The West County Board of Education met in regular session Thursday night to approve district reports and to discuss safety concerns following the recent national focus on school safety.
The board first heard reports from preschool and Parents as Teachers staff members Beth Henson, Amy Therrell and Susan Whitter about the programs’ status and growth. Henson said the preschool had added additional students to the morning and afternoon sessions.
“By doing that — by adding those extra kids — we have almost wiped out the waiting list,” she said. “This year, we don’t have a waiting list at all. We’ve been trying to figure out a way to do that for a long time.”
Following the staff report, Superintendent Stacy Stevens said the district is particularly proud of the early childhood staff for providing many students with a good first impression of the district and school in general.
“We couldn’t ask for better people to be going into homes and representing our district,” Stevens said. “That first experience, whether it be off-site or on-site, is huge. They go in with a smile and work hard. We’re very appreciative of their efforts.”
In administrator’s reports, Middle School Kevin Coffman pointed to an increase in parental involvement at his campus as a result of continuing a focus of Elementary Principal Todd Watson.
“Last year about this time, I’d met with Mr. Stevens and one of the biggest things that we were not able to accomplish was parental involvement,” Coffman said. “We talked about how poorly-attended our parent-teacher conferences were. We were probably only getting about 10 percent of our parents in. So we looked at some things, sent some teachers to some training, and I decided I wanted to carry on what Todd was doing at the elementary.
“We implemented the Seven Habits of Highly Successful Teens at the Middle School. This year we incorporated two of those skills and we’ll be incorporating all seven in the next two or three years so they have all seven by the time they get out.”
Coffman said the initiative included student-led conferences with parents and teachers, giving students ownership of the conversation. He said at last count, parent-teacher conference attendance is now at 65 percent.
He also lauded students and fellow administrators for how the district handled the national student walkout planned for Wednesday regarding gun violence in schools after the Parkland, Florida school shooting a month ago.
“You guys saw all the national attention about all the students walking out,” Coffman said. “We went at it a little differently at the middle school and high school. Instead of walking out, we did a ‘stand-up.’ The stand-up was not only for the victims, but we also gave a challenge to our students and staff.
“That challenge was to find 17 people that they don’t normally associate with — the students who sit by themselves at lunch or the teachers that they don’t have a great rapport with — to try to make a connection with them this next week.”
Stevens said he was very proud of the students for how the day went, especially with so much national, politically-charged pressure on them.
“I’m proud of our kids, our administrators and our staff,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that our kids feel comfortable enough to go to our administrators and our teachers and say, ‘Hey, this is happening. Can we talk through this?’”
Later in the meeting, Stevens opened the floor to conversation about school safety and where the board would like to see improvements.
“I’ve heard everything from arming teachers and administrators, to school resource officers, to bulletproof windows and doors, metal detectors, resources for mental health and bulletproof safe rooms,” Stevens said. “There’s a lot of talk amongst boards and administrators — nationally and locally.”
The board questioned the campus administrators about what improvements they would like to see, and the group extensively discussed options for improving campus safety and minimizing vulnerabilities.
Board members and administrators repeatedly stressed the fact that the most important factor in terms of school safety is the students themselves — their comfortability with reporting things that seem out of place and their relationships with one another and administrators.
In other business, the board approved the district calendar for 2018-2019, with a start day of Aug. 16. The board also approved an e-rate funding request and updated homebound education hourly pay, keeping the base pay at $15 per hour while increasing the hourly pay to $20 for certified staff.
Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at email@example.com.