Noble discusses his goals, challenges facing Mehlville

Second of two parts

By MIKE ANTHONY

One of the biggest challenges facing the Mehlville School District is its financial situation, according to Terry Noble, who will become superintendent July 1.

The Mehlville Board of Education voted unanimously Sept. 27 to extend a three-year contract to Noble, 55, who currently serves as superintendent of the De Soto School District. Noble was publicly introduced as Mehlville’s permanent superintendent that same evening during the district’s Meet the Superintendent event at the Royale Orleans.

The event originally was planned as an opportunity to allow the public to meet interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers and for Chambers to recognize past board members, local politicians, past administrators and other educators.

But with the approval of Noble’s hiring, the event allowed the community to meet both Chambers and Noble.

The next day, Noble spoke with the Call about some of the challenges facing the district and about his goals as superintendent.

“I think one of the challenges is their fi-nancial situation,” Noble said. “The Mehlville district relies heavily upon local aid as opposed to state aid or federal aid, and sitting in south county and being among other prominent school districts, there’s really some intense competition for staff, for staffing needs, and so I feel like to be competitive, it’s going to require that we acquire more finances in some manner. Of course, what I’m really saying is we need for the school district and the community to pull together. And in all fairness to the community, I feel like it’s our job to be able to articulate what the need is and I think the vast majority of our people in all communities support education. They want what’s best for kids. But it’s our job to be able to define those needs in a way that all will understand and support that.

“I think along with that, there needs to be a plan. We need to develop a plan. Last night (Sept. 27), I used the term ‘We need to chart our course.’ You know, it’s a vision. It needs to be a shared vision and we need to invite the public in. And I’m sure the district’s already doing this, but we need to invite them in and help us to chart that course and then let it be their vision as well as our vision so that we’ll all have something at stake in seeing that it succeeds,” he said.

Based on initial revenue and expenditure projections and after the defeat of a proposed 97-cent tax-rate increase in February, the administration earlier this year had recommended a target of $4 million in cuts be made for the coming school year.

At one point last spring, the Board of Education had approved cuts totaling $3,497,550, including a decision to begin charging $375 per student for bus transportation for those who live within 3.5 miles of their school.

Charging for transportation was among the recommendations made by task force study groups appointed by former Super-intendent Tim Ricker to explore expenditure reductions in the event the 97-cent tax-rate increase was not approved by voters. The tax-rate increase, called Proposi-tion A, was overwhelmingly rejected by district voters in February.

But after the April election in which two incumbents were defeated, the board reinstated free bus transportation, streamlining existing routes. In addition, many of the cuts made before the April election have been restored and some of the recommendations of the district’s Long Range Plan-ning Committee have been included in the 2006-2007 budget.

Asked how he will deal with possible perception problems regarding the district’s financial situation, Noble said, “… I think communication is a key and it’s two-way communication. I think we need to have open and honest discussions with our public, invite them in and allow them to share their opinions, a free expression of ideas and concerns. The communication is the key …

“It’s not a matter of people not wanting to be supportive of schools and to do what’s best for kids, I think we have to establish the need and identify it and communicate it. And it has to be widely publicized, I mean promoted, and I really believe you have to get a consensus among key groups in the community that this is a good plan. And it’s our plan and it’s not the school’s plan, it’s not the superintendent’s plan, it’s not the board’s plan, but it’s our plan.”

As superintendent of the De Soto School District since 2002, Noble has overseen three successful ballot measures and led his district through the recovery from a devastating tornado in 2003. Before Noble arrived in De Soto, though, the district had not passed a tax issue since 1991. In fact, in the two years before he became superintendent, three consecutive ballot measures failed.

“If you asked people in the community what the problem was, they would tell you that it was a lack of trust. And so as I said last night, I feel like that’s something that has to be earned and it’s earned through hard work and honesty and integrity and openness with the public,” Noble said. “It’s also, I think, earned by inviting the public to participate in the process …”

As Mehlville superintendent, Noble also plans to focus on academic achievement with the goal of earning the Missouri De-partment of Elementary and Secondary Ed-ucation’s Distinction in Performance Award.

“We want to be a high-achieving school district … This is an area that I will need to study more, but oftentimes when test scores are not what you would like them to be, you’ve got to look and see if it’s the process. Is it the curriculum? Is the written curriculum good and is it aligned? If that’s the case, then is the written curriculum also the taught curriculum? Because sometimes you’ve got these volumes of curriculum that really look great and they’re aligned with all of our local, state and national standards, but they’re not being transmitted into the classroom … You can have it on paper, but it’s got to be taught.

“… I’ve never believed in evaluating individual teachers based on test scores. I think that’s a mistake because the accountability for test scores belongs to everyone,” he said. “And when you think about the MAP (Missouri Assessment Program) test as an example or you can talk about the ACT or the SAT, those tests measure knowledge or content, but they also measure skills such as problem solving, critical thinking and writing and verbal expression.

“And those are skills that are taught in every subject at every grade level no matter who the teacher is and where the student is. So you want to celebrate your successes, but you want to make sure that you know that you’re succeeding because of the effort of everybody, and also my experience has been you will not ever reach your full potential and succeed at your highest level unless everyone is working on those things.”

Noble said he is looking forward to becoming superintendent next July. But earlier this year, it appeared unlikely he would be able to serve here.

During a May 30 closed session, the Mehlville Board of Education had voted to extend a three-year contract to Noble for the superintendent’s post. But he could not accept the Mehlville position because his Board of Education would not release him from his contract, primarily because of the timing as the contract year for administrators began July 1.

During a Sept. 20 closed session, however, Mehlville board members reached a consensus to select Noble as the district’s permanent superintendent, effective July 1, 2007.

The next day, the De Soto Board of Education voted unanimously to accept Noble’s resignation, effective June 30, 2007.

Asked about the appeal of the Mehlville superintendent’s post, he said, “… What I’m about to say I sincerely mean, but I love a challenge and to me, I would never attempt to go to a district and try to be the leader of a district where I didn’t feel I could make a difference. I just feel drawn to Mehlville. I have from the first time that I started considering the position when I saw the vacancy was there, and, as I told some of my friends back in De Soto, I just really searched and searched to try and find a reason why I shouldn’t pursue the position because I really was happy — and really am happy — where I am. It’s a good job. Great people to work with.

“We’ve been through a lot together in De Soto and I really feel great about my time there, but I couldn’t find a reason not to come to Mehlville and I really feel like I can make a difference here.”