The Mehlville School Board met for a retreat Saturday to discuss its goals and priorities for the 2011-12 school year. With four new board members, a new superintendent and a tax increase that failed to pass in November, the board had a long agenda detailing budget priorities, facilities, interacting with the community and student achievement.
Editor's note: We'll have several follow-ups to Saturday's retreat in the coming days.
To increase student achievement in the district, Superintendent Eric Knost said he wanted to ramp up Advanced Placement (AP) and weighted courses at *both and .
Knost said kids can graduate from high school with a completed associate’s degree and other college credits. Getting students to take these classes will have to start with the guidance departments, pushing kids to take the SAT and more advanced courses, he said.
“If kids know they can do more than just graduate from high school, it creates more of a demand for those classes,” he said
Board member Elaine Powers said she’d like to see more AP alignment between the two high schools. She said her daughter goes to Mehlville High School and is interested in some classes only offered at Oakville.
Knost said each AP class needs a certain number of kids to enroll to have the class.
“But, if there are kids interested, we’ve bused kids over to another school for a class, or allowed them to drive,” he said. “We need to bring kids and parents along to take advantage of the opportunity."
If the district is going to raise student expectations, board member Rich Franz said, they need to help parents understand what their kids need to do.
Knost said kids are already required to lay down a four-year plan coming in to high school. *As early as this year, they would also set goals for after graduation.
“I’d want on record what they’ve stated as a post-secondary plan going into ninth grade,” he said. “Whether its career-readiness or college, we can keep kids and parents accountable.”
Knost also presented to the board his idea of creating a ninth-grade academy for students who may not be ready for high school, but who have passed the eighth grade.
The program would identify those kids and tailor the ninth-grade year for the students. On the core courses, they’d work with a teacher one-on-one or in a study group, but for elective courses, they would join the rest of the high school population.
Knost said he would put a trial together as early as next year.
These improvements would be part of a larger plan to raise the minimum passing grade . Although the change would not happen overnight, Knost said he wanted to start studying it with district staff.
“I tend to believe if that threshold is higher, the majority of kids are going to ask what to do to meet that threshold,” he said, contending that those who would fail with the new system would have likely failed at the 60 percent benchmark as well.
“I think it’s bold. It’ll cause phones to ring,” Knost said.
Powers asked if the new system would inadvertently change the way teachers grade or teach, and Board President Venki Palamand suggested the increase be implemented in steps of 65 and then 70 percent to avoid unintended consequences.
To continue the district’s character education, which started with , Knost wants each school in the district to increase behavioral expectations.
applied and was selected for a school year, and this year, Knost said all elementary schools will be applying to be a school of character. In three years, Knost believes the district could become a District of Character.
With most character education projects involving organizations outside the district, the board and Knost outlined goals for improving relations with the community.
The board gave approval for Knost to move forward with a plan to create a more overarching form of community engagement.
In a public meeting either quarterly or twice a year, Knost said he would host a forum in a neutral location for community members to discuss district issues.
“We would not present an agenda,” Knost said. “We would simply sit in receive mode.”
New board member Ron Fedorchak suggested the idea of meeting at the food court in the .
“People may come by and talk who didn’t even know it was going on,” he said.
Knost said the purpose of this meeting was to try another form of involving the community, different from COMPASS I and II.
“We don’t need to wait for a developing ballot issue to make this happen,” Knost said.
The board will also be reviving two committees in facilities and finance and asking community members to serve and advise.
These committees will have board representation, but be made primarily of community experts.
“The purpose of the finance committee would be to address issues and give advice to financial priorities, agendas, timelines, bond issues and tax increases,” Franz said. “We’re going to need the advice of professionals to take us down that road.”
*The following was updated at 8:45 a.m. for clarifications.