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Posts Tagged ‘Jan Mees’

The discussion on merit pay will be ongoing in Columbia, nation-wide and world-wide at several levels of education. Go to U.Town, our higher education blog, to continue reading the discussion.

So, I admit, I am in love with Scotland. And as the good journalism student that I am, I check up on Edinburgh’s newspaper, The Scotsman, regularly. Last week I ran across an article poking at the very subject I faced at the first school board meeting I covered in January. Rightfully so, it has been the hottest topic I’ve witnessed in the board room and has created some controversy.

The General Teaching Council for Scotland has announced that they will implement a new re-accreditation system for teachers. The council wants to make sure that teaching standards are where they should be. While this is not exactly what Columbia is looking at, it does get teachers worried.

“There’s not nearly enough information, and that’s going to terrify teachers,” she said. “They need to know how it’s going to work, how it’s going to be funded and what it’s going to mean.”

-Ann Ballinger, general secretary of the Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association

Teachers in Columbia have the same concerns.

Columbia is looking at basing teacher’s pay on student performance, a practice known as merit pay. The school board has not decided on this yet, but it will be looked at for possible implementation by 2014.

Needless to say, teachers all over the world are concerned about the extra stress. At the January 21 meeting, this issue took up about a a full hour of the three that we were there. Representatives from the Missouri State Teachers Association (MSTA) and local teachers spoke their concerns.

David Bond, a MSTA representative, was strongly against merit pay, saying teaching is an art and cannot be determined based on student scores.

My article as well as The Scotsman’s bring up the other side of the argument. If other businesses work this way, then why shouldn’t education? Many simply say that the business of education is like no other.

After much debate and deliberation, Jan Mees and others against the proposal decided to put it to rest for now. However, this isn’t the last Columbia will hear about the new system, especially as systems like Scotland’s, moves in this controversial direction.

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My night was filled with laughter, curiosity and the scent of incredible appetizers brought from kitchens across Columbia. The Columbia School Board candidates seemed to enjoy it, too.

I just got back from the Progressive Women of Mid-Missouri Spring Social, an event encompassing a house full of women and candidates running for mayor, treasurer, the Fourth ward council seat, presiding commissioner and, of course, Columbia School Board.

President Jan Mees and James Whitt, both running for three-year terms were, were in attendance, as well as Jonathan Sessions and Philip Peters Jr., who are running for one-year terms. Dan Holt was unable to attend.  The candidates stood holding signs with their names on them, laughing and, sometimes, blocking their opponent with them. The room couldn’t help but laugh along.

I had a chance to talk to each of them and introduce myself for the first time. I have to say, they were all playful and talkative eager to answer a house full of questions and concerns.

Johanna Cox-Littrell held the event at her home with the help of her co-host Sarah Catlin-Dupuy. The Progressive Women of Mid-Missouri began in 2005, and Cox-Littrell joined two years ago, before she even moved into the home I spoke to her in.  She was visiting Columbia to house-shop and discovered the group.

“I knew I was part of it from then on,” she said.

The group works to inform women about candidates running for office. Any progressive woman can join the group and attend the socials that occur once a year. There are no meetings, membership, dues or fees, just a couple fun nights where the women can meet like-minded women.

“We know everyone has a million things to do,” Cox-Littrell said, laughing.

Kristin Metcalf-Wilson spoke for the Women’s Policy Alliance, a non-profit group that provides policy makers with information promoting opportunities for women and equality. She described the event as being “fabulous to see activists together for a good cause.”

It was an evening that had a feeling of warmth despite the frigid air outside and hopefully one of many enjoyable events alongside our possible Columbia School Board members.

For future forums, debates and candidate information check out ColumbiaMissourian.com

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School Board Policy Committee members met Thursday to discuss various issues. The issue of giving teachers monetary incentive to notify the district of their plans to retire earlier, as well as the possibility of putting a cap on the number of sick days a district employee can accrue were talked about and reported on in the Columbia Missourian.

Board Committees

The committee looked at the board’s standing and advisory committee policy and discussed whether to include community members on the committees. Currently, the policy states that the finance committee may have up to two citizen members with “special expertise” in fields such as accounting, auditing or finance.

Member Karla DeSpain was in favor of seeing more community members serve on the board committees. She said the current process is “very insular” and having community members on the committees would strengthen their discussions.

On the other hand, member Michelle Pruitt said that she thinks the current situation is doing just fine. She pointed out that community members are not held accountable to the voters and it would be very difficult to determine who would serve on each committee and whether they would have a vote.

Board President Jan Mees sided with Pruitt, saying there are already opportunities for community members to get involved, especially with the new Comprehensive School Improvement Plan. She would rather leave it up to the individual committees to decide if they want to include members of the community.

At the end of the discussion, Nick Boren, chief operations officer, pointed out that the current policy does allow for committees to be comprised of three board members and “such additional members as provided by board policies.” In short, that means the committees already have the option to include community members if there is a specific need and the board approves that need.

