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School boards, administrators issue new vision for Missouri schools

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 18, 2011 - What does Missouri need to do to push its schools into the top tier nationwide?

A new report out from the organizations that represent the state's public school boards and school administrators has a blueprint that echoes many of the recommendations that education officials have been making for years: Better early-childhood training. Stronger preparation and support for teachers. Higher expectations. A culture of success. Financial support to make these goals a reality.

Titled "Vision Missouri," the report issued Tuesday is a collaboration between the Missouri Association of School Administrators and the Missouri School Boards' Association. The groups note that they have each developed advocacy positions in the past but this is the first time they have worked jointly.

Their bottom line:

Public education in Missouri "will consist of effective teachers, school administrators, and boards of education who establish high expectations for students with the objective of developing a mastery of literacy and numeracy. Common core standards, rooted in a culture of innovation and continuous improvement and technology, will be the foundation for learning.

"With parent support, every child will enter kindergarten ready to learn. Students will be accountable for their learning and demonstrate mastery of the curriculum as they progress through the learning system. Acting on behalf of the citizenry, school boards and local, state, and federal governments will be accountable for supporting every child's learning."

To put together their recommendations, the groups began working in August 2010 to form task forces in seven areas:

  • Teaching
  • Early learning
  • Values
  • People
  • Leadership
  • Environment
  • Finance

Among the major recommendations in each area:
Teaching: Make sure different teaching methods and instructional time are available to account for students' different needs and learning styles. Integrate updated technology at all levels across all subjects, and recruit the state's best and brightest students to become teachers.

Early learning: Develop standards for voluntary, free, quality preschool programs accessible to all families. Invest in high-quality teachers. Involve parents as partners in their children's success.

Values: Make school buildings an inviting hub for students, parents, staff and the community at large. Share good news and address misconceptions. Celebrate diversity and ensure safety.

People: Improve the effectiveness of teachers to ensure higher student achievement. Provide effective governance of schools, with people whose only agenda is top-flight education. Collaborate to develop future talent.

Leadership: Ensure that policy is focused on good education, not partisan ideology. Develop accountability and strong, informative data systems. Use creativity to work outside of limits set by the calendar and the boundaries of the school building.

Environment: Provide facilities that promote learning, with money to pay for construction and renovation. Revise the formula that pays for student transportation. Make sure schools use energy efficiently.

Finance: To be in the top 10 academically, Missouri must be in the same rank financially. Review property assessment practices to make sure they are uniform and equitable statewide. Establish guidelines for enrollment options.

"The work of the planning teams is only the first step," the report concluded. "Their recommendations must lead to actions at the local, state, and federal levels for this vision to become reality."

Dale Singer began his career in professional journalism in 1969 by talking his way into a summer vacation replacement job at the now-defunct United Press International bureau in St. Louis; he later joined UPI full-time in 1972. Eight years later, he moved to the Post-Dispatch, where for the next 28-plus years he was a business reporter and editor, a Metro reporter specializing in education, assistant editor of the Editorial Page for 10 years and finally news editor of the newspaper's website. In September of 2008, he joined the staff of the Beacon, where he reported primarily on education. In addition to practicing journalism, Dale has been an adjunct professor at University College at Washington U. He and his wife live in west St. Louis County with their spoiled Bichon, Teddy. They have two adult daughters, who have followed them into the word business as a communications manager and a website editor, and three grandchildren. Dale reported for St. Louis Public Radio from 2013 to 2016.