November 27, 2014

Schools, events cancelled ahead of Ferguson decision

Schools in the Ferguson area have already announced closings for tomorrow, in case protests –or celebrations— turn violent. Tonight, the public awaits a grand jury decision whether to prosecute a police officer in the deadly shooting of local teen Michael Brown almost four months ago. The Ferguson-Florissant School District announced there would be no day or evening activities “in consideration of the safety of all students and staff.”

Local TV station KSDK posted this list of school, club and community event closings. This is in response to protests turned violent after Brown’s shooting in August.

This time, St. Louis state Senator Jamilah Nasheed that she is “praying for peace for this city here.” “Protestors should peacefully protest and let their voices be heard and not wreak havoc on our community and tear down businesses and destroy properties and things of that sort,” she told KMOX in St. Louis.

International students a half-billion dollar boost (AUDiO)

More students from foreign countries than ever before are going to college in Missouri. That means a lot of money for the state’s economy.

The Institute for Higher Education counts a record 18-thousand-205 students from other countries are enrolled at Missouri higher education institutions, eight percent more than last year.   Almost two-thirds of them come from five countries–China, India, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, and Brazil.  China, alone, accounts for forty percent of the international students in Missouri.

The chairwoman of the Study Missouri Consortium, Karla McCollum, says the consortium thinks those students put about one-half billion dollars into the state economy.

She says Missouri’s high-quality institutions and relatively-low tuition rates are attractive to students from other countries. She says many of them come here for the STEM programs–Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math.

She says the schools try to make those students part of the campus mainstream. “One of the ways international students assimilate is through clubs and organizations.  Living in the dorm is another way.”  She says schools have International Program Directors who can help students from other countries fit in.

McCollum, who also is the Admissions Director at North Central Missouri College in Trenton, says most of the students have at least some proficiency in English. They have to reach a minimum score on an English test so schools know they can keep up in class and understand the instructors.  Schools do have some English-as-Second Language program to help students who need some help.

Audio: McCullom interview 14:09.



Teachers’ group, Missouri House leader look ahead after Amendment 3

It is no surprise that Missouri voters have rejected a proposal to change how teachers are evaluated and limit tenure. The group formed to back it, Teach Great, folded months ago while opposition to the measure kept mounting even into the final days before Tuesday’s General Election.

Desk featAmendment 3 was the result of an initiative petition drive backed by conservative billionaire Rex Sinquefield.

Missouri State Teachers’ Association President Lisa Funk says she’s excited by the issue’s sound defeat. She expects there will be more proposals to change education in the near future, but thinks the results of this vote are empowering.

“Educators, parents; everyone wants to work together for changes that are in the best interest of the students without these outside forces that do not have the best interest of our Missouri students at hand,” says Funk.

She says the groups that were united in opposition to Amendment 3 are “very powerful,” and says it could work together to push for policy changes that it supports.

Republican House Speaker-Elect John Diehl, however, says there isn’t a lot that can be learned from the defeat of Amendment 3. He notes that there was no campaign to support against multiple sources of opposition.

“I don’t know that it reads too much one way or the other into what happens in the General Assembly on that issue. I don’t think Amendment 3 is something which would have passed the General Assembly and been signed by the governor,” says Diehl.

He says education is an important issue to his caucus, and what policies it pursues will be driven by two principles.

“Number one; education decisions should be made at the local level and not by the federal or state government. Number two; we need to make sure that every child in the state is afforded the opportunity of a quality education so they can compete in a 21st-century workforce.”

The legislature, which will be led by Republican majorities even greater than those that have led it the past two years, will meet beginning in January. The filing of bills begins December 1.

After criticism, new process announced to select MO Ed Commissioner

The Department of Education has released the process it will use for finding a new Education Commissioner to take the place of Chris Nicastro, who is retiring. The State Board of Education says it hopes to have a new Commissioner selected by December 31, when her retirement becomes effective.

Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend (left) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro listen to presentations at a State Board meeting.

Missouri State Board of Education President Peter Herschend (left) and Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro listen to presentations at a State Board meeting.

The Board was the subject of criticism by education groups and some educators who said it was moving too fast to select a new commissioner, and without being open and transparent about its process. Board President Peter Herschend had told the Kansas City Star last week that a new Commissioner might be selected during the Board meeting Monday, but later backed down from that prediction.

In the process outlined today, the Board says it will accept nominations in an open search through November 21. The public is invited to offer recommendations for the factors and characteristics to be considered by the State Board in evaluating candidates. Those can also be submitted through November 21.

The Board will then contact nominees to determine whether they are interested, and ask those who are to submit letters of applications, resumes with references and personal essays.

Those candidates considered most qualified will then be notified and invited to a personal interview with the Board. It will then vote on its selection from the finalists of the interviews and select the new Commissioner.

Nominations, applications and public recommendations can be submitted by e-mail through the Department’s website, and should be sent to the attention of Robin Coffman, Chief of Staff.

Earlier story:  Details today on search of Missouri Education Commissioner

Details today on search for Missouri Education Commissioner

The State Board of Education will speak publicly today about its search for a new Education Commissioner to replace Chris Nicastro, who is retiring.

Chris Nicastro testifies in a House Committee Hearing (courtesy; Missouri House Communications)

Missouri Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro (courtesy; Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

Some state educators and education groups have been critical of the Board, saying the search was being rushed and was not transparent enough. State Board President Peter Herschend had told the Kansas City Star last week he expected the board to vote Monday on a new Commissioner, but has since said that would be pushed back.

He tells reporters he still hopes to have a new commissioner by the time Nicastro retires at the close of the year.

“That’ll be at the Board’s discretion. We’re still working with the December 31, 2014 guideline that we, hopefully, will be able to meet,” says Herschend.

Nicastro has been Education Commissioner since 2009.