Of the 10 K-12 districts in the two-county area, Joplin finished dead last in math for all tested grades combined, seventh in English, seventh in science, and fifth in social studies.
In numerous posts, the Turner Report has detailed the annual drop in MAP scores during Huff's years. This year, because of the implementation of new tests for English and math, comparisons cannot be made with previous years.
But all Missouri schools were taking the same tests, so the comparisons between school districts are legitimate.
While too much emphasis is placed on standardized tests, something that is completely to the detriment of education, these tests can be used as one of many factors in evaluating the education that is received.
The reasons for the scores dropping during the Huff year basically break down to a lack of leadership from the top, including Huff driving off nearly 400 teachers (out of a faculty of 600) over his final four years.
After three years of losing more than 100 teachers per year, the number actually dropped to about 75 during Huff's final year.
This year, while Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder indicated at a recent R-8 Board meeting that the number leaving the district while still too high this year, was down, that was not the whole story. That is true when compared to three of the final four years of the Huff era, but another 75 teachers left after the 2015-2016 school year, about the same as in Huff's last year.
While some of those teachers who left were first-year teachers, most of them continue to add to the drain of educational expertise. Many of those teachers have found their way to school districts that are routinely posting higher test scores than Joplin, including Webb City, Carl Junction, and Neosho.
Another reason for the falloff in recent years has been a culture that has emphasized one new initiative after another, with each of them accompanied by various meetings and seminars that pull teachers out of class. Often, teachers in tested areas were not in their classrooms as much as 15 to 20 percent of the time during the school year. No matter how good a substitute teacher is, or how solid a lesson plan has been prepared for that substitute, the level of education dropped on those days.
And the meetings and seminars, as well as other initiatives, including the high school's highly touted "Transitions" have continued to remove teachers and/or students from classrooms at a much higher rate than you what you see in surrounding school districts.
While teachers who have talked with the Turner Report have been highly complimentary of the more positive attitude Ridder has brought to the district after the reign of terror led by Huff and his assistant superintendent, Angie Besendorfer, there continues to be concerns that too much of the framework put in place by Huff (who is still receiving a full salary from the district through the end of this calendar year) is in charge of the educational process.
Jennifer Doshier, who is in charge of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, was promoted to upper administration after driving off almost the entire faculty at McKinley Elementary, where she was the principal. Doshier is also the one who blithely told the Board of Education that she has no idea whether the change to an emphasis on one-to-one education (laptops or iPads for all students) has had any effect on learning.
It was also Doshier who has continued to push initiatives, including the recently departed Core Collaborative, as cures for everything that ails the district. While Ridder has pushed toward having each building devise its own professional development, something teachers appreciate, leaving Doshier in place as a new superintendent arrives is not a wise idea.
There is also a distrust of Mark Barlass, the executive director of student services, who is in control of special education areas. Barlass has made many enemies since his arrival.
Though Ridder and the Board of Education have trimmed much of the fat from upper administration, something that desperately needed to be done, they have increased the power of two people, Doshier and Barlass, who are unlikely to ever gain the confidence and respect of the teachers.
That could very well lead to more teachers searching for work in other districts or taking early retirement.
The inexperience of the R-8 faculty is a growing problem. That is not an indictment of the quality of the teachers who have been hired over the past few years, but in an ideal school system, you have a mixture of seasoned veterans, younger teachers with 5 to 10 years of experience, and talented newcomers who can benefit from those who have faced the same challenges as they are facing and learned how to deal with them.
At a board meeting about a year ago, it was revealed that more than half of the R-8 faculty had less than five years of teaching experience. That number has likely increased with the continued departure of so many teachers.
No initiative, no wonder cure is going to be able to make up for the loss of so many veteran teachers.
Even if teachers can be reassured that things are going to get better despite the continued presence of Doshier, Barlass, and principals who rose to their positions by serving as teaching/learning coaches (many of them considered to be spies for administration), there is another factor that the district may have a harder time overcoming.
The dangerous overspending during the Huff years is coming home to roost and there is a growing fear that the FEMA money that CFO Paul Barr has been promising the past couple of years is never going to find its way into the district's coffers.
Ridder recently told teachers that their raise for this year is averaging about $20 per month per teacher. For teachers who have had to go many years without raises and without respect as Huff and a morally malleable Board of Education (all of whom are thankfully no longer seated) threw away millions on everything except items that would directly affect learning, this was yet another slap in the face.
With the FEMA "errors and omissions" questionable at best, and a seven-figure settlement apparently on the horizon on the P1 lawsuit, teachers are concerned that there may not be any money left for them or for their students.
While every survey I have ever seen has shown that money is not the most important thing to teachers, years with no increases put a damper on teachers' future retirement funds and with insurance costs continuing to skyrocket, other districts that are not in a complete rebuilding mode are looking more and more attractive.
Some school districts have reached out to voters when they needed more money to hang on to faculty. That is not an option in Joplin. The $62 million bond issue passed in April 2012 is likely to be the last such proposal approved by voters for years to come.
The path ahead is not going to be easy for the Joplin R-8 School District.
(The percentages listed below are those who scored in the top two areas- advanced and proficient, in all of the tested grades combined.)
1. Webb City 72.8,
2. Carl Junction 72.
3, Jasper 63.0,
4. Sarcoxie 60.7
5.East Newton 57.8
6. Neosho 57.5
7. Joplin 57.28. Diamond 56.6
9. Seneca 56.5
10. Carthage 56.1
1. Webb City 61.6
2. Carl Junction 56.7
3. Seneca 47.9
4. Sarcoxie 46.1
5. Neosho 45.9
6. East Newton 43.5
7. Jasper 40.9
8. Diamond 40.2
9. Carthage 39.9
10. Joplin 38.1
1. Carl Junction 64.2
2. Webb City 58.7
3. Jasper 57.2
4. Sarcoxie 52.3
5. Neosho 49.0
6. Seneca 48.2
7. Joplin 44.98. Carthage 44.7
9. East Newton 40.1
10. Diamond 34.3
1. Sarcoxie 84.1
2.. Carl Junction 75.3
3. Webb City 73.6
4. East Newton 67.9
5. Joplin 67.06. Seneca 63.2
7. Carthage 56.7
8. Jasper 54.8
9. Neosho 46.2
10. Diamond 35.0