Finding new and better ways to communicate with patrons is essential to building a better partnership with the public.

That was one assessment of the Neosho R-5 school board at a Thursday work session as members discussed the failure of a $24 million bond issue to build a new junior high school earlier this week, the second time the measure has been turned down by voters this year.

“What better ways can we communicate with our public?” asked Brett Day, board president.

Keri Collinsworth answered that many people don’t want to educate themselves on issues. Day responded that a legitimate issue the board must face is that some patrons don’t have kids in the school system.

“How do we make them care?” he asked. “I want to find a way to do that: it’s important long-term for the district.”

Kim Wood suggested that the board must step it up to be more visible, including having a booth at the county fair and other public events. Jonathan Russell mentioned hiring a public relations specialist, and also proposed placing ads on Facebook, which he said is both inexpensive and efficient.

Day asserted the district needs to do a better job of communicating to the patrons about not just the bond, but about all of the good things that are happening in the school district.

“We have a very strong district here,” he maintained. “We have a very strong core of teachers who work under conditions that some of their colleagues in other communities don’t have to, but still put out excellent results. I’m very proud of the work our teachers do.

"They have victories every day, and I think those are the things that I’d like to see us focus on because I’m a believer in our schools, and I really believe if we get those individual success stories out there, that we can create more believers in our school district as well.”

Day voiced that it is a challenge to get word about the school district’s many victories to the public, with so many different communication modes besides newspapers, radio and television.

“There’s also social media, we’ve got to find out different ways to – I don’t know if we do it by email updates or what have you – but we’ve got to look at getting the message out there about how well our school district is doing,” he said.

A second attempt to garner voter approval for a bond issue to build a junior high gained only 49 percent support on Tuesday, after a similar measure in April was turned back when 52 percent of patrons voted for the measure, though shy of the 57.14 percent support needed for passage.

The board entered a long discussion via telephone with Missouri School Boards Association attorney Scott Summers regarding the MSBA sanctioned fighting policy in the schools.

Day said the concern is that under current policy all parties are suspended in such instances, the policy ignores self-defense.

‘He asked, “How does that work in attempts to end bullying? Running is the only option. I want to change language so that students are allowed to defend themselves.”

Summers recommended that not be done, for a variety of reasons. “One,” he proclaimed, “It would be an administrative nightmare. Trying to find out who started the fight will be hard to prove. The first punch isn’t necessarily the beginning.”

Board member Steven Douglas fired back that suspending both without charging administrators with the responsibility of attempting to determine the aggressor amounts to catering to administrators. Douglas called it hypocrisy that the district instructed students how to fight back during Intruder On Campus training last year, but if they defend themselves against the attack of another student, they are suspended.

Summers responded that the district could be held liable if someone, in fighting back, caused harmed to their alleged aggressor if it was the policy to be able to fight back. He insisted such policy would actually encourage fighting.

After much back and forth, but not much give and take, Summers agreed to attempt to come up with a sample policy for the board.
However, Darren Cook, high school principal, reported that there have not been many fights at that facility.

“I think kids know they will be suspended. That’s a deterrent,” said Cook.

Cook said he does not automatically suspend students who get into an altercation.

“We won’t for someone helping another. We’ve had that happen,” he said. “We have the discretion.”

Cook observed that just one fight occurred at the high school last year, and three were reported at the junior high level.

Day said he feels much better after hearing from Cook that he is exercising discretion, and hoped other principals are doing the same.

“I just want to make sure that our policy allows them to do that, because I don’t believe that just because somebody gets involved in something that everybody should be suspended for it,” Day said. “Let’s see who’s wrong and start there.”

He hoped that MSBA can draft a policy for the district that provides that discretion to administrators.

Much discussion ensued — and board members concerns seemed to be assuaged by that discussion — about the implementation the last few years of the laude system to award graduates rather than honoring a valedictorian and salutatorian.

Counselor Heather Hughes is a member of the committee that voted to phase out the valedictorian and salutatorian, explaining, “They know who they are.” Hughes reported that colleges are more interested in the top 10 percent — which is whom Neosho now recognizes — volunteerism and extracurricular activities.

