Monday, December 19, 2016
How Melinda Moss plans to revive the Joplin R-8 School DIstrict
As HR Director Ron Lankford explained at the Board of Education meeting Thursday, the district's declining growth over the past four decades, as well as growth in the surrounding communities has enabled Webb City and Carl Junction school districts to surpass Joplin and the demographics are showing no signs of changing.
More than half of the district's faculty left over a four-year period and the departures showed little sign of lessening even after the "retirement" of former Superintendent C. J. Huff, as approximately 75 more teachers left after the first year with Interim Superintendent Norm Ridder at the helm.
Moss is also stepping into a situation where the needs are great, but many bridges will have to be mended before the community will ever consider supporting another bond issue or tax levy increase. Words like "one hundred thousand dollar bleachers," "might-as-well spending," "six-and-a-half mile ribbon" and "six-million-dollar lawsuit" are still too fresh on taxpayers' minds.
It may take years before we hear the words "for the kids" and don't automatically clutch our wallets.
Not all is gloomy for the Harrison superintendent as she prepares for her new position.
Though one last big initiative, cognitive coaching, was approved, professional development is now in the hands of those who know what their buildings need, the principals and the teachers. Much of that changeover has been thanks to the work of South Middle School Principal Steve Gilbreth, one of the few principals who were in place before the arrival of C. J. Huff and Angie Besendorfer who managed to survive their tenure.
The Board of Education has also managed to remove nearly all of the top administrative team that worked under Huff, some like Huff himself and Building Projects Director Mike Johnson through retirement, others including Chief Operations Officer Tina Smith and Director of Communications Kelli Price through resignations, and others like Curriculum Director Sarah Stevens, Executive Director of Student Services Mark Barlass and Director of Early Childhood Services Amanda Boyer through heavily encouraged resignations.
In addition to being able to work with Ridder during her first three months, Moss will also be able to rely on Lankford, Gilbreth, and Assistant Superintendent Kerry Sachetta.
Moss plans to learn as much as she can about the district. "The first thing I am going to do is listen a lot and find out the history of what's gone before and what's working, find out where I can be of best service.
"It's really hard to come brand new into a job in a new district and say what you're going to do other than it's going to be a lot of listening and learning."
Moss hopes to continue the record of strong academic performance she had at her current school. "Harrison has had a strong record of high student achievement. We've exceeded state and national averages at all grade levels in all of our subjects. That's been through very hard work by our teachers and our students and the support of the community."
The work to bring Joplin back to where it was prior to the Huff/Besendorfer era has already begun.
"The improvements have already started with strong curriculum alignment wor and professional learning communities and teachers meeting around effective instruction," Moss said.
"I think the community can expect test scores to improve."
Improving the graduation rate was the primary goal during the C. J. Huff era and it will remain a top emphasis as Melinda Moss takes over. "Graduation rate is always a concern for any district and we want students to have the most opportunity and the most choices in life."
Moss also plans to improve the teacher retention rate. "People look at salary schedules, but beyond that, it's about climate and culture in each building and valuing the work that teachers do."
An important factor in her success in Joplin will be getting to know the community, Moss said. "I have found it's always good to contact organizations like Chamber of Commerce. I actually ended up serving on the board of directors of the Chamber at Harrison. So that's a good place to meet people, your local churches and I'm a member of Rotary Club. Your other civic organizations are usually eager to meet the new superintendent.
"I'll be making the rounds."
To succeed in Joplin, Moss will have to overcome an obstacle she did not face in Harrison- a faculty that has far more than its share of teachers who have been in the classroom for five years or less.
"The teachers in Harrison have a long tenure and a long tradition. It's nice when you have a mix. You need to have some younger teachers and you need to have veteran teachers."
Moss will emphasize a strong mentoring program to help the inexperienced teachers and "encourage them to stay with it. The first years of teaching are tough. We have to be there for them and we need to make sure we let the veterans teachers know we value their service."