Missouri school administrators gather ahead of new school year

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COLUMBIA - Missouri school administrators are heading back to school just one month before the new school year gets underway.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education kicked off its 54th annual Cooperative Conference for School Administrators in Columbia, which gathers administrators for three days to have them talk to and learn from other administrators and education experts to prepare them for the upcoming school year.

The theme of this year's conference was "Learning for All," which focuses on getting educators and administrators more active in their community to learn the best ways to educate students.

Margie Vandeven, the Missouri Commissioner of Education, said by working with the community, schools can ensure students are getting an education that best fits the students' needs. 

"We're going to talk about what are some of those external factors that can impact education and then what can we do with the community resources that do exist to ensure that when they come into the classroom, [the students] are really ready to learn," Vandeven said.  "Teachers can't do it all."

One of the issues discussed this year was finding ways to solve racial disparity within the school system.

DESE hosted a panel during the conference to discuss 'Gateway2Change,' a movement started by EducationPlus in St. Louis that seeks to empower student leaders to talk candidly about race and other important issues. 

Vandeven said she thinks movements like 'Gateway2Change' represent a 'natural flow' of change within the school system and said everyone involved in the school system is working to initiate positive change beyond talking about problems.

"Students have a powerful voice, and when you're really trying to solve the issues of magnitude that we're really talking about in this conference, all people need to be at the table," Vandeven said. "Students, teachers, community members, principals, superintendents, parents... how do we make sure we hear that student voice. They're ready to act, and it's exciting."

High school students from the St. Louis area came to speak to administors about the program in hopes of having it catch on in school districts outside St. Louis.

Monday's keynote speaker was Jim Sporleder, the former principal of Lincoln High School in Wala Wala, Washington who gained national attention by significantly reducing suspensions and expulsions in his school through 'trauma-informed' policy that takes students' environments into account. 

Governor Jay Nixon will close out the conference Tuesday after addressing Missouri administrators.

Here's the conference agenda.