Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sorry Annie and Mike, it's bluejeans every Friday for Joplin teachers

Change is coming to Joplin R-8 school buildings when teachers and students return from Christmas break, despite the whining and protestations of Board of Education President Anne Sharp and board member Mike Landis.

Every Friday will be an Eagle Pride Day.

Translation for those who are not up to date with Joplin School District terminology- teachers can wear bluejeans on Friday.

The change was one that was fought for by board members Lynda Banwart, who recommended it at the November 25 board meeting and Debbie Fort, who noted in August that it would be much appreciated by staff and that it was something that was being done by her employer, Missouri Southern State University.

But the stodgy older faction of the board, those who have been on the board since before most of the current Joplin High School enrollment was born- Landis and Sharp, were staunchly opposed to the change.

"I will not vote for that," Landis blustered November 25. Landis noted that the Joplin School District was one of the largest employers in the city and teachers needed to show professionalism.

Both Landis and Sharp have noted the importance of such strict standards since Joplin wants to be the area's "employer of choice." Unmentioned is that with Sharp and Landis at the helm and blindly approving each decision made by the C. J. Huff Administration, the Joplin R-8 School District has become the area's largest exporter of teachers.

Prior to this change in district policy, teachers had been allowed to wear bluejeans once  a month, normally on the Friday nearest to payday on the 20th, which brought a heated exchange between Sharp and fellow board member Jim Kimbrough at the August board meeting.

Sharp bristled at the notion of teachers wearing bluejeans every Friday. "Our teachers are professionals and we all know they act differently when they aren't dressed professionally."

That logic appeared to stun Kimbrough, who said if that is the case "then why is it OK to do it one day a month?"

At the November meeting, Huff seemed to indicate that parents have a problem with teachers wearing bluejeans, though he did not make it clear what the problem was.

At that time, the board decided to approve the policy, which did not include anything about teachers wearing bluejeans and leave the enforcement and what will be allowed up to the board's Policy Committee. 

Whether being able to wear bluejeans will make a difference, it is too soon to tell, but as Banwart noted in November- if Joplin wants to be the employer of choice, little things like this could make a difference.
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Did Joplin R-8 Board pay $103,000 to take one test?

Lost in all of the controversy over the Joplin R-8 Board of Education's decision to pay $95,000 to get the right color of seats in the high school gymnasium, was another, even larger expenditure that was approved as part of the consent agenda.

With a bare minimum of discussion, the board approved spending $103,000 for keyboards for the iPads being used by eighth graders and at one of the elementary schools.

If the keyboards were being used to facilitate more in-depth writing assignments, that would be one thing.

C. J. Huff Administration officials acknowledged during the meeting Tuesday night that the money was being paid so the students could take the Common Core tests that will be given next spring (though, of course, the words Common Core were not used since they seem to think calling it "new standards" will fool us). With the status of Common Core in Missouri up in the air, the board may very well have paid out a six-figure sum to take a one-time only test.

An article earlier this week at Politico noted the efforts that are being made to fight Common Core testing in the Show-Me State.

The article reviews the recent restraining order Common Core opponents were able to get against the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, which is providing the tests, which are scheduled to be given for the first time this year.

Since new Missouri standards are being written, there is no guarantee that there will ever be another Common Core test, or that whatever standards Missouri uses will require all testing to be done online.

Taking that into consideration, the Huff Administration could have opted for some minor inconvenience and conducted eighth grade testing on a different day, perhaps importing laptops that are being used in other schools for the testing.

Certainly there was no desperate need to pay $103,000 for keyboards for iPads, which were a questionable expenditure in the first place.

At a time when the district has just had to borrow $45 million to cover $8 million of might-as-well spending and $5 to $12 million of extras on the new buildings that to this point do not appear to have been approved by FEMA, it seems like it would have been a wise time to have delayed spending another $103,000.

To paraphrase the late Sen. Everett Dirksen, you spend $100,000 here and $100,000 there and pretty soon you're talking about real money.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

J. T. Taylor sentenced to 25 years for Joplin murder

Judge David Mouton sentenced Johnathan "J. T." Taylor, 21, Joplin, to 25 years in prison Friday on charges of murder and burglary in connection with the July 6, 2012, murder of Jacob A. Wages, 23, at Wages' home in the 1900 block of Pearl.

