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

Residents see need for Mehlville school district to rekindle connection with community

Public-engagement leaders name six residents, two teachers to facilitating team

Residents named to a Facilitating Team that will guide the Mehlville School District’s public-engagement program see a need for the district to rekindle a connection with the community.

Six residents and two teachers have been named to the Facilitating Team that will schedule, plan, coordinate and facilitate all meetings that will be conducted during the public-engagement program.

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. The six residents were selected from 20 to 25 people who had submitted applications to serve on the panel.

Dan Fowler, who served three terms on the school board, and Jim Schibig, who re-tired in 2001 as principal of Beasley Elementary School, are serving as co-chairmen of the community-engagement process. The Board of Education voted in November to hire UNICOM•ARC to assist with the public-engagement program.

During a meeting last week, many of the residents selected for the panel spoke of the need for Mehlville to reconnect with community members, especially those not directly involved with the school district.

At one point, Benack, a lifelong district resident, said, “… I’m a product of this area and I think what I bring kind of differently is I don’t have any kids here, and I’m a pragmatist. I want to support a school district that is worthy of support, and I think the goal or the objective of Mehlville has to be to earn that support. It’s easy to get parents that send their kids to school to support you. How do you get me? I’m 53 years old. I don’t have kids any more …

“How do you involve me? How do you involve my neighbor who is 70 years old? You’ve got to get those folks, and that’s why I’m here. It’s for the kids. The kids are never going to have a good school program if the only support you have are the parents of the kids that are going to your schools. It’s just economically not going to happen. So that’s why I’m here,” he said.

Goldak later asked, “We’re doing this to what end? What is the end product that we’re going to present to the board? Is it the long-term vision for the Mehlville School District? Can we put a tag on that and maybe include the tag on the documents so we don’t lose sight of what that is?”

Fowler said, “We have to come up with a name of the process.”

Dan Burns of UNICOM•ARC said, “Right. At our next meeting, we will actually come up with a name for this process. But in terms of the vision for the end? …”

Fowler said, “We don’t know.”

Goldak joked, “Then we’ll be successful, won’t we?”

Fowler said, “I’ll tell you the reason why I say that. There, at times, is a perception that when we go through a process where we bring people in … that the end result has already been driven. It’s already been made. So they take people through this process already knowing what the end result is. This process, in my opinion, is one where we honestly don’t know. When somebody says to me: ‘Where are we going?’ it depends upon where the community takes us.”

Jacobs said, “So we’re a work in progress?”

Fowler said, “We are a work in progress, and I’ll tell you a good example and I go back to this: In 2000, when we went out to the public and we went into every building, we invited in 3,000 people (who) were involved in the Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Facilities, that whole process. The end result was we were shocked at what the community asked us to do — just shocked.

“We had no idea, and then because of the community being involved, it passed big. So where are we going? I honestly don’t know.”

Goldak said, “… I absolutely agree with you. Where we’re going, we don’t know. But why are we here?”

Fowler said, “… Well, I think we’re here to improve the lives of 11,000 kids in the Mehlville School District from a facilities point of view, an academic point of view, financing … It’s about kids and to improve the lives of 11,000-plus kids in the school district, and personally — and I really do feel this personally — I want to take this school district not only being a good school district, but being the best in St. Louis County. And I hope that we present a plan that’s community driven that we can present to the Board of Education that is a road map to the Mehlville School District being No. 1 in St. Louis County. That’s how I feel.”

Schibig said, “I think the other part of that process is, we need — and I’ve said this before — there needs to be a connection between the public, the people out there, all age ranges, all different facets of the community, and we can’t say to the public: Hey — and I’m going to mention the 800-pound gorilla in the room — we can’t say we’re going to do a tax levy and cram it down your throat.

“If it goes that way and Dan keeps using the term and I’m going to steal it, it’s a discovery process. And if that process leads to that, that’s great. If it doesn’t, that’s great, too. But at least the community is going to feel a part of it, and I use the term talking with principals and teachers, kids buy into stuff — I’m talking education — buy into stuff if you give them a voice. And it’s the same way with the community. We’ve got to give them a voice, and I think that’s a large part of this process. To me, that’s why we’re here,” he said.

After further discussion, Benack said, “… I think what we need to think about here is how do we elevate this school district so that everyone in this community can see the benefit from it? If you put it there in front of them and point it out to them, you don’t have to sell it. I don’t think the focus ought to be, good Lord, we may have to ask for another tax increase. I think the focus ought to be what do we have? What can we get? What does it cost and what does it benefit us? And if we ask those questions and get those answers, the tax increase comes as a matter of course. People don’t complain about paying for a product that they value. They complain if they think they’re being ripped off or if they think somebody’s done a sleight of hand with them.”

Goldak later said that he believes “it’s about the kids. But it’s also about connecting to those tens of thousands of people in the school district who don’t have kids in the school district — either don’t have kids in the district or don’t have kids at home — who are paying the majority of the cost of the district. And they’re asking questions … I think we need to connect with people who don’t have the child in the classroom and who only know about what’s going on through what they read in the newspaper, and I think there’s enough things we can glean out of the newspaper that say: ‘Wow, we can answer those questions.’ We need to connect to the community by aggressively saying this is what we’re about and here’s why we’re about as well …”

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