Cape district to tackle at-risk students, other issues

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Cape Girardeau School District wants to help at-risk students, improve test scores, encourage parental involvement and hire more minority teachers.

Those are just some of the issues raised by a steering committee that is helping draft a new five-year comprehensive plan for Cape Girardeau's public schools.

School officials will update the school board on the planning process at Monday night's board meeting. The board will meet at 6 p.m. at the school district's administration building, 301 N. Clark Ave.

A 35-member committee of school district principals, teachers, civic leaders and parents are helping craft the plan.

Assistant superintendent Rob Huff said the district hopes to have a plan in place by the start of the new fiscal year which begins July 1.

10 concerns

The group, assisted by superintendent David Scala and other top administrators, has developed a list of 10 concerns.

Scala intends to appoint five committees to develop goals and strategies to address those concerns. Those committees will report back to the steering committee which will make the final recommendations to the board of education.

"Our goal is to guide the process, but not the outcome," Huff said.

The list of concerns includes at-risk students, salaries for faculty and staff, parental involvement, low academic achievement, long-range facilities planning and funding, lack of minority staff, inadequate state, federal and local funding, the school board's image to staff and community, the need for principals to be strong instructional leaders, and the school climate.

Under school climate, the steering committee has listed items ranging from student discipline to attitude and character.

The school administration intends to appoint:

* A committee to address issues involving at-risk students.

* A parental-involvement committee.

* A facilities and finance committee.

* A school climate committee.

* A student achievement committee.

Hiring minority teachers remains a challenge, Huff said.

It's hard to recruit minority teachers when they can get higher-paying school jobs in the St. Louis area, he said.

The Cape Girardeau School District has 406 teachers. Eight are black.

The district has 234 custodians, secretaries, teacher's aides and other noncertified staff. Of those, only 22 are black, said DeRhonda Gosche, administrative assistant in the district's personnel office.

"The main reasons we cannot recruit are our salary schedule and our city," she said. With a relatively small minority population in Cape Girardeau, the school system finds it hard to convince black teachers to come here, she said.

"It's not that we don't try to recruit them," she said. "It has been an ongoing problem for years."

Huff said the beginning-teacher salary of $24,500 in the Cape Girardeau school system lags behind those in some surrounding districts.

Alternative school program

On the issue of at-risk students, Huff said the district may consider expanding the alternative school program to include younger students who have behavior problems.

The alternative school currently is limited to behavior-problem students in grades seven and above.

Expansion of the alternative school could include shortened terms for younger students that would allow them to return sooner to their regular schools, Huff said.

"We can't just throw kids away. At the same time, we have to address the problem and not just keep it in the classroom," he said.

Committee members also have suggested that the district needs to encourage more parental involvement with students.

Huff said the steering committee felt that schools must take a more active role in involving parents in the education process and do a better job of communicating with them.

Committee member Steven Hoffman, who has a son in high school, said the steering committee has met three times since being established earlier this year.

The committee has no chairman. Scala and his staff have helped coordinate the discussions, Hoffman said.

"They really have done a nice job of facilitating it, but in a loose, hands-off way," he said.

The comprehensive plan will provide a blueprint for future improvements in the school district, Huff said.

Once the plan is set, he said, school officials intend to provide monthly updates to the school board regarding the district's progress in implementing the various goals.

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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