Wages surprised Taylor and two other men as they were burglarizing his residence. One of those men, Daniel Hartman, 19, Tulsa, Oklahoma, shot Wages and killed him, then the men continued taking items from the home.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Billy Long offers Christmas wishes

(From Seventh District Congressman Billy Long)

It's the most wonderful time of the year
With the kids jingle belling
And everyone telling you "Be of good cheer"
It's the most wonderful time of the year
-Andy Williams, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year
This song by Andy Williams sums up how many of us feel about the Christmas season.  It truly is the most wonderful time of the year.  Our spirits seem lifted during this season as we all work to spread holiday cheer to those around us.  
Children eagerly anticipate this time of year because of the gifts they look forward to receiving.  During the Christmas season it is important for us to focus on the ultimate gift, the birth of Jesus Christ.  This gift is the reason we celebrate this special time of year.   
This time of the year many of us reflect on how we can be a better friend and neighbor to all.  The Christmas season gives us a great opportunity to spread love and well wishes to all those around us and to those who are less fortunate in our communities.
Let us also give thanks once again for our Armed Services.  Many men and women in uniform will not be able to celebrate this special time of year with their families because they are abroad protecting our freedom.
May the peace and joy of Christmas be with you and your families on Christmas day and throughout the New Year!

Tim Jones: People need, deserve answers from Nixon on Ferguson

(From Speaker of the House Tim Jones, R-Eureka)

As we continue to witness the heartbreaking and concerning images from Ferguson that have dominated national news in recent months, we have been reminded that our state has a significant leadership void that has made a difficult situation even worse. In a perfect world, our governor would have been active and engaged, and in communication with other public officials on all levels, in order to contain the destruction we saw in Ferguson. Instead he resorted to his typical tactics where he isolated himself and kept his decision making secret from those who were ready and willing to help.

One of the more disturbing facts that emerged from the riots was that the National Guard was sent to Ferguson to keep the peace, but then not authorized to take action on the first night when the majority of the damage was done. In fact, the mayor of Ferguson spent much of the evening trying to communicate with the governor to ask him to deploy the National Guard only to have his requests fall on deaf ears. I was personally in contact with the mayor and doing all I could to help him reach the chief executive, but our efforts were unsuccessful. It was this failure by our governor to work with local leaders in Ferguson that again raised serious questions about his ability to handle such a difficult situation.

Food Action Network rep to speak to SW MO Democrats

(From Southwest Missouri Democrats)

Southwest Missouri Democrats will host their Monthly Breakfast on Saturday, December 20th, at 9:30 a.m. We will gather in the Golden Corral meeting room on 2415 South Range Line Road, Joplin, MO 64804.

We are pleased to welcome Renee White from the Joplin Area Food Action Network as our guest speaker.

Joplin Area Food Action Network (JAFAN) promotes food equity and access in the Joplin area. Along with her work with JAFAN Renee is the new Executive Director for the Joplin Community Clinic. She was on the original Board of Directors for the clinic and served as the first volunteer social worker on site.

Turner e-books on sale for 50 percent off

As a Christmas special between now and December 24, I am selling three of my e-books at approximately 50 percent off.

Two of the books, my horror-mystery novel, The Devil's on Facebook, and my sports collection, The Best of Sports Talk, are only available as e-books.

The third selection is my first book from 2005, Small Town News.

All three books normally sell for $9.99. From now through December 24, they will be on sale for $4.99.

Amazon also has a function that allows them to be sent as gifts.

A breakdown on the three books:

Best of Sports Talk

Through the 1980s and 1990s, I wrote more than 1,000 Sports Talk columns. This collection features some of the best, covering multiple sports and athletes and stories from multiple area communities. The following stories are featured:

1. Football Coaches Don't Cry- Seneca Coach Alvin Elbert meets his eight-year-old pen-pal Abby Phipps of Lamar, the wheelchair-bound victim of a drunk driver.

