We posted the list of questions that parents and other community members generated from our forum and asked the candidates to respond. Jan Mees did, and her responses are below. Thank you Jan!
Should supporting preschool education be a priority for CPS? Why or why not?
Yes, CPS supports and encourages preschool education. CPS recognizes the need for quality pre-school education, which helps students who are not ready to enter kindergarten acquire academic, social and emotional skills. Ideally, all students who enter CPS should have quality early childhood education. Approximately 800 students are currently enrolled in CPS’s pre-school programs. CPS is constructing a new Early Childhood Learning Center to centralize all programs aimed at early childhood education: Parents as Teachers, Early Childhood Special Education and Title I preschool classrooms. The state does not provide any money for early childhood education. CPS directs funds from our operating budget to these programs which confirms the Board’s commitment to early childhood education.
What would you do to boost teacher pay?
Approximately 80% of the CPS budget is allocated for staff salary and benefits. If the state had adequately funded the foundation formula, CPS would have an additional $12 million. Because this has not occurred, the tax levy proposal is now before our voters, of which 30 cents would help with salary for all staff. To boost teacher and staff pay, a sustainable and reliable revenue stream must be established.
With the ever expanding population of Columbia how would you have community members invest (time or money) in the school district?
Involvement of adults in the community is a win-win for students. Working through civic clubs, church groups, PTAs, being mentored by a current active parent volunteer and having a one on one connection to the district would enable more community members to be involved. The current Partner in Education program is a very successful and viable program, in which local businesses share their resources, not necessarily monetary resources, for the betterment of our school district.
Parents are concerned about the length of the lunch period. Children are not able to get thru the line & eat the lunches in such short amounts of time. What can the district do about this problem?
The state requires 1044 hours in school each year. Each district sets their calendar. Each school then sets their own building schedule, balancing core academic time, lunch, recess and other scheduled activities during the school day. This is often challenging. Bigger schools face more problems due to the mass number of lunches to be served in a shorter amount of time. School administrators have been creative in addressing this issue, however, sometimes no matter what is tried, some kids eat faster than others, some want to linger and socialize more and eat less. In order to provide longer lunch times, other activities must be re-scheduled and/or the school day could be lengthened. A longer school day, although preferable, would result in increased costs for staffing. I have eaten lunch with grandsons and with a high school student on a continual basis, and yes, we do have to eat faster than I prefer.
How can bullying be addressed at schools?
Bullying, by definition is an imbalance of power which is repetitive in nature. District policies addressing bullying are in place. Staff must receive professional development to recognize bullying. Schools should (and do) have curricular units on bullying. Counselors and school staff should have parent nights to discuss the signs, implications and strategies for dealing with bullying. Parents need to observe and talk to their children about this issue and recognize if a change in behavior might be the result of bullying. Students must be taught how destructive bullying can be and feel comfortable to report any incidents if they or their friends are the victims of bullying.
What about safety concerns @ school crossing areas where CPD states it is not responsible for traffic?
Safety of all students is critical. If CPD does not agree with a parent’s concern, it is suggested talking with the school administration and/or forming a task force of parents. If that does not yield success or compromise, talk to an assistant superintendent and/or the director of safety and security.
How important do you feel it is to work together with board members? And give an example of a successful collaboration you’ve been a part of.
Every election year potentially brings a change to the sitting board. It is imperative that board members work for the common goal of excellence in CPS. Virtually every meeting of the board and the work of the board committees bring board members in to situations when collaboration is essential. Collaboration does not necessarily mean agreement, but it does signify the acknowledgment of others’ points of view and decisions.
I recently saw a poll where Columbia has one of the best school districts in Missouri – #12. CPS received an A+ in the area of student culture and diversity. What do you see as contributors to such a stellar grade?
The vision of CPS is to be the best school district in the state. Each school has a unique culture established by the building leadership team and the staff. Each survey has different criteria. Not knowing which poll this was, I cannot give a clear answer.
Increasing parent involvement – removing barriers/restorative justice program – what about parents with a record?
Parents need to feel welcomed. If there is no legal restriction upon visitation or any other offense that prevents a person from being on school grounds, there should be no limitations.
How would you address the achievement gap in CPS?
Providing quality preschool education; providing teacher and staff professional development on ways to reach our most at-risk students; programs such as Reading Recovery and RTI (Response to Intervention); mentoring programs, community wide acknowledgement of the achievement gap and involvement in programs to support students such as the Cradle to Career initiative, Minority Men’s network, Worley Street Roundtable, Boys and Girls club.
How do you propose closing the achievement gap during the middle years?
