Your Questions – Jan Mees Responds

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.

More Questions Than Answers

Two weeks ago CPPS facilitated the community dialogue at following the film “Once Upon A Time, When Childcare for All Wasn’t Just A Fairy Tale, sponsored by the Cradle to Career Alliance.  The film centered around President Nixon’s veto of the Comprehensive Child Development Act in 1971, and how the bipartisan support for childcare evaporated as partisanship over “family values” rose to the fore.  It also highlighted the high quality childcare programs we currently provide for military families and asked how other families might benefit by access to such programs.

Many in attendance we unaware of this  history, and were surprised by other facts shared, including that dog kennels are in some places more regulated than child care, and that day care workers can in other places earn less that parking lot attendants.  You can download a discussion guide and transcript of the film here.

As one politician stated in the film, “fear in politics often trumps hope”.  Audience members observed that when this occurs, we often lose touch with what the research says, fall into “us v. them” thinking, and fail to work together to find the solutions that could help us move forward together in ways that could benefit us all.

Audience members also discussed what quality child-centered care can look like, referring to our school district’s Title 1 preschool programs, and asked why we as the “richest country in the world” can invest in banks, the auto industry, and other commercial venues, but dismiss similar investments for families and kids as unaffordable, even as the research demonstrates that the returns on such investments are significant (one participants cited a statistic of 700% in returns for each dollar invested in early childcare) and sustainable. One participant wrote:

Our way of life is reliant on government, like it or not; some provision needs to be made.

Others observed that change never happens overnight, — that it is incremental change that drives larger change –, that even when change occurs little progress is often made in equity for minority communities, and that for the political system to work for good, that good needs to intersect with more opportunistic benefits for one or more interest groups. Participants also expressed hope that as more families are in need of quality care, and more of our children fall into poverty, the political will to invest in quality daycare, particularly for our kids in greatest need, may build.

One point noted in the film, which was echoed in the audience discussion, was that how we talk about an issue has a significant effect on the way we work together and what we as a community are willing to support. The Raising of America website contains tips and an excellent “action toolkit” that you can download.  These resources will help you think about what words to use if you want to encourage greater investment in our kids, and to address the arguments that have prevented that investment in the past.

 

Updates and Upcoming Events

I had the privilege Thursday night of attending the Columbia Public School’s Hall of Leaders event which honored 2 outstanding volunteers – one of them being CPPS board member Steve Calloway-, 5 retired teachers and 5 outstanding alumni.  It was easy to feel proud of our schools and the education they offer when listening to high school musicians play beautifully, eating food prepared and served by students in the high school culinary arts program, and watching the excitement and pride on the students’ faces as they were complimented and supported by the community members who attended.  Listening to the honorees speak was also inspiring. The alumni each talked about how the educational foundation they built at CPS contributed to their success, and each mentioned specific teachers as well as feeling the support of the community. Those who had left Columbia talked about how they wish their kids had access to a similar system.  The teachers each talked about how much they loved teaching, and how rewarding it was to help our children and see them grow.  The volunteers reminded us how the schools can’t do it alone — that ultimately our public schools are community schools and they thrive when the community invests its time and energy.  Steve talked about the achievement gap and expressed his belief that Columbia has everything it needs to close it  — we just need the commitment to do so, which requires that we believe and invest in all of our kids.

The importance of community support of and involvement in our schools was also a key theme at the second dialogue session we hosted using the Ensuring Our Future dialogue guide. This session was held at the ARC on September 26, 2015.  Although we had a smaller group than at our first dialogue, they were thoughtful and energized! Compared to the support discussed by CPS alumni at the HAll of Leaders event, the sense of the dialogue participants was that that support had eroded as Columbia has grown and needs to be strengthened. We can do that by being honest about the issues; all of us (parents + teachers + students + community) working to support, understand and care for each other; and  focusing on the real needs of our community.  This too requires a sustained commitment, and a willingness to focus on the common good.  Read the notes here.