2. A Bases-Loaded Walk- My tribute to the late Gary Shepherd, tells a story from my youth when the coach of my Little League team, Brad Letts, decided to walk the best player on the other team, his brother, Steve Letts, with the bases loaded. (Gary was the coach of Steve's team.)

3. She Will Always Be With Us- Webb City cheerleader Miranda Yocum (now Joplin City Council member Miranda Lewis) talks about the death of her aunt, Nancy Cruzan, whose right-to-die case went all the way to the U. S. Supreme Court.

4. Stacey and the Magic Free Throw- The story of how a non-existent free throw enabled the Mt. Vernon girls team to beat Carthage in double overtime, despite the best efforts of Stacey Brunnert.

5. Gary Embry's Memory Lives On- Rita Embry talks about her son, former Lamar High School and Missouri Southern football great Gary Embry, who was killed in a car accident.

6. Under Mom's Watch- Peggy Lucas watches as her daughter, Carthage senior Tysha Lucas, plays her final high school volleyball match.

7. The Days of Swine and Roses- The day Jasper County Youth Fair princess (and pig-scrambling expert), Christy Olson got the munchies and lost a friend.

8. Just Five Minutes- The real-life horror story of former Lamar coach Armando DeLaRosa, who committed suicide moments after murdering his wife.

9. The Love of Baseball- My interviews with the former KOM minor league players as they played in an oldtimers game 50 years later.

10. Past His Bedtime- Today, he's Webb City's basketball coach, but in this story Landon Cornish was six years old and had no use for girls whatsoever.

11. Remembering Harry Caray- My thoughts after the death of the broadcasting legend

12. This Is My Class, Too- Jamie Turner, a Carthage High School graduate, returns to watch her former classmates at Sarcoxie High School graduate.

13. Smiles at the End of their Rainbows- The first graders who he volunteered to help every day were the ones hit the hardest when Lamar swimmer Brandon Teel died suddenly from spinal meningitis.

14. Girls in the Big Gym- The column I wrote that put an end forever to having Carthage High School girls basketball games in the physical education building instead of the big gym.

15. Cruel Words- When she was in junior high, adults said Webb City volleyball and basketball player Kari Perry would never amount to anything. She tells the story of how she fought back with the help of her coach Sarah Gamble (now Carl Junction volleyball coach Sarah Wall).

16. Return of a Legend- Twenty-five years after leading Jasper to two straight undefeated football seasons, Bill McClintock returns to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

17. The Game Ball- Lamar's Jim Hillman presents the game ball to his grandfather, Tom O'Sullivan, at the dedication of the stadium named after O'Sullivan.

18. Carthage's King Carl- The story of New York Giants great Carl Hubbell and he how he struck out five future Hall-of-Famers in a row at the 1934 All-Star Game. (Hubbell was born near Carthage.)

19. First Kiss- When she was crowned Lamar High School Basketball Homecoming Queen, senior Leigh Hughes received her first kiss in front of 1,500 people. That was the hook Leigh's sister, Lindsay, used to get students to vote for Leigh. But there was another secret that no one knew at the time.

20. She Said Yes- The follow-up, two years later, to the previous story, as Leigh Hughes' boyfriend offers a surprise wedding proposal, and once again it was in front of 1,500 people.

21. Tiger Pride- Polite to referees, but downright mean while playing defense, Carthage junior Brandi Richardson receives the Tiger Pride award at the basketball banquet.

22. The Final 16 Seconds- The high school football career of Jasper senior Stacy Maggard comes to an end.

23. Waffling- This unusual column pairs the serves of Carthage junior varsity volleyball player Stephanie Greenwood with breakfast food.

24. Love and Haiti- While her Lamar teammates were playing in a brand new gym at the Aurora Tournament, Kelly Stahl teaches Haitian children how to play on a dirt court.

25. Beating the Odds- A Liberal barber survives brain surgery and holds off death for a few days longer to accept a special award for years of supporting the school's athletic teams.

26. Taking the Wrong Path- Carthage junior varsity basketball player Alicia Peters was great with the steals, but did not always take the ball in the right direction.

