Mehlville school board sets goals for 2007-2008 school year

Board should be recognized for its efforts, Christopher says

By BURKE WASSON

While the Mehlville Board of Education’s ultimate goal is student achievement, its board members have laid out a number of benchmarks for themselves and new Superintendent Terry Noble for the 2007-2008 school year.

Noble and the board hammered out nine goals during an eight-hour retreat Saturday at Minions Cafe in Maplewood.

After much discussion, Noble’s primary goals for the 2007-2008 school year are to:

• Create a platform for accelerating student achievement that builds upon the work of the previous administration.

• Ensure effective future district governance through positive and productive board-superintendent relations.

• Establish public trust and confidence through open, honest communication and positive relationships among stakeholder groups.

• Ensure effective management of district resources.

The Board of Education’s main goals in the next academic year are to:

• Enable students to achieve at the highest level possible.

• Improve school and community relations.

• Advocate for public education at the local, state and national level.

• Meet requirements and achieve recognition from the Missouri School Boards Association, or MSBA, for outstanding performance.

• Ensure fiscal responsibility in the management of district resources.

Because of any future tax-rate increases that the district might seek from voters, board member Ken Leach said the board has to pledge and prove to the community that it is fiscally responsible.

“All of our constituents are going to see that it’s important during a tax levee, during elections, during all this stuff,” Leach said. “We should at least acknowledge that’s one of our primary concerns.”

Board member Cindy Christopher added that good financial stewardship of the district includes not only being accountable, but also making sure the district has the proper resources to improve.

“It’s not just being accountable,” Christopher said. “It’s also providing the resources necessary to get all of the jobs done.”

At the same time, Noble reiterated that accountability to the public is a broad need that covers every goal for the district.

“We should always say what we want to do and then do what we say,” Noble said. “That’s credibility. That’s responsibility. And people will more likely trust you and trust this district with their resources and things like that. They should have confidence that we’re going to do what we say and say what we do.”

As a way to create more transparency with district residents, board Vice President Karl Frank Jr. proposed creating a search engine for all available district documents on the district’s Web site.

He also proposed using the district’s Web site as a tool for an online forum among the Board of Education. Frank said while only board members would be allowed to comment, the public could view the discussion any time online.

“One of the most frustrating things that happens all the time is that we can’t have this ongoing and legal conversation between the entire board,” he said. “We always have to wait until board meetings and we have to wait because of Sunshine Law violations. And I asked Terry what could we do as far as possibly setting up a forum online, but not an open forum — a forum just for us. But it’s open in the sense that it’s still public and you can view it … you just can’t contribute to it. But at the same time, we would still have our e-mail addresses right there so if they wanted to send us a comment, they could … The idea is to create an atmosphere where we would have an ongoing, public, legal conversation about issues like this all the time.”

To comply with open-meeting laws, the district would post topics open for discussion during specified time periods.

Noble said while he has received positive feedback on the idea for an online forum from the MSBA, he would also caution board members that their comments would not be edited once they are posted.

“Anything you put down, you can’t take back,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure you don’t talk about any confidential information and you can’t identify individuals … MSBA thought this was an innovative idea. They talked to me about it. And they thought ‘If you can pull this off, this could be one of those innovative, trendsetting things.'”

Board Secretary Micheal Ocello said he would also like to see the district be more innovative in student achievement. Specifically, he would like to see the district teach life skills like interviewing methods and other social qualities along with academics.

“To me, academic achievement is just kind of one of those … it’s what everybody says,” Ocello said. “It’s a catch phrase. But I think that this district is really talking about so much more than just ‘Can you pass a test?'”

Along with the ultimate goal of student achievement, the board also is pursuing state recognition from the MSBA for outstanding performance and is prepared to meet all requirements to do so.

“Why don’t we try to get recognized for that?” Christopher said. “We’re working hard as a board. We should be recognized for that. You know what? Our community should understand how hard we as a board are working to make that happen.”

Christopher added that she would also like to see the district be more open with its successes, specifically community involvement.

“We have a lot of community involvement, more so than many, many school districts,” she said. “We don’t realize that we have that large of community involvement. And we ask our community to engage in a lot of different aspects of our school district. And I don’t think that’s standard … I think that’s unusual and I don’t know if we recognize that, tout that. I just think we need to maybe tell people that. Our community doesn’t know any different because we’ve been doing it for a long enough time.”

“Some of these, I don’t know, doesn’t sound as sweet coming from us as it does from somebody else,” Leach said. “So you always hope that someone else will kind of chime in on our achievements. Otherwise, it sounds kind of self serving.”

“Well, except sometimes you’ve got to brag on yourself,” Christopher said.

Board President Tom Diehl and board member Larry Felton also discussed their desires to see the district use branding to be more visible throughout the community and, as a result, increase communication with residents.

“I guess that also includes a recurring theme of, whether it’s the (Mehlville) Messenger or the Web site, it’s more of a well-thought strategy of what is it we want to have pushed out there,” Felton said. “You know, improved graphics on the Web site, a little more criteria of what we want to see in the Messenger. The ideas that have surfaced all morning, let’s just put those down.”