Cape schools plan includes preschool program, football stadium; how to fund them still uncertain

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Construction of a high school football stadium and establishment of a pre-school program are among a wide range of proposals included in a newly drafted five-year comprehensive plan for the Cape Girardeau School District.

A steering committee agreed to the plan Tuesday night, clearing the way for the document to be reviewed by the school board at a work session on June 13. The board could adopt the five-year plan by June 19, superintendent Dr. David Scala said.

The real work would start in July with the school administration establishing a timetable for making improvements and deciding on how to fund them.

The proposed plan doesn't make any recommendations on how to fund any of the proposals.

Five action committees developed the plan around five specific topics identified by the steering committee: Facilities and finance, at-risk students, school climate, academic achievement and parental involvement.

The tentative plan lists construction projects estimated at some $12 million. The list includes:

* $5 million to construct an auditorium at the new high school,

* $2 million to $3 million to construct eight to 12 classrooms at the high school,

* Up to $2 million to renovate L.J. Schultz School for the alternative school program,

* $1.2 million for six new classrooms each at Jefferson, Franklin, Clippard and Alma Schrader elementary schools and

* $125,000 for renovation of the basement at Central Junior High School.

The plan also suggests increasing teachers' salaries to bring them in line with the state average or the regional average, whichever is higher, within the next three to five years.

Under this plan, each school would establish a family liaison program to improve communication and involvement with students' families.

Franklin Elementary School already has a liaison program, funded with federal grant money.

Franklin Elementary School principal Rhonda Dunham said the parent liaison at her school is a part-time position. The parent liaison fields concerns from parents and then contacts classroom teachers about those issues. The liaison takes homework to sick students whose parents aren't available to do so.

Other proposals call for monthly assessments of school buildings' appearance inside and out, and establishing an internship program to help train educators to be principals.

Another suggestion is to consider starting high school later in the morning than other schools in the district. Currently high school classes start earlier, but sleep research suggests that high school students are more awake later in the day, members on the academic achievement committee said.

The plan has nearly 100 recommendations.

Much of the plan deals with ways to better communicate with parents and school patrons through newsletters and on the district's Web site. The plan, for example, calls for displaying school financial information online.

But steering committee member Walt Lilly cautioned school officials against expecting too much from improved communication.

"I think there is a point of diminishing returns," he said. "A lot of people who need it won't look at it."

But Scala said the district has to try to better communicate with the district's families and residents.

Chamber of Commerce president John Mehner said the district, above all else, must get disruptive students out of the classrooms. "We have to make sure that the classrooms are a learning environment," he said.

The strategic plan attempts to address that issue, suggesting that the alternative school be expanded to include fifth and sixth graders. That would help address the problem of disruptive students at the Cape Girardeau Middle School, officials said.

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