School Leaders See Growth, Challenges

7 years 11 months 2 weeks ago Monday, November 01 2010 Nov 1, 2010 Monday, November 01, 2010 6:19:23 PM CDT November 01, 2010 in News
Over the next decade, one of Missouri’s largest school districts will continue to expand.  Columbia Public Schools is not only anticipating an increase in its amount of students, which it expects to grow over 18,000, but an increase in the amount of opportunities afforded to them as well.

On Columbia’s northeast side, off of St. Charles Road, Columbia Public Schools’ efforts are visible to the eye.  The school district is building the city’s third comprehensive public high school. The school, which has yet to be named, will open in 2013.  

NEW SCHOOLS, MORE OPPORTUNITY

Chris Belcher, superintendent of the Columbia Public School District, said he is eager to see the 300,000 square foot structure welcome students.  He said a new school will allow students to take part in activities that they may have not been able to at Hickman or Rock Bridge high schools.

“With two very big high schools you have X amount of participation, there’s more competition,” Belcher said.  “Only a certain amount of students can participate in the various sports and music programs.  When we go to this new high school, we will basically increase that participation by about 30 percent.”

According to the school district’s master project list, the new high school will cost more than $75 million dollars, while a new elementary school slated to open in 2014 will cost $15 million.

The money for those projects will come from the $120 million bond voters approved in April.

While the school district is spending a considerable amount of money on the two aforementioned projects, it has other plans for its new bond money as well.

TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM

Columbia Public Schools also expects to spend $7.5 million dollars from that bond issue on technology enhancements.

This is a major point of emphasis for a school district that wants to be ahead of the curve when it comes to using new tools.

Belcher predicts a decade from now, most of the school district’s juniors and seniors will take half if not most of their classes online. That's a significant increase from the 171 students who took online courses over the summer--about one percent of the student body.

“We’ll build more from the [traditional] direct instruction model to that direct instruction model being available with podcasts or links or those kind of things,” Belcher said. “Then the students will be responsible for readings and responses or postings and interaction electronically.”

Dr. Beverly Borduin has been principal at Grant Elementary for six years.  She said she approves of how the district uses technology.

“I think the way we use technology now is smart because it is used in an integrated way to help children with information that they’re really interested in," Borduin said.

CONFRONTING AN OLD PROBLEM

However, one decades-old problem has been worrying instructors and administrators alike: poverty.

According to Belcher, ten years ago, 29 percent of the school district’s students came from impoverished homes.  This year, that number could be as high as 39 percent.

“It’s tough because as I talk about this increasing poverty, students that come from poverty don’t have as much of a normal attachment to school as a way of creating a future as do kids who are of upper incomes – their parents talk about that and support it,” Belcher said.

The school district believes one of its biggest challenges over the next decade will be breaking that cycle.  The question among faculty is how.

“If we have children in poverty who need more resources, we have to figure out a way to provide the resources, whether it's tutoring or whether it's extra instruction by quality faculty, that is where we really have to look at how we help our children,” Borduin said.

That answer may rest in the school district’s teaching force.  The school district wants more diversity among its teachers, so it can reach students it may have not been able to relate to in the past.

“If we all think the same, were all going to have the same answers to problems and I think we all have to open that up,” Borduin said.

PERFORMANCE-BASED PAY?

The jury is still out, however, as to whether the school district will consider changing the way it pays any of these new teachers ten years from now.  Will teachers receive their salaries as they always have or will the school district consider some type of performance-based pay?

Belcher said research shows merit pay works only if it is based on a very specific task that is measurable.  He said as of right now, the school district is looking at performance-based pay methods cautiously.

“I am not opposed to performance pay, but I will fight it vehemently if I see it’s unfair across the board,” Belcher said.

Questions regarding finance will certainly be important to administrators, considering that the district’s budget has been reduced by $17 million over the last three years.

Nonetheless, parents like LaDonya Hill are excited to see what the school district will do ten years from now.

Her son is in the second grade. In just one decade, he will be on the cusp of graduation.

“My son will be 17,” Hill said. “Ill be very excited about that because he’ll be very close to graduating from high school and over the years I’ll be able to see how much he’s grown, what he’s learned throughout the Columbia Public School system.”

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