic” forum at the April 16 meeting so that those in the audience would hear each group’s concerns.

“Everybody’s going to have an opportunity to sit down and, on paper, put their perceptions and feelings and ideas down,” Fowler said. “And then we’re going to ask each of our groups of people to pick a spokesperson, stand up and give us their input with an open mic. So when we talk about ‘We want to hear your voice,’ we literally want to hear it.”

Fowler said the push to get as many residents as possible to these meetings is imperative if the district’s public engagement takes the shape of residents’ will rather than the wishes of the Facilitating Team — especially those of Schibig and Fowler.

“I think it’s very, very important that the two of us, more than anybody else in this process, remain neutral,” Fowler said. “And that’s difficult for both of us. We have to keep our private opinions to ourselves to a large degree. We both have our own private opinion about different things. But on the other hand, it’s our job to be neutral and to be facilitators.”

While the Board of Education hired UNICOM•ARC in November to consult and assist with the public-engagement program and two students will be added to the Facilitating Team, six district residents and two teachers have already begun work as part of that body.

District residents Keith Benack, Marcella Foerstel, Paul Goldak, Sandy Jacobs, Desi Kirchhofer and Shauna Reed were selected to serve on the Facilitating Team with teachers Cathy Mayrose and Ellen Woulfe.

Board members Cindy Christopher, Tom Diehl and Micheal Ocello are serving on the Facilitating Team as board liaisons.

To round out public involvement at the upcoming April 16 community-engagement session, Facilitating Team members have agreed to contact numerous segments of the community such as parent organizations, day-care facilities, churches, local businesses, public-safety employees and senior-citizen groups to find more input.

Fowler said last week that he would specifically like to see more parochial parents, senior citizens and critics of the school district become involved in public engagement. He would also like to see district students on every standing committee and additional students in attendance at the community-engagement sessions.

But, if anything, Fowler emphasized the need for those who are critical of the district to offer their suggestions now instead of later criticizing a process of which they were invited to participate, but did not.

“It is extremely important that people show up at this first (April 16 community-engagement) meeting,” Fowler said. “I think that they’re going to be surprised at the openness. They’re going to be surprised at their ability to get feedback. I think they may hear some things that will surprise them at this first meeting.

“But I would rather them show up and critique the process now and give us their input now than to wait until the process is over. I hope that people are fair to us by giving us their concerns and issues now than wait until the end of the process and criticize it after it’s all over. So if they’ve got ideas, concerns, issues, if they’ve got something they want to criticize the Mehlville School District, this is their opportunity. Like never before.”

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