October 21, 2014

Missouri gets federal grant to improve school safety (AUDIO)

The federal education department has given Missouri half-a-million dollars to make its schools safer.  The state will spread that money around to protect about one-million students.

The Missouri Center for Education Safety is getting the grant to improve relations between schools and local emergency response agencies.  Center Director Paul Fennewald, a former state Homeland Security Adviser, says schools are some of the safest places children can be.  But he says security plans are spotty throughout the 520-plus public school districts and in private and parochial schools. ‘We’re kind of all over the map,” he says, “Some schools have very high quality plans…but then a lot of schools don’t.”  Fennewald says the goal is to take some of the relationships established in homeland security and “plug schools into the equation.”

He says the Homeland Security  office developed a web-based best-practices all-hazards emergency plan that all schools can use.  Fennewald says the money will be used to hire a couple of fulltime emergency operations planning coordinators who will work to bring schools and local emergency operations systems together.

AUDIO: Fennewald interview

VP Biden helps dedicate Joplin High School, tech center (VIDEO)

Students, staff, residents of Joplin and numerous dignitaries have dedicated the new Joplin High School/Franklin Technology Center, marking another milestone in the city’s recovery from a devastating tornado three years ago.

The ceremony was highlighted by a speech by Vice President Joe Biden and an attempt at a Guinness world record for the longest ribbon cutting ceremony.

Biden told the crowd that Joplin offers inspiration to those who have gone through disasters like that tornado.

“You underestimate the hope all of you give Americans who have been broken and devastated by crises in their lives,” said Biden.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Governor Jay Nixon also spoke during the dedication.

Watch as Vice President Biden dons a Joplin cap, courtesy of Highschoolcube.com:


Missouri Educators gear up to fight Amendment 3 (AUDIO)

A proposal on the November ballot has Missouri’s public school systems nervous even though backers of it have abandoned their campaign.  Amendment Three remains on the ballot although the Teach Great Campaign has quit campaigning for it.

Teach Great organized the petition campaign largely bankrolled by financier Rex Sinquefield, but says its polling shows the public isn’t buying the idea.  That’s not good enough for Missouri’s school districts that want to crush the proposition in November, sending a strong message to Teach Great.

Spokesman Brent Ghan with the Missouri School Boards Association says the association does not oppose reforming the teacher tenure process, but Amendment three is an attack on local control of schools. “The issue of teacher evaluation and performance…is not a subject that really belongs in the construction…and, second, it goes way beyond addressing the issue of teacher tenure to mandating how school districts will evaluate teachers in the process of hiring and firing.”

He says Amendment Three takes that away and replaces it with a system that determines teacher pay and retention on the basis of a standardized test that hasn’t been developed yet.  He says the standardized tests would be given in all districts regardless of their academic records and needs.

AUDIO: Ghan interview

MO Ed Commissioner: staff not trying to steer discussion to Common Core

Missouri’s Commissioner of Education says her department isn’t trying to steer discussions about new academic standards back toward Common Core.

Work groups created by the passage of HB 1490 began meeting this week try and create a new set of academic standards that could replace Common Core standards currently in use. Some Republicans criticized the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, saying its staff was trying to be too involved in the work groups’ meetings. One work group chairman accused DESE staff of having an “agenda,” to steer the groups toward Common Core.

See earlier story on some Republicans’ complaints about the working groups’ first meetings

Commissioner Chris Nicastro says that’s not true.

“We’re trying to be helpful. We’re trying to follow the law,” says Nicastro. “We’ve provided the resources that are part of convening a process and we will continue to provide those upon request.”

Nicastro says from what staff has told her, Monday was “really tough,” and she thinks it stems in part from people having different ideas about what it means to “convene meetings,” as 1490 instructs the Department to do.

“Typically when we convene meetings or we initiate a process,” says Nicastro, “that means you schedule the meetings, you make arrangements for a meeting space, you make arrangements for technology or video if necessary, you make arrangements for somebody to take notes … to make sure that the meetings can get off on the right foot.”

Nicastro says some members of work groups felt DESE should not have involvement in many of those respects, “and … that’s fine. If they don’t want that assistance then certainly they can carry on as they choose.”

She thinks “confusion” was created by some work group members coming in assuming that the creation of new academic standards would begin from scratch. She thinks the place to start is with the standards that are being used now, and that’s Common Core.

“You always start with where you are,” says Nicastro, “then you decide: is this still adequate? Does this meet our needs? Is this in fact what kids should know and be able to do? Are we asking enough? Are we asking too much? It becomes kind of the starting point of the conversation.”

Nicastro acknowledges that other “starting points” might be different sets of standards favored by some group members, such as those used in other states.

The groups are scheduled to meet again in the coming week and Nicastro says DESE will continue to be available to them as requested.

MO Republicans: Education Department too involved in standards work groups

Some Republicans and participants in the work groups tasked with creating new state education standards say Department of Education staff is trying to be too involved in that effort.

The legislature passed, and Governor Jay Nixon (D) signed, a bill that put Common Core standards in place for a year. During that year these groups, made up of people chosen by the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor, the State Board of Education, the Senate President, the House Speaker and the Commissioner of Higher Education, will work to create new academic performance standards that could potentially replace the Common Core standards.

Eight teams began Monday discussing math, science, social studies and English language standards for elementary and secondary students. Some lawmakers say their intention in creating HB 1490 was for the Department of Education to support those groups, not control them, but one of the group’s chairman says that’s not what’s happening.

“DESE made their presence known, made their agenda known, wanted their outcomes known, and they were very crystal clear about it,” says Chris Howard of Ballwin. “The facilitators had an agenda, and the agenda was to protect DESE’s interests in maintaining whatever of Common Core that they could.”

Howard says the situation led to tension and flaring tempers during some of the meetings Monday and Tuesday.

House Speaker Tim Jones and several other elected Republicans released a statement Tuesday morning that Jones tells Missourinet was an attempt to make clear to the Department what its role was meant to be in this process, according to the legislature.

“We expected that the stakeholders that were appointed to the committees would be the ones that would work together to manage the process and not that DESE would suddenly somehow presume that they were in charge of everything,” says Jones.

Jones says it was a legislative response to the Department that led to the creation of the work groups.

“This whole problem was started by DESE in the first place, who … began the process of implementing Common Core in our 500-plus school districts across the state, without any legislative input, without any legislative oversight, without any contact with the legislature at all,” says Jones.

Attempts to reach the Department for its take on how the first two days’ meetings went were unsuccessful.

Work groups resume meetings next week. Their goal is to have new standards ready in about a year.