Thursday, March 17, 2016
The question that no one asked at tonight's Joplin R-8 Board forum
Parent-teacher conferences were held tonight in the Joplin schools, meaning no teachers were able to attend the forum to see firsthand the eight people who want to serve on the school board. It also eliminated the opportunity for parents to attend.
If the teachers had been there, they would have been upset, and rightfully so, at one of the last questions asked.
The questioner, KOAM's Lisa Olliges, asked, "Is the Joplin School District doing enough to identify and remove substandard teachers?"
The question assumes that there are hordes of bad teachers in our classrooms who are to blame for everything that has gone wrong in the Joplin R-8 school system over the past few years.
That is simply not the case.
The question that should have been asked, "How can we keep good teachers from leaving the school district?'
Not surprisingly, since the mass exodus of teachers leaving the school district while former Superintendent C. J. Huff was in charge, has never been adequately addressed by any of the traditional media in the Joplin area, that question was never asked.
The quality of teaching has gone down over the past several years because top-notch veteran educators have left the school district, either on their own or with a push from the Huff Administration. Teachers who might have stayed in the classroom four or five more years, retired early to escape a system that offered them no support and kept throwing one harebrained initiative after another at them.
Others left to take jobs in neighboring school systems. The Huff Administration did little to improve the faculty in Joplin, but was successful at enriching the teaching staffs at Neosho, Carl Junction, Webb City, and other area school districts.
Most of the replacements for these teachers were inexperienced teachers. Joplin has been fortunate enough to get some young teachers who have been able to hit the ground running, but even those teachers would have benefited from the wisdom and guidance of the teachers who were tossed aside like today's Joplin Globe.
More than half of the teachers who were in the Joplin R-8 School District four years ago are no longer in the system and more than half of those who remain have been in the classroom five years or less.
Essentially, what has happened to Joplin is that students are taking classes from a large number of teachers who are still going through growing pains. In the past, there would have been a solid crew of teachers to call on for advice,- teachers who had dealt with the same situations and learned from their experiences.
When you have a few of the best teachers coming out of area colleges joining the faculty each year, you can replace those who retire or leave, still have a mixture of teachers that will benefit students- young ideas mixing with those who have been through the battles.
The question that Lisa Olliges or someone needed to ask is how can Joplin recover from damage that has been done to our teachers and to our students over the past few years.
And though no one asked the question, here is a formula that could restore the top-flight faculty the Joplin R-8 School District had in the days when it achieved "accredited with distinction" year after year.
ADVERTISE THE NEW STRATEGIC PLAN
The Board of Education is expected to approve a five-year strategic plan at its March 29 meeting. The plan, which offers a strong signal of support to classroom teachers and puts children's education at the forefront, should be used as a sales point for bringing quality teachers into the district. Teachers are going to be consulted on decisions that affect them, rather than the top down type management that had the district headed on the road to ruin. A key part of the plan is a serious attempt to improve discipline in the district. Many good teachers have left because they were receiving no backing on discipline. If we show we are serious, the pool of prospective teachers will grow and will include more than first-year instructors.
ENCOURAGE VETERAN TEACHERS TO COME TO JOPLIN
Despite the changes that have been made this year, there is no doubt that some teachers will leave the district at the end of the year. Let's make a play for veteran teachers as replacements. Use whatever channels necessary to put out the word that the doors are wide open for experienced teachers who want to play key roles in restoring Joplin. Make the path to tenure easier for those who choose to come here from other districts. Extend a welcome to those who used to teach in the district, but at the same time, keep an eye out for people who live in Joplin and have had to travel every day to teach in other districts.
HIRE PRINCIPALS, ADMINISTRATORS WITH CLASSROOM EXPERIENCE
One of the problems Joplin faced during the Huff-Besendorfer years is that it was being led down the primrose path by two administrators who spent little time as classroom teachers. Let's look for people who have a better idea of how to deal with teachers, parents, and students.
MAKE SURE REMAINING VETERANS HAVE COMPLETE BUY-IN
There are still many veteran teachers who have waited out the past few years, hoping that things would change. These are not teachers who were counting down the days until they could retire. These are teachers who stayed in the district despite all of the nightmarish occurrences because they cared about their jobs and they cared about the students and they gave 100 percent every day. These are the people who should have a big say (and have had under the Norm Ridder Administration) in the shape of education in their buildings. These are also the people who should be used as recruiters to bring in the best teachers to fill vacancies, whether they are veterans or just a year or two out of college.
Without a plan like this, it could take years to return the system to the balance that a successful school system needs. At the forum tonight, the board candidates spoke of the importance of finding the right person to become the new superintendent after Ridder's two-year tenure comes to a close.
Undoubtedly, that is a decision that will affect Joplin for years to come, but the district cannot afford to wait until the new superintendent is on the job to begin rebuilding its faculty. We have already lost too many years and negatively affected the education of too many children.
One of the biggest challenges the Joplin School District faced was what former Superintendent Jim Simpson referred to as climbing Mount Joplin, the path to accreditation with distinction. We need another Mount Joplin initiative and the best way to achieve success is to find some people who have already made the climb.