Mehlville School District looks to boost high school offerings

Very personalized education envisioned for students here

An Oakville High School student poses for the Student Council's Instagram campaign \

An Oakville High School student poses for the Student Council’s Instagram campaign \”Think Differently\” on the first day of school Aug. 17.

By Gloria Lloyd

Although the Mehlville School District is looking to add a number of innovative high school programs next year, the district already has many such initiatives already in place that it could begin to offer for all students as soon as next semester.

In a presentation to the Board of Education last week, a high school innovation team comprised of administrators from both Oakville and Mehlville high schools said they hope to pave the way for students to take advantage of personalized and non-traditional pathways for education, while not eliminating traditional education.

Speaking on behalf of the innovation team at the Aug. 25 meeting, Assistant Superintendent Jeff Bresler said, “Are we meeting all students’ needs? And when I say all students, I mean all students. The primary goal of education is not for students to do well in school, but it’s really about preparing them for life outside of school.”

The high school innovation team has been meeting since the board gave the green light in the spring and is separate from an elementary school innovation team that is focusing on a new elementary school of innovation that could open in the former St. John’s Elementary next year.

Mehlville already offers early credit for high school classes to middle schoolers who complete high school-level work, along with summer school for advanced learners, independent study, computer-based instruction and off-campus vocational education at South County Technical High School, Bresler noted.

Students who want to take courses that Mehlville does not offer, such as Japanese, can take classes online through the University of Missouri-Columbia or the statewide Missouri Virtual Instructional Program, said team member John DeWalle, director of the Witzel Alternative Academy where some students take advantage of correspondence-based courses.

DeWalle is the common link between the high school innovation team and the scheduling team that is simultaneously examining block scheduling at the high schools, although the work of the two teams is not directly related, Superintendent Chris Gaines told the Call.

To illustrate the opportunities students already have, DeWalle noted that an advanced art student who has taken all the art classes offered at the high schools could design his or her own art course for independent study with a teacher.

The district currently has students spread out around the globe who continue to receive a Mehlville education online while pursuing their passions, including a professional soccer player in Europe and a ballerina in New York City, DeWalle said. Another student is attending a high school hockey camp that could lead to a pro career while still receiving his education from Mehlville.

In the past, those opportunities were offered for individual students who needed them, but they were never advertised to the entire student body, Gaines told the Call, and he sees no reason not to expand those offerings to everyone.

Students can earn dual and college credit through a number of existing programs, but the district hopes to expand those areas, including possibly allowing students to earn an associate’s degree from St. Louis Community College as they graduate with their high school diploma. Already, some Mehlville teachers are adjunct professors at colleges, and taking their classes allows students to gain college credit at major universities for a reduced tuition cost.

Another expansion could happen in the number of internships offered to students.

Starting this year, Mehlville is collaborating with Bayless, Hancock and other south county districts to send students to a program run by the Affton School District that allows students to work in businesses and hospitals during the school day, gaining invaluable real-world job experience.

The innovative initiatives that Mehlville doesn’t already offer can be offered as soon as next year, Gaines said.

“Just turn ’em loose,” he said. “See what interests kids.”

This summer, members of both innovative teams attended a conference hosted by Taylor County Schools in Campbellsville, Ky., one of the most innovative school districts in the country. Taylor County specializes in personalized K-12 education and has not had a student drop out in seven years, DeWalle said.

“We walked out of there without a lot of discussion, thinking, if they can do it, certainly we can as well,” he said.

Gaines said he envisions very personalized education pathways, catering to the individual student, not simply moving students “like widgets” through grade levels.

“We’ve taken a curriculum that was set and we’ve adapted it for that kid, or we’ve adapted the way the instruction is delivered but the curriculum stayed the same,” Gaines said of the standard operating idea of education. “And where we’re heading, and where people see us moving overall, is that we mold the curriculum to the strengths and weaknesses of each individual kid. Can a kid blow through math but take language arts at a slower pace? Or vice versa?”