Focus on Education

As we draw near to the end of the year, I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. I hope all of our students and their families have a safe and enjoyable break. There are a couple items that are coming up that I want to give out more information regarding.

This past week, school districts have been receiving individual student performances on MAP and EOC testing (state standardized testing). Across the state, those numbers are markedly lower than previous years. There are a few reasons for this. First, this is a new test geared toward the Missouri Learning Standards. We have had several different tests over the last 4-5 years. Because of the low scores, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) held a hearing on Friday to discuss lowering the status targets on those tests to keep the percent of districts that fall into each of the APR categories (below floor, approaching, on track, and target) about the same as it was the last time testing was stable (2013). While this may help mitigate the performance of schools across the state, it also adds to the confusion of how a school is really doing. At the state level, education has been through some difficult times. We now have a working state board of education and a new commissioner. While all of that seems to be settling now, the addition of this new test adds to the confusion. Typically schools receive their APR data much earlier such as October or November at the latest. The current plan is that we will receive this information in January or February.

I can only tell you what we are doing here at Houston R-1. We added a new math curriculum, Eureka Math, to our elementary (K-5) grades this past year. A change such as this has caused difficulty for teachers and students alike. While schools typically see a drop with such a change across the board, the move was needed and if other schools are an indication, we should see improvement over the next 3-4 years. Our teachers have been working hard at making sure our curriculum is up to date and aligns with the Missouri Learning Standards. Progress monitoring through other measurements such as I-Ready are being used to more accurately measure growth in our students. We are one of the few school districts in the area that have implemented STEM curriculum throughout our elementary and are now using it in our middle school. Our district has also been working with DESE, RPDC- Rolla, and other resources to work on essential standards, common formative assessments, and data driven decision making. We have also added an integrated preschool class for 3 year olds that appears to be going great. For the upper grades, we have also seen changes in our ATLAS intervention/enrichment time to enhance student achievement. We believe we are on the right track to provide a great education for all students.

The second item is the ongoing discussion regarding a new bond issue in April 2019. As stated in the Herald article last week, our board has looked at several needs and options over the last few months. As the April 2019 election draws near, the board is considering a no tax increase bond issue proposal. I will not go into the projects discussed again, however I do want to add a few things to the discussion. In deciding what could/should be a part of this proposal, the board is looking at safety of our staff and students, a vision of what Houston Schools should look like in 5, 10, or 20 years, and the needs and wants of the school and community. In the recent work session, the board, utilizing input from staff and others feel like a 6-lane regulation track is the minimum requirement to update our current facility. This would also include some excavation and a drainage system for the area around the track and on the football field to prevent issues we have had in the past. This would benefit P.E. classes of all grades K-12, track athletes, and participants from other sports to work out. It would allow Houston to once again host meets and bring more people into our community for events.

The building plans for the main high school/middle school campus look to address needs such as inadequate gym space for graduation, practice facilities, performance (band/choir) events, tournaments, and to bridge the outside physical gap between the main building and the gym/fine arts programs. To reach a point where we do not have students outside traveling from class to class would improve not only safety, but also ease of supervision. Paragon Architecture has been working at developing a long-range plan that would work to incorporate all of our high school/middle school classes in one secure area. Over the next 5-10 years, this could mean that all our classes including weights and vocational courses could be held in one area. This would also eliminate the need for bussing students throughout the day as we are currently doing.

We will be holding a public informational meeting at 6 p.m. Dec. 20 at the Melba Performing Arts Center to present ideas that we have already discussed and to get input from the community on what they would like to see in the future. And, as always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns regarding these projects, please feel free to come by or set up an appointment to visit with me.

Dr. Allen Moss was hired in 2016 as the superintendent of the Houston R-1 School District. You can contact him at 417-967-3024.

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