Today’s state Board of Education meeting had a noticeably different feel than the December 1 meeting when former Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven was terminated. Today’s meeting was not awkward, tense or divided like it was in December. Members of the now-functioning board voiced excitement about moving forward. They got down to business, but also shared several laughs throughout the meeting.
The panel has lacked enough members confirmed by the Missouri Senate to hold a public meeting. The upper chamber did not give its blessing to five citizens appointed by ex-Governor Eric Greitens. The former Republican head of state designed a plan to fire former Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven. The move sent ripples through Missouri’s legislative and education communities.
State Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington, the chairman of the Senate’s education committee, attended today’s meeting. Members applauded Romine’s help to get the board functioning once again. Earlier this week, Republican Governor Mike Parson appointed two new members – paving the way for the board to resume business. Peter Herschend of Branson and Carol Hallquist of Kansas City have joined the group.
President Charlie Shields of St. Joseph praised Roger Dorson, who has been serving as the interim commissioner since Vandeven was terminated by Greitens’ mostly last-minute appointed members who are no longer serving.
“We are in no stretch of anybody’s imagination in a crisis because we haven’t named a commissioner,” said Shields. “To the contrary, I think things are going very, very well.”
Shields has given members some homework for the next meeting: gather criteria to use in the hunt for the next education chief.
“I think we need to be very deliberate about this. We need to take our time,” said Shields. “I think this board, between now and the next meeting, I would charge you with going back and thinking about those qualities, those qualifications and things like.”
Time is not something Greitens’ appointees seemed interested in. Their strength in numbers allowed the board to launch a speedy search that resulted in 10 applications being submitted. The next step in the hiring process came to a stop because the controversial appointees had not been confirmed by the Senate – putting all board business in limbo.
Member Mike Jones of St. Louis said the board must address an important question before deciding how to handle a national search.
“Are we at the point in time that we are looking for a change agent or are we looking for somebody who has the leadership skills to build on the foundation and maintain continuity,” Jones said.
Other business today by the board includes agreement renewals of five charter schools: Brookside and Gordon Parks Elementary in Kansas City and Eagle College Prep Endeavor, Lafayette Preparatory Academy and Lift for Life Academy in St. Louis.
Shields said the board and legislature should take another look at the state’s charter school laws. The General Assembly has been wrestling over the issue for years and attempts have been made to expand charter schools statewide. Currently, charter schools are allowed in Kansas City, St. Louis and any other unaccredited Missouri school district.
The main disagreement is about the accountability measures used to determine if charter school students are meeting performance standards. Charter schools do not use the same benchmarks as Missouri’s public schools do to measure student achievement – causing some to argue that public and charter schools should be measured equally. Supporters of charter schools say parents can pull their kids out of a charter school if they are not satisfied with the job the school is doing.
The next board meeting has not been scheduled.
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