Noble wants to teach critical-thinking skills to Mehlville students

Incoming superintendent: Mehlville has potential to become world-class district

By BURKE WASSON

While incoming Superintendent Terry Noble wants to improve the Mehlville School District’s academic performance, he also wants to teach students how to think for themselves.

“I saw a statistic not too long ago that said the amount of information in the world doubles every nine months. So if we’re just trying to teach information on a knowledge level, there’s no way we can keep up with that,” Noble said. “Instead, we’ve got to teach our kids how to be critical thinkers, problem solvers and how to access this information. And that’s what this authentic instruction is all about.”

Roughly 200 people also offered their suggestions for academic improvement during a May 14 community-engagement session at Bernard Middle School. The second of 11 sessions for the district’s public-engagement program COMPASS — Charting the Oakville/Mehlville Path to Advance Successful Schools — focused on academic achievement and curriculum.

The evening revealed that every table of residents who spoke at that session was dissatisfied with the district’s academic performance. Some suggestions to improve that performance included establishing more early intervention with students through the early childhood program, offering more enrichment programs to students, raising expectations for students, enhancing remedial-learning programs and raising students’ Missouri Assessment Program scores.

Oakville Senior High School junior Jessica Maly, who serves on the COMPASS Facilitating Team charged with recommending improvements in May 2008 to the Board of Education, said many high-school students are not motivated to perform well on MAP testing because they do not directly benefit from doing so.

“The test scores are too low,” Maly said. “Students at school don’t take MAP testing too seriously. Usually, they try to be like ‘This really doesn’t affect us.'”

To possibly motivate and further educate students, Noble said he would advocate an increased emphasis on staff development, which he has called “the biggest weakness” he sees in today’s school districts.

Noble, who will leave the De Soto superintendent’s position to replace interim Superintendent Jerry Chambers July 1, also proposed numerous goals he would like to enact in the Mehlville School District.

These include smaller class sizes, more resources for teachers, extra prep time for communication-arts teachers, an after-school program, tuition-free all-day kindergarten, doing a better job of steering students into college majors and career paths and making community service or service learning a high-school graduation requirement.

“We need our kids to learn a life lesson,” Noble said. “That is that you do public service with no expectation of reward. I think that’s a valuable life lesson. And in also doing that, they work with projects and create through learning, through knowledge. And it’s very real life and application oriented. Kids can do that. I’d like to see it as a graduation requirement.”

All of the goals and suggestions from the COMPASS community-engagement sessions are being collected by the district’s Facilitating Team. That team is a collection of residents, employees, school-board members and students charged with organizing all of those suggestions into a plan to present next year to the school board.

Dan Fowler, Facilitating Team co-chair and former school-board member, said while many innovative ideas already have been suggested, he believes the Facilitating Team will adopt a conservative approach with its recommendations. Without a conservative plan, Fowler believes any possible tax measure put before district voters to fund those improvements will fail.

“If a recommendation comes that we want an all-day kindergarten, I think that you will see a titanic battle on that,” Fowler said. “And the reason I think for that is because it is costly. Ultimately, whatever we recommend has to be also supported by a majority of our community. So therefore, we have to recognize the fact that this is a conservative community — a conservative community with great people living in it.

“These are people who do not live over their heads. These are people that are conservative in their values. They’re conservative about how they spend their money. They don’t like fluff … I believe, knowing the makeup of COMPASS, it’s going to be a conservative plan that’s ultimately delivered to the Board of Education.”

Besides proposing some goals that would require funding, Noble also spoke of a philosophical goal of fostering a united, respectful Board of Education.

“We need a Board of Education with a united purpose,” he said. “And we need to be able to present an image to the community that says that we’re all here for that purpose. And even when we disagree, we still respect each other and we’re here for the sake of our kids and we’ll do our business in a respectful way and one that will honor our kids when we conduct our business.”

Addressing many district residents for the first time since a Meet the Superintendent event in September, Noble told those in attendance at last week’s session that he came to the district to awaken a “sleeping giant” into “a world-class school district.”

“It took a lot of prayer and thought for me to want to join this project when you get to this stage in my career,” Noble said. “And so when you start listing all the pros and all the cons as to why I would want to come here and join you and work for this effort, I can honestly tell you that it’s an easy decision. And you ask me why, and there’s really two things that stood out. Number one is because I’ve dedicated my entire life to working with children, working with kids and trying to have a positive effect on their lives. And secondly, I really believe that this school district is a sleeping giant just ready to take off. I really believe that this district can be a world-class school district. I know that’s what this (COMPASS) process is all about.”

Building trust with that community is something Noble pledged last week that he would try his very best to do. Once that trust is established, Noble said, then the district can work toward true improvement.

“It may be that some day my epitaph may read or it won’t read that I’m the very best at what I do or what I did,” Noble said. “But I do hope it says that I gave my best. And that’s what I plan to do as your next superintendent. I’m going to give my very best to move this district forward. My own experience tells me that it takes a huge, collaborative team effort that includes all of us. And let’s get together. Let’s work for it and develop a sense of urgency and declare war with a cause beyond ourself, which is a better life for our children.”