There will be more opportunities in the months to come to learn about the needs of our children and families, to talk with one another, and to take action together to strengthen our community.  We will be working with the Cradle to Career Network to promote and facilitate dialogues around the documentary series The Raising of America which premieres on November 17.  You can watch on PBS or at watch parties around town.  Stay tuned for the schedule of follow-up dialogues and documentary segments.  Details will be posted here.

Report On Annual Meeting and Dialogue: Ensuring Our Future

We had approximately 20 engaged community members attend the dialogue co-hosted by Columbia Parents for Public Schools and the Cradle to Career Alliance on June 20, 2015.  The focus of the dialogue was “Ensuring the Future: What Should Communities Do To Help Children Succeed?”, and we used the community dialogue guide of that same name developed by PPS in conjunction with the Kettering Foundation to help structure the discussions.  Pam Conway, Executive Director of the Cradle to Career Alliance led off with a summary of what has been done in the last year, particularly with regard to early childhood education, and she and Sarah Read, President of CPPS, also discussed early adolescence as a critical time for intervention and shared some statistics on challenges in Boone County.  Did you know that the refugee population in Columbia alone has doubled from 600 to 1200 in the last year? Or that children in Boone County currently have a lower chance of upward social mobility than children living anywhere else in Missouri?  Neither did many of those present.
The small group discussions were energized and productive – you can download and read a full set of moderator notes here.  Some of the key themes that emerged were:
  • Community – the schools aren’t responsible for raising our youth, although they play an important role.  Families and community are.  Yet as many participants noted, there is no clear, consistent, and coherent “community voice” in Columbia or the county indicating what we expect of our families or youth.
  • Collaboration – many organizations address educational and youth issues, and these often compete for scarce funds and operate in silos.  The Cradle to Career Alliance exists in part to help improve collaboration among identified organizations.  A key question to ask though is, how do we more consistently collaborate as citizens in our community to develop the structures, messages, and other guidance our youth need?
  • Confronting Reality – if we are going to move forward we need to acknowledge and frankly talk about systemic issues like bias and poverty, as well as facts like dysfunction in families, inappropriate conduct in youth, apathy in significant segments of the community, and a focus on politically acceptable “band-aid” solutions that displace other approaches that could result in more appreciable change.  There need to be safe places for this type of dialogue, meaning places where we can learn from each other without harsh judgment and finger-pointing.
  • Accountability –  Families, students, schools, and community members need to be accountable for their role in helping our children grow up to be responsible, productive, citizens.  But what are we accountable for?  A key gap identified in the dialogue was a common understanding of what “success”, or “high expectations” should be.  Despite this gap, some common responsibilities were identified: being aware of the needs, and being involved in finding ways to do things better.  We will be having more dialogue about expectations, raising awareness, and increasing involvement. We hope you will join us, either by adding comments below or by sending an e-mail to columbiaparents4publicschools@gmail.com and being added to our list-serv for future events.

Our discussion also generated a number of good ideas that we will be continuing to discuss, such as becoming “an early child-hood informed community”; extending the “buddy pack” program to pre-schoolers; providing mandatory mental health education in middle school, and increasing the awareness of drug and alcohol abuse and its effects for those in high school.  Many participants focused on the need for mentoring and internships that teach soft skills and build social capital.  There have been and are mentoring programs in Columbia, but again they are not community wide and often operate in silos. Resources and efforts we could evaluate include the Minnesota Mentoring Partnership, the Washington DC Tutoring and Mentoring Initiative, or the new American Institute for Innovative Apprenticeship.  Again, if you are interested in joining future dialogues, contact us columbiaparents4publicschools@gmail.com.

At the end of the dialogues, CPPS members confirmed the board for this year:  Sarah Read, President; Elizabeth Peterson, Vice President; Angie Cunningham, Secretary and Treasurer; Steve Calloway, Joe Toepke, Terra Schultz, and Tyree Byndom.  Feel free to contact any member of the board with your ideas and suggestions.

