Neosho school board holds annual retreat

Seth Kinker
Neosho Daily News

The Neosho Board of Education met on Jul. 8 for their annual retreat.

There was an academic update on programs in the district, an update on the strategic plan moving forward and an update on finances and the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

The notable action item approved the next steps in the renovations to the softball field.

Under the academic updates on programs in the district, one of the topics had to do with virtual instruction and how the district had made the pivot to the different way of instruction while laying out a timeline of where they started the year and here they ended the year as far as numbers.

Although the district never returned after spring break last year, this past fall, they were able to hold in person instruction.

In addition to some students choosing to go virtual for the year, more virtual instruction also occurred when students had to be quarantined throughout the year. The district has about 4,500 students K-12 and started with 600 virtual students and was under 400 by years end. 

Feedback from parents that had students in virtual instruction was heard while there was also an overview discussion of what the plan is for next year with significantly fewer virtual students expected.

“The feedback was outstanding because the difference that we had versus any of our peers that we're aware of, is that we had actual teachers assigned to every virtual student,” said Superintendent Dr. Jim Cummins. “So, they were actually teaching those students, it just happened to be via the computer rather than via seated in front of them. And many school districts just sent a computer and some programming, or a vendor that sells online products. And so, because we had a teacher that was not only checking in with the students, but checking in with the parents, our feedback was really strong.”

That decision to have a teacher assigned to every virtual student was made in that 72-hour period last March when the district learned they would be going virtual for the rest of the year.

Cummins also said the discussion on how to hold hybrid in person and virtual, or just virtual, instruction in the district was ongoing. 

Strategic plan/benchmarking

Earlier this year, the district approved the hiring of Kevin Daniel with Fired UP Consulting Group for their Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP) renewal next year.

Fired Up helps school districts with their CSIP’s, that use a community engagement model.

Daniels was available during the meeting via Zoom, where he introduced himself to the board and they looked at their calendar that included the community meetings to be held in February and March with kickoff surveys going out in the district the first of the year.

“(Daniels) will meet with us late in the fall, early winter, to just kind of go over it with the administrative team and the board,” said Cummins. “Ultimately, the new CSIP will be implemented in the fall of '22. We’ve got our current four goals and I keep them abreast of how we're doing on those four goals, and all of the action steps we have. And then, this will be the next iteration of that, and what benchmarking tools do we want to use to keep the board and the public updated on our progress.”

Financial update/ESSER

Cummins has surveyed the board, reached out to the principals and other administration about the money the district has from the ESSER Funds with plans to reach out to the entire district team and parents in the district as well.

“Strategically, how can we use it on short term expenditures?” said Cummins. “We can't have ongoing stuff. And so, we've started to build out kind of what I would call an ESSER planning wish list. These are the things that we would like to see happen with these dollars.”

“And basically,” added Cummins. “The four questions (in the survey) are based around our four pillars, which is, how do we provide academic rigor and good pathways to careers? How do we recruit and retain the best staff? How do we provide first-class facilities? And how do we provide a physically and emotionally safe learning environments?

After receiving $4.2 million in the second round of ESSER funds, the American Rescue Plan Act allocation, which is the third round of ESSER funds, to the district will be $9.4 million. About $1.7 million from the second round of the ESSER funds has been allocated thus far by the district

20% of the third round of ESSER funds must go towards learning loss and the board has already approved the creation of a reading interventionist position for the next two years at all grade schools.

“Our goal, and my goal, is to make sure that we're just not going out trying to find things to spend this money on, but actually find things that are going to move us forward,” said Cummins. “And if we need to use some of it, just to cover our ongoing expenses, to allow us to shift, to be able to build something or do something, then we need to have that flexibility. So, it's really just a ton of planning going on.”

The district will receive the third round ESSER funds when the state’s legislators make the appropriation to the budget.

These influxes of funds will give the district the opportunity to support their reserves and help with the capital improvement projects going on in the district.

Softball concrete bid

The board approved a bid from Branco Enterprise for the concrete work at the softball field for $25,200.

That $25,200 is part of the $40,200 in improvements that are being taken care of by the district with the backstop net ($5,000) and batting cage and bull pen area ($10,000) the other portions of the project to be covered by the district.

The total cost for the softball field improvements will be $452,663 with the same company that made the renovations to the baseball field, Mid America Sports Construction, to make the improvements for the softball field.

“They've about got the outfield concrete poured around the fence,” said Cummins. “Fence posts are in. I suspect the ground's about to get dried out enough that they'll start spreading the rock that's out there, and they're still shooting for early part of August for completion. It seems to be on target if we can just keep the rain away for a little bit.

Track conversation

During the board retreat, board members had the opportunity to bring topics to the forefront.

The big most discussed topic had to do with the track.

“We've had bikes inside the track area, we've had some people get dogs in there,” said Cummins.  “There's some concern about how the track's being used. What we're going to do is, Aug. 2, the construction is going to start on the performing arts center, the moving of Hill Street, the work on the ditch that goes around the field, and we've got the end zone facility going on in the north end.”

“So, starting probably the first of August or possibly sooner, really, whenever I can start getting the public informed, we're going to shut down the track for the duration of the construction of the performing arts center,” added Cummins.

Cummins said that wants to inform the community that they have an opportunity for them to walk, that doesn’t hinder bikes or digs, at the junior high.

“It is extremely well lit, and it is a huge parking lot,” said Cummins. “And so, we're going to try to maybe shift some of that usage out to the junior high area during the next 16, 18 months, whatever the construction time period is on the performing arts center.”