R-4 District prepares for school start

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Funding, performance and school improvement will make the most impact and cause the biggest changes at the Cassville R-4 School District during the 2011-12 school year. Students will return to classes on Aug. 17.

"We had a good summer," said Richard Asbill, Cassville superintendent. "We had a few projects that we contracted out and several that we completed on our own. We have also completed our everyday work in preparation for the school year.

"Some of our teachers came back last week," said Asbill. "More will be back this week, and our new teachers will begin on Friday. All the staff will be here beginning Monday."

District finances

One of the largest issues weighing on administrators' minds is school funding. Public school districts across Missouri are facing financial issues associated with reductions in governmental funding.

"We are looking at cost cutting measures and conserving the resources we have," said Asbill. "Right now, we are evaluating all of our needs and weighing their importance.

"We have reduced the building level budgets in all areas," said Asbill. "We have also made a few personnel reductions. We feel this has all been done appropriately and that the patrons will not see any interruption in services."

The reduction in staff has allowed the school district to eliminate one bus route. This year, the district's shortest city route will be divided among the district's longest bus routes, which serve the Eagle Rock, Golden and Shell Knob areas.

"We had an employee who took full-time employment with another company, and we decided not to replace that driver," said Asbill. "This helps us both financially and to accommodate the loss of that employee. It shouldn't mean any changes for the students.

"If student numbers increase, we will be receptive to adding the eliminated route back," said Asbill.

Students will also see some minor changes in the district's lunch program. For instance, 2 percent milk will no longer be offered during the 2011-12 school year.

"The students will have 1 percent and skim milk options," said Asbill.

A few years ago, the federal government enacted a wellness program that required districts to make major changes to their food service programs. This year's changes will be far less significant, said Asbill.

"The board decided to make no lunch price changes this year," said Asbill. "We know that in these economic times the community does not need all sorts of additional increases in costs."

New law affects staff

The district is also facing a policy change in response to a new state law that prohibits social networking between students and teachers. Missouri Senate Bill 54 states that teachers and students cannot connect on any site that allows private communication.

"We will address this with three pieces," said Asbill. "We will have a district policy. We will also provide information to our staff on the current law and explain its pitfalls and the limitations that need to be complied with."

Cassville's policy will be based on recommendations from the Missouri School Board Association (MSBA) and MUSIC, which serves as the R-4 School District's insurance provider.

The district will also monitor the appeals process and changes to the current law.

Performance standards

Cassville administrators and teachers will continue to evaluate students' annual yearly performance scores during the 2011-12 school year. According to Asbill, the district experienced gains at the intermediate and high school levels last year.

"The middle school did outstanding in both communication arts and mathematics," said Asbill. "We are very excited about their overall improvements, which are representative of a two- or three-year process.

"Our intermediate school needs work in the subgroup performances," said Asbill. "At the high school, we were very pleased with the communication arts scores but mathematics will need improvement. We made gains, but not as significant as in the past. We will be looking at restructuring our goals."

Like many districts, Cassville has come to the conclusion that the No Child Left Behind standards are not practical for students. Those standards will be of less concern at the local district this year.

"It is not really practical to say every child must be proficient by a certain time," said Asbill. "That system was flawed from the beginning.

"We are doing okay on our accountability piece, and we will continue to monitor the high standards and goals, but it is not in the child's best interest to set unreasonable goals and then grade them when you know that those goals cannot be reached," said Asbill.

The district will continue to focus on its school improvement plan, which was put in place three years ago.

"This plan is responsible to student needs," said Asbill. "It has required us to put a good system in place to respond to individual needs. This year, with two or three years of data in place, we will be able to respond to those needs even quicker."

With Fourth Cycle MSIP (Missouri School Improvement Plan) behind the R-4 District, Cassville will turn its attention to Fifth Cycle MSIP and Comprehensive Core State Standards (CCSS).

"Right now we don't know what Fifth Cycle will be, but we know that the state and federal standards will involve CCSS," said Asbill. "That will be the next big shift for education. There will be a huge shift to be mindful that every student must be either college or career ready."

Administration changes

Cassville School District patrons will also see a change in administration this year. Terry Jamieson, who served as the high school assistant principal, will serve as the middle school principal, and Eric White, former middle school principal, will serve as the intermediate school principal.

Summer projects

Over the summer, the R-4 School District completed several projects, including a roofing renovation at the middle school and a track renovation. District maintenance staff also added 42 feet to the home side of the bleachers and began a carpet replacement project at the high school. Another major project renovated the district's ground source heating and cooling system.

"We are excited about the year," said Asbill. "With our school improvement plans, we are excited to add some before and after school tutoring programs. We hope that even though there are some issues with financing, patrons will not see an interruption in services."

The Cassville School District will welcome 14 new teachers this year. Most of the faculty members will be added at the high school. Around four staff members will join the middle school staff, and one teacher will be added at the primary.

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