Join Us For Annual Meeting and For Dialogue – SAT June 20, 9 am

Columbia Parents for Public Schools and the Cradle to Career Alliance are co-hosting a dialogue on June 20, 2015, 9 am to 11 am at the Family Impact Center, 105 East Ash.  The focus of the dialogue is “Ensuring the Future: What Should Communities Do To Help Children Succeed?”  We will be using a community dialogue guide of that same name developed by PPS in conjunction with the Kettering Foundation to help structure the discussions. You can download the guide here. Pam Conway, Executive Director of the Cradle to Career Alliance will lead off with a summary of what has been done in the last year.  You are invited to join us, although space is limited!  Please RSVP to columbiaparents4publicschools@gmail.com .

Immediately following the dialogue we will have our annual members meeting, from 11 to 11:30.

We welcome your involvement and hope to see you there!

Our Public Schools: Diverse, Democratic, and Uniquely American

At our rally last October, guest speaker Rep. Stephen Webber described our public schools as a key part of what makes us “Americans”. This got us talking about all of the ways our public schools work to support ideals that are uniquely American – something that is easy to forget with the regular onslaught of negative news about schools. What makes public schools so American? They are where people go to find opportunity. They reflect the creative energy that diversity generates – an energy that has led to many of our country’s historic advances in a range of fields, including science, music and literature, and to our country’s economic successes. Public schools are also a place that help build a sense of community, particularly among citizens who move often or come from different countries and backgrounds.

PPS has long recognized diversity as a key strength and benefit of our public schools. Here our children learn who they are and how to work with others. Being in a diverse population can help our children learn compassion, to articulate what they believe and why, and to value and learn from experiences and viewpoints different from their own. Public schools are also a place where students (and parents) are challenged by diversity and forced to confront behaviors and values that they don’t accept or agree with, and meet others that they may fear. How we as parents help them navigate that challenge makes a difference in how they view their own place in the community and in our country.

One way we help our children learn to navigate the larger world is through telling stories. The US Department of Arts and Culture, this year hosted “story circles” in conjunction with the President’s State of the Union address. The purpose of these circles was to generate stories that could be woven into a “Peoples State of the Union, 2015 Poetic Address to the Nation” to be delivered on February 1 by a diverse group of poets from across the US. Local nonprofit Jabberwocky Studios, Inc. hosted one of the 150+ Story Circles that registered nationwide with the USDAC. Participants in the story circles were asked to respond to one of three invitations: Tell a story about a moment you felt true belonging – or the opposite — in this country or your community; Describe an experience that showed you something new or important about the state of our community; or Share about a time you stood together with people in your community.”

Using a similar theme of “Harmonious Voices in A Diverse Community”, this year’s Columbia Values Diversity Celebration, invited students to share their thoughts on diversity and community. The student writings were featured as part of the celebration. The thoughts shared by the students were challenging and hopeful.

Inspired by these events we want to invite you – both parents and students – to share your stories and thoughts on the theme of public schools and community. Although our invitation is not limited to the following, we offer the following three invitations to help you get started.

  • Tell us about a time that your public schools helped you feel a sense of belonging – or the opposite – to a community or to your country.

  • Describe an experience within your public schools that led you to new awareness of and sense of unity with others in our community, or gave you new insight into challenges faced by others.

  • Tell us about a time when you spoke-up for your community’s public schools.

We look forward to your stories!  Share them in the comment section below or send to columbiaparents4publicschools@gmail.com and we will post them for you!

Community Matters For Healthy Public Schools

We were pleased that the Orton Foundation recently featured CPPS on its Community Matters blog.  The kind of dialogue we promote has helped our schools through several tough issues over the years, from bond issues, to school superintendent selection, to the transition to all day kindergarten, to the recent grade reconfiguration.  What you do as parents and citizens to understand the issues, monitor progress, and share information makes a difference! Positively engaged communities = healthy schools = a better future for all.  Keep up the good work!