Hughes said the competition for the top two spots in the class discourages students from taking music and other such classes, summer school and extra classes, because those are not weighted as high as other classes.

Rebecca Oliveras, also a member of that committee, noted that students take classes they really are not interested in just because of the extra weight those classes provide.

“Kids were telling me telling me they weren’t taking the classes they needed in their quest for valedictorian,” she said. “That’s why I voted to end valedictorian and salutatorian.”

“We’re trying to do what’s best for the kids,” Cook said.

Cook explained that students can’t compete for valedictorian and salutatorian and graduate from high school with an associate’s degree through the program with Crowder College.

Day said he is approached by parents at every graduation, who wonder why the valedictorian and salutatorian are no longer recognized. He said he didn’t have any answer until Thursday other than that a previous board had voted to end the practice.

 “High school’s a lot different than 25 years ago,” Day said. “In addition to the core courses that are offered, there are a lot of different courses now that are offered to students where they can explore something that’s personally interesting to them that may not have qualified for the calculations in that class rank. Plus with the dual credit that we have going on now with Crowder, that also complicates that.

“So it looks like, with all the offerings that we currently have going that a move to go back to that system would be detrimental to several students, and we certainly don’t want to do that. The teachers in there were unanimous about that – they thought the recognition system of the laude system is the way to go, and they’re the experts in education. We wanted to get their opinion and they came up and gave it, and I can tell you, they changed my mind!”

Discussion evolved to new technology in the classrooms through the One-to-One initiative, during which Oliveras said that laptops are the best thing to ever come into her classroom.

“Students use them to access and produce information,” she said. “They can find much literature on line. Assignments are on line. Access to all class documents are available on line.”

Oliveras advised that papers are turned in on line, and added that it’s quicker, they have easier access, it encourages them to be accountable, and students can even create their own quizzes.

The board gave Freeman Health System officials who were on hand the go-ahead to draft a proposal for a student-based health program. Wes Braman, director of managed care services, said Freeman is the first to develop the new program in this area, with one in Joplin and another being rolled out in the Carl Junction School District this year.

Braman said the goal of the program is three-fold, to improve the health of students and faculty, to keep them in school, and to make it easier to have access to health care for students and faculty. He said the desire is to supplement school nurses with better and more tools.

Braman revealed that Freeman would set up audio/visual access between each school nursing station and an outside clinic staffed by a nurse practitioner (NP). He said the NP would be available remotely to help make determinations, and minor instances might be treated by the school nurse, with options to get treatment at the clinic or elsewhere.

He explained that many times when someone leaves the campus for treatment they do not return, and this could help keep students in school and teachers on the job. Meanwhile, he noted that anyone from the school district gets priority treatment at the clinic — which would also serve the public — as students and teachers would go to the front of the line. Braman said mental health services through Ozark Center would also be made available.

Dan Decker, superintendent, observed the program would allow kids who need medical attention the chance to get it rather than to just have to ride out an illness because their parents can’t or won’t do so.

With no current penalty for teachers who want to get out of their contract, the school board determined to change that. Decker reported the district lost teachers up to the last week of July, but fortunately had adequate replacements.

“They need some skin in the game if they are going to get out of a contract,” he said.

Glenda Condict, assistant superintendent for curriculum, reported that one teacher new to the district asked to have their contract signed immediately, because their reimbursement to their former school district for leaving that contract was $500 that day, but would be $1,000 the next day.

The board agreed to work out a policy that called for either a percentage-based or flat-rate penalty for educators who skip out on their contracts.

After many months of discussion, Decker advised that he will bring a facilities usage agreement to the board for its approval next week which will not include charges for entities using facilities that are comprised of Neosho students and for non-profit organizations.

Asked previously to look into a dress code for athletic teams when they are away from school, Decker revealed that a poll of the other Central Ozarks Conference schools found that none had such a code.
Collinsworth expressed the dissatisfaction of seeing the high school band practicing along the Boulevard sporting no shirts, just wearing sports bras.

“It wasn’t allowed last year in the band. You can practice with your shirt on,” Collinsworth said. “It goes back to image!”

Tim Crawley, assistant superintendent for finance, stated that the band being in underwear will be addressed.