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

Tuition-free, full-day kindergarten among school board’s priorities

Superintendent will work on aligning vision statements with district’s CSIP

Tuition-free, full-day kindergarten classes and increasing instructional time were among priorities established by the Mehlville Board of Education Saturday morning during a goals-setting session.

Board members voted unanimously to approve seven overarching vision statements for the current school year. The vision statements encompass student achievement; board governance; facilities and strategic planning; technology; fiscal responsibility; highly qualified staff and professional development; and community engagement.

During the roughly three-hour meeting, board members also identified specific goals they want to focus on for student achievement and board governance. Due to time constraints, specific goals will be discussed later for the remaining five vision statements.

Superintendent Eric Knost said he would work to align the board’s vision statements with Mehlville’s Comprehensive School Improvement Plan, or CSIP.

Every school district in the state is required to formulate a five-year CSIP as part of the Missouri School Improvement Program. The plan sets the direction the district will take over the next five years by serving as a guide in making resource and process decisions designed to lead to improved student performance and other districtwide objectives.

The CSIP is reviewed and revised annually. Board members voted in early December to revise the CSIP that originally was adopted in 2010.

When finalized, the board’s new goals will replace ones formulated two years ago.

Student achievement

Full-day kindergarten arose early in the discussion about student achievement. Board Secretary Elaine Powers said she believes there is a “tremendous amount of research that talks about the difference between half-day and full-day (kindergarten) and long-term outcomes for children.”

“Children who participate in full-day kindergarten are not held back as often (and) do better on standardized testing,” she said. “I’m not sure what (the statistics) all say, but overall, you put the money to them now when they’re young, then you’re spending less on them later on.”

Knost told the board he will present a proposal on tuition-free, full-day kindergarten later this month. The presentation will focus on the cost of adding tuition-free full-day kindergarten to the district.

A facilities study Knost conducted shows that if every child currently enrolled in kindergarten moved to full-day status, only two buildings would be unable to handle the number of children. Knost’s proposal is for full-day kindergarten to start with the 2013-2014 school year.

Full-day kindergarten was an approved goal, along with assessment of student progress, increase instructional time and curriculum/specific courses.

The overarching vision statement for student achievement includes striving for academic excellence and examining the direct benefit of the student through educators, curriculum, funding, policy and procedure and emphasizing core skills.

Board governance

The board voted to improve the board governance vision statement from 2010-2011 by combining it with the CSIP goal and this year’s suggested vision. Governing the district efficiently and effectively, while providing leadership to benefit the community and district, and being advocates for public education, encompassed the statement.

Some board members voiced concerns with the suggested vision statement because it mostly focused on how the board conducts meetings.

Goals aligned with the vision statement include: Improve meeting structure; improve board training and professional development, board role in advocacy and board engagement with district schools.

Fiscal responsibility

Vice President Larry Felton said discussing fiscal responsibility is fundamental to other items talked about at the meeting.

“I think we’ve got to talk about some suggestions and maybe restructure the budget in terms of line items we’ve identified,” Felton said.

The board’s fiscal responsibility vision statement focused on ensuring fiscal responsibility and transparency in managing public financial resources through providing an “excellent return on investment.”

Board member Mark Stoner suggested the board hold off on discussing fiscal responsibility more in-depth because a budget workshop is scheduled next month.

“This is going to get to be a long thing with the finances, and it has been and will continue to be so,” Stoner said. “Since we’ve already quasi-adopted at least some kind of change for a workshop that maybe we hold that off …”

Felton said he believes the board’s goal has to be to examine the budget and look at how to adjust and make decisions.

“Every time we adjust the budget, we make decisions on, ‘Does more go there or does more go here?’ rather than it just kind of varies in the cost … If you know how you’re going to assess and what component that has in finances, you’ve got an idea,” Felton said. “Costs are isolated and visible and transparent and (that) gives people a better idea of where your money’s going.”

However, Knost said there could be challenges in saying certain amounts of funds will always go to one part of the budget and doing so does not leave as much room for flexibility. Knost suggested the discussion be sent to the district’s finance committee.

“I think that’s a great place to have that discussion and look for some guidance there,” Knost said.

Due to time constraints, no final goals regarding fiscal responsibility were reached.


During discussion of Stoner’s technology vision statement proposal, Felton voiced concerns about developing broad statements for each goal.

“I think we’ve got to talk about some suggestions and maybe restructure the budget in terms of line items we’ve identified … I think that’s fundamental to some of these other things we talked about,” Felton said.

Felton’s concern arose during discussion of whether to keep the following phrase in the technology vision statement — “and yet support long-term cost reduction.”

Stoner said he wanted to keep that line in the statement.

“Part of the goal inherently in technology is to support long-term cost reduction,” Stoner said. “It’s not to increase cost, otherwise why even bother investing in it?”

Stoner’s concern with the budget aspect was that technology can take a large part of the budget if there is no direction.

“Technology can just consume the budget,” Stoner said, “and you know from this business it can absolutely bulldoze your budget if you don’t have some kind of component.”

However, Powers said if the right financial and budget management goals are in place, the board will be watching how much certain aspects consume the budget, regardless of topic.

“I think that is implied that all of these things will be done within the context of the financial goals we put in place,” Powers said.

The final technology vision statement encompasses the ability for technology to become a part of the education strategy in achieving academic excellence. No further details were discussed due to time constraints.

Facilities and strategic planning

For facilities and strategic planning, the board approved a vision statement to focus on providing and maintaining facilities that will support curriculum, while providing a safe and healthy environment.

Board President Venki Palamand said it would be nice to include the phrase “students and staff,” though when voted on, only board member Ron Fedorchak opposed its removal.

Felton said buildings in the district are not just for students and staff but anyone in the community.

Further details concerning goals were not discussed.

Highly qualified staff, community engagement

The board came to a consensus on the vision statement for highly qualified staff and professional development, which said the Board of Education will work to attract, recruit and retain highly qualified staff in carrying out the school district’s mission of improving academic excellence.

The board also came to a consensus on the community engagement vision statement, which said the board will “foster a sense of community and proactively seek family and community involvement in the education of all students.”

Details on how to attain the approved goals were not discussed Saturday.

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