27. My Little Brother's Face- Lockwood High School reacts to the suicide of a freshman football player.

28. As Time Ran Out- Webb City guard Jennifer Lawrence takes one last shot at a district basketball championship.

29. Smelling the Silver- He played in one of the highest-scoring Cotton Bowl games in history, but more than four decades later, it is still the Silver Tiger game between Lamar and Nevada that ranks first in Pete Ihm's memory.

30. My Comeback- A first person account of my return to baseball, playing in the Granby Old Mining Town Days Oldtimers Game.

31. Family and Friends- When his house burned down, Lamar guard Michael Miller learned what was important.

32. A Shining Star- On the day when everyone thought she would be headed to the state volleyball championship, funeral services were held for Diamond senior Kelli Dorsey.

33. A New Home- After spending all of her life in the small town of Henderson, Nebraska, Andrea Friesen moves to the big city (Carthage) for her senior year.

34. The Power of Prayer- After an ACLU protest, the pre-game prayer over the loudspeaker at Lamar football games was stopped, but more than 100 people gathered in the end zone to pray.

35. Second Chance- He nearly died when a trash dumpster fell on him, but only a few years later, Carthage wide receiver Shaine Sundy received a scholarship to play football at MSSC.

The Devil's on Facebook

In this combination horror/mystery novel, a teenage girl communicates with her murdered father on Facebook and soon begins to realize that not only is her father's killer targeting her, but her father may be even more evil than the killer. (The Devil's on Facebook is an updated version of my 2006 novel Devil's Messenger.)

Small Town News

Small Town News is a fictionalized version of the events of October 31, 2001, when the Bank of Diamond was robbed and Diamond School Superintendent Dr. Greg Smith disappeared. The book is a combination mystery and satire on the media as they descend upon a small town.

The books can be ordered through the links below this post.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Reader's advice: Send this jackass down the road

Since I posted the reader comment about Debbie Fort, I thought it would also be a good idea to post this comment from another reader, originally sent to my post from last night about "10 Things That C. J. Huff and Anne Sharp Don't Want You to Know."

CJ Huff has just got to go.

I don't think the public or the schools can survive much longer. It would be best to not wait until April and make a new board do the deed of dismissing this overinflated puff of vanity.

Please, don't renew his contract in January. There is plenty of evidence that the district has failed under his lack of leadership, and he has already demonstrated that he will leave Joplin if something comes along that makes him look even bigger and better.

So, send this jackass down the road so we can get a fresh start. There truly is no time to spare.

(Photo: The one the reader wants to send down the road hugs his Bright Futures USA CEO Kim Vann.)

Reader: Debbie Fort is a bad board member and "many people" agree with me

A reader just left a comment on the post about Joplin resident Ryan Jackson's open letter to the members of the Joplin R-8 Board of Education.

In the comment, the reader attacks board member Debbie Fort, after beginning by offering faint praise. This certainly seems like another of the comments that a handful of C. J. Huff enthusiasts (at this point, I would say there couldn't be more than a handful) aimed at me after it became obvious that the Turner Report was having an impact.

As I have discovered over the course of the past year and a half, there are highly placed people in the Joplin community, and they are not elected officials, who believe that everything that takes place has to fit in with their vision and they were willing to destroy, or try to destroy anyone who stands in their way.

Although I agree with Debbie Fort's vote on this particular issue, make no mistake about her "good intentions" or her competence.

 She was the highest paid elementary principal in the district at one time and her building had the worst, or close to worst, test scores (reference DESE website).

 She ignored and violated policy, someone should ask about milk money cash and PTO checking account. Now she sets in a seat and condemns others in the district for test scores? 

She had the training, hence the title DR., and couldn't produce results. She is no savior people! And frankly, she wasn't even a good principal. Now you think she is going to be a good board member? 

Please! She has an agenda and I for one, and many more agree, that it is not to do what is best for kids. It appears to be about vengeance and revenge.
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First Mass held at new St. Mary's credit, goes to only one Master Developer

Another sign of Joplin's recovery after the May 22, 2011, tornado, and one that took place with the help of only one Almighty Master Developer. The report is from KOAM's Lisa Olliges