Middle years are extremely challenging for many students who are struggling with identity as they move from child to independent young adult. Schools need to offer support in a variety of ways to keep kids engaged in academics while finding a niche and comfort zone with activities. Have a relationship with a caring adult who is ready to listen and advise students, partnered with a rigorous advisory curriculum addressing social and emotional issues of middle schoolers will help students recognize and acknowledge their feelings are not unusual.
Columbia is segregated by neighborhoods and as a result, schools tend to look like those neighborhoods, i.e. often NOT very diverse. How should the district address this, if at all?
Every effort is made to reflect the true diverse face of the Columbia community when school attendance boundaries are drawn. School diversity numbers can change over a period of time, due to a shift in demographics and/or new schools being built. However, sometimes balancing demographics perfectly is not ideal due to the location of a school in a particular area of the community which might have a higher concentration of a particular racial or ethnic group.
Does diversity matter?!
As our community and our nation become move diverse, yes, diversity matters and CPS recognizes and celebrates the diversity in our schools and our community.
Black students in CPS are 5.1 times more likely to be suspended as compared to all other groups. How would you use your seat to address this issue?
As a current board of education member, our new superintendent has, at the board’s request, included this metric as one that is targeted for improvement. The number of suspensions of black students has decreased dramatically. The board budget reflects our commitment to providing increased training for our educators on cultural differences such as equity training, restorative justice training, effects of poverty and how better to handle a behavior situation before escalation. The board has also entered into a Memo of Understanding between the CPD, Boone County Sheriff’s Department and the juvenile system to work to keep kids out of the juvenile system and the prison pipeline.
How would you promote women and minorities in leadership positions in the Administration and schools throughout the district?
Women and minorities in leadership positions should reflect the diversity of our community and our schools. This is difficult if the applicant pool is not reflective of the needs to attract women and minorities. This parallels with the efforts to hire more minority educators. In-district training programs should be offered to “grow our own” as well as providing mentoring for outstanding candidates who may not be in the current teaching pool but might consider a career change to join the education team.
What are we doing to bring more teachers in for all the current schools and new schools?
When a new school is opened, there is a shift in teachers primarily in the schools affected by the new attendance boundaries. About a year prior to opening, the principal is chosen and teachers in the district who are interested can apply. Even though students are moved from their previous schools, not all teachers who apply are also transferred, in order to keep continuity at both the new and the old school. In addition to teachers, office staff, media center staff, nurse, custodial positions are new positions, often filled from with the current CPS staff.
CPS recruits at job fairs throughout Missouri, at colleges and through various means of educational placement journals. According to our Human Resources Department, CPS received over 1600 applications for various jobs in the district (not necessarily all teaching positions) Columbia Public Schools is a very attractive district and teachers who apply here do so, in large part, because of our reputation. Having three institutions of higher education in Columbia also attracts not only College of Education graduates, but also spouses of university grad students or staff members who come to Columbia who would be qualified to teach in CPS.
How many students are currently enrolled in CPS?
(18,015) (this includes approximately 800 pre-K students
How do you plan to improve parental engagement in the education process?
Parental involvement is a key factor in a student’s success as evidenced by extensive research.
Make parents feel welcome – from the front office personnel to the classroom teacher to school administrators. Many parents had negative experiences when they were students and have brought that forward in their role as parents. Every parent, every guardian is important! No one should feel marginalized. Parents work to help their child in whatever way is doable in their personal lives.
Ensure communication is available in many different formats – and remember that communication is a two way street. Electronic means of communication is the norm. The personal one on one contact is more critical than any website or email.
Teachers need to reach out to families – a simple phone call, a chat in the hallway during pick up or drop off time, or an invitation to have lunch with the teacher and the student. Yes, time consuming for the educator, but pays off dividends in the long run to the success of the child. Recognize that not all parents have the luxury of an 8-5 job with long lunch hours. Arrange parent teacher conferences at various times during the day or evening, or even weekends. If parents do not speak English, arrange for translators.
Work with other community agencies or churches with whom there is a crossover of services.
Seek input from parents instead of always giving input – listen to their concerns, because they know their child the best.
What is your #1 priority as a potential board member?
My number one priority as a board member is to make decisions that are the best for the stakeholders – our students and our community.
If you could change one thing about our schools, what would it be?
Increase the involvement of parents and community members in our schools.
What is an issue you know of or have heard of that you would say is NOT a top priority for CPS? and why?
What is the most important issue facing the Columbia Public Schools?
The most important issue for CPS is the same as our mission: To provide an excellent education for ALL students. With that being said, the basic need for adequate and sustained funding to deliver quality education to CPS students because without adequate funding, it is impossible to retain and recruit high quality employees, to build and maintain our facilities, and to provide the best educational programming.