Tutoring students

In another discussion, the committee talked about staff conflict of interest policy that prevents teachers from tutoring their own students for pay. The policy reads:

“An employee will not receive compensation other than the compensation received from the district for tutoring students currently enrolled in a class the employee teaches unless authorized by the Board of Education. Private tutoring of students for a fee may not occur on district property unless all facility usage policies and procedures have been met.”

Parents have requested that the policy be changed to allow music teachers to tutor their students. DeSpain said that band is not as broadly based as other subjects like math or english. She also feels that the teacher should not be prohibited from using school facilities to tutor students because often times it is more convenient for the parent to bring the child back to school.

“I would be very much in favor of letting the music specialists use out facilities after hours for this purpose,” DeSpain said.

Transfer students

Jack Jensen, assistant superintendent for elementary education, talked briefly about transfer students at the meeting.

“I think with No Child Left Behind we’re beginning to see some of the problems that our current policy has,” he said.

Mees said current district policy does need to change to accommodate NCLB. She proposed possibly holding off on transfers until the school receives the NCLB information for that year.

The problem with that scenario, Jensen pointed out, is that it would be tough to move so many teachers around right after the school year starts. It would not only be tough on teachers, but on the buildings as a whole.

“We might have to just re-prioritize,” Mees said.

Jensen hopes to minimize the negative impact on students with any policy change. He is not ready to make any policy recommendations at this time, he said.

Obama’s speech

Pat Fowler, community member, attended the committee meeting to discuss her own policy recommendations. She addressed the board regarding its handling of President Barack Obama’s speech to schoolchildren at last month’s board meeting. At this meeting, she expressed that too much burden was placed on teachers, discouraging them from showing the speech.

Fowler’s policy recommendations included conducting a survey of the district and its teachers to determine how many students saw Obama’s speech, making it a requirement that all future presidential speeches be shown in every classroom and auditorium where children will be gathered and recognizing Martin Luther King’s Birthday in January and Sept. 11 as national days of service, which would require the board to organize service days when the event does not fall on a scheduled day of classroom instruction.

The policies proposed to the board generated a great deal of discussion.

Pruitt is in favor of leaving the day-to-day operations of schools up to the individual school’s administration. She doesn’t want the board to tread on principal’s leadership ability.

“It’s such a specific issue,” she said.

DeSpain agreed that many teachers shied away from showing the speech because they didn’t want to deal with the “guff” they might get for showing it in class. She does support encouraging schools to consider other options for showing any future presidential speeches directed at schoolchildren and wants the board to be better prepared for any similar speeches in the future.

Fowler’s concern was that students who did not see the speech in school were not able to access it at home. Many low-income families lack adequate phone, cable and Internet access, rendering viewing of the speech at home nearly impossible. Committee members said they would entertain ideas of how to reach these children and allow them to view the speech in other ways.

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The Columbia School Board had what Superintendent Chris Belcher referred to as “good dialogue” Monday night regarding the amendment for Title I funding. The Title I amendment money will be used for:

1). Expansion of early childhood classrooms with the addition of three more early childhood classes. This would allow 90 more students.

2). Allow for more professional development, literacy materials and supplies for Columbia’s six Titles I-qualified elementary schools. Those elementary schools: West Boulevard, Field, Benton, Parkade, Derby Ridge and Blue Ridge.

The literacy materials that will be bought with the Title I funds are chosen based on a program called Literacy by Design, which offers opportunities for read aloud and small group instruction. Dr. Lyon, Chief Academic Officer made clear that Literacy by Design is not a curriculum, but rather a program. Not all children are on the same level of reading in a classroom, and this program allows teachers to choose a “well-balanced” set of literature to meet each student’s needs and levels.

Still the issue remains: Are these programs being effective? And, most important, according to board member Ines Segert, how can the board measure to make sure these programs are effective? Segert brought up the point that there is no empirical data determining that Literacy by Design works. Board member Michelle Pruitt agreed that an effective early childhood program is key, but a clear program for what is being evaluated is also necessary.

Jan Mees made the counter argument that Title I funds must be used within the next two years; therefore, there isn’t much time to gather data to determine whether the programs are working. Students are waiting for early childhood learning and if board members don’t act, then they miss the opportunity to help those students.

The waiting list for early childhood learning continues to grow. Because 4-year-olds are given priority, 3-year-olds remain on the waiting list.

Pruitt maintained that a timeline is needed and specific data to evaluate whether these programs are working. “We are accountable for K-five map scores and nothing is in place to gather data we need to know,” Pruitt said.

Segert agreed and added, “Map scores are going down . . . We need to start evaluating what we have. What is working? What is not working?”

Board President Jan Mees held to the stance that the stimulus money must be used within a limited time period and, “We can help some kids get something for the next year and a half.”

In the end, the school board voted 4-3 to pass the Title I budget amendment for 2009-10.

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