Press

February 14th, 2017

Columbia Board of Education passes new middle school lines; rejects recommendation

The Columbia Board of Education on Monday changed direction and approved a previous version of redrawn boundaries for Gentry and Jefferson middle schools.

The board approved by a vote of 6-1 the Jan. 18 boundary scenario that had been presented at public forums at the two middle schools. In his motion, board member Jonathan Sessions also said current Gentry sixth- and seventh-graders who would otherwise move to Jefferson should be allowed to remain at Gentry, though transportation would not be provided for them.

The boundary change is meant to relieve crowding at Gentry. Gentry Middle School had 873 students in a recent count, but the capacity of the building and 13 trailers is 871 students. Superintendent Peter Stiepleman has said that with no changes, projected enrollment at Gentry next year is 900. Jefferson’s enrollment in September was 597 students.

Under the scenario approved by the board, 2017-18 enrollment at Gentry would drop to 799 and Jefferson’s enrollment would increase to 664. That does not take into consideration the number of current sixth- and seventh-graders who will opt to stay at Gentry. Stiepleman said during a break in the meeting that could result in an enrollment at Gentry of 834 and at Jefferson of 629.

“There was a lot of support for this scenario,” Sessions said. “I do feel like those last-minute changes were rather drastic. I just feel that snuck up on a lot of people.”

January 5th, 2017

Columbia School Board incumbents first to file for April race

Three current members of the Columbia School Board will seek re-election this spring.

Helen Wade, Paul Cushing and Jonathan Sessions, who each are finishing up three-year terms, are seeking to keep their seats on the volunteer board in the election April 4.

All three are running for third terms. Cushing’s first term was interrupted when he had to leave because of a job relocation to Minnesota; he ran for a seat again in 2014 when he returned to Columbia. Sessions, current vice president, was appointed in 2010 then ran for the board in 2011.

December 11th, 2016

Worley Street Roundtable discusses district policy for state anti-bullying law

The major suggestion from the group was to include restorative justice measures, focusing on fostering rehabilitation over punishment.

The other concern was ensuring that district and school staff, especially the newly created position of anti-bullying coordinator, are diverse, well-trained and representative of student demographics. And when it isn’t possible for staff to be diverse, ensuring that they are “culturally competent and able to represent students of different backgrounds in a perspective of empathy,” Jonathan Sessions, a school board member, said.

The roundtable also voiced concerns about the funding of training and salaries for new anti-bullying coordinators. Executive members of the roundtable encouraged other members to attend the school board meeting Monday to voice their concerns before the policy is finalized.

December 5th, 2016

Columbia Board of Education member Sessions to seek re-election

Columbia Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions said he plans to file his paperwork to run for re-election after the school board filing period opens next week.

The period for school board candidates to file for the April election begins Dec. 13 and closes Jan. 17. Sessions said he will seek a third full term on the school board. He first was elected to a one-year term on the board in 2010 to fill the unexpired term of board member Rosie Tippin, who died while in office.

September 15th, 2016

Columbia teachers who break contracts would have to pay district under policy

Teachers who break their contracts would have to pay Columbia Public Schools a portion of their salary under a policy being considered by the Columbia School Board.

The policy was created to dissuade teachers from breaking their contracts during the school year, which costs the district money and hurts student learning, School Board members Jonathan Sessions and Jan Mees said.

How much teachers would have to pay for leaving early has not been decided, Mees said. 

The policy was presented to the board Monday evening by Brian Kurz, assistant superintendent for human resources for the district.

June 11th, 2016

Soap box derby kicks off Sunday morning in downtown Columbia

A number of notable area residents also will race Sunday, including contests between KOMU’s Jim Riek and Fred Parry, owner of Inside Columbia magazine and a candidate for the Boone County Commission, and a race between Moberly Area Community College President Jeff Lashley and Columbia Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions.

May 19th, 2016

Columbia Board of Education discusses future technology strategies in CPS

The board reviewed the draft version of a three-year technology plan from the technology service leadership team. The plan is based on the evaluation of the pass progresses and the remaining needs in technology integration in the district.

Board member Jonathan Sessions said they were going to talk on a holistic perspective. “We’re working on making sure our students, all of our buildings have wireless because obviously that’s a much more affordable way to integrate internet into a building and rather than pulling wire.”

The plan seeks to help students better utilize technology tools and resources in academic learning. It also is intended to implement a more comprehensive and transparent professional development.

May 9th, 2016

Columbia Public Schools approves employee pay raises

Teacher salaries will increase by 5.77 percent. CPS Deputy Superintendent Dr. Dana Clippard said the pay increase “seems reasonable.”

Clippard said CPS employees have not seen a payraise since 2007.

“We need to make sure that we’re paying teachers a living wage and we are keeping up with inflation, and we’re keeping up with the cost of living in a community like Columbia, Missouri,” board member Jonathan Sessions said. “We have not been keeping up with the cost of inflation and the cost of living.”

Minimum wage for custodians and cafeteria workers will increase from $9.15 to $10/hour, and educational assistants, depending on the title, will receive up to $12.80/hour.

School psychologists are will be the biggest winners of negotiations, and expect receive an average increase of 17.14 percent.

April 12th, 2016

Whitt reappointed president of Columbia Board of Education

On the same night Columbia Board of Education members reappointed James Whitt and Jonathan Sessions as president and vice president, respectively, for another year, district leaders revealed some positive financial news.

Whitt and Jan Mees were re-elected to the school board last Tuesday. They were sworn into office Monday night during the board’s regular meeting.

“Now that the team’s in place, we’re ready to move forward,” Whitt said.

April 11th, 2016

Whitt reappointed president of Columbia Board of Education

On the same night Columbia Board of Education members reappointed James Whitt and Jonathan Sessions as president and vice president, respectively, for another year, district leaders revealed some positive financial news.

February 12th, 2016

House proposes to increase K-12 funding by $76M

Gov. Jay Nixon originally recommended a $85 million dollar increase, but both proposals would still underfund schools.

Jonathan Sessions, the vice president of the Columbia Board of Education, said the numbers don’t mean much at this point and he expects them to change throughout state’s the budgeting process.

“The only thing I can almost guarantee at this point is that K-12 education in the state of Missouri will continue to be underfunded,” Sessions said.

Darin Fugit is the parent of 17-year-old twins who attend Battle High School and a 13-year-old daughter who attends Lange Middle School.

December 14th, 2015

Columbia School Board votes to send two measures to April ballot

Keeping the current no-tax-increase bond would not bring any changes to community members’ tax bills. However, it would delay changes in the education system until 2018.

Board members said such an investment would continue to show years into the future.

“I support both on the ballot because it shows we keep our promises to the community and that we are great stewards of taxpayer dollars,” board member Jonathan Sessions said.

November 10th, 2015

Board of Education holds public meeting on financial plans

The Columbia Board of Education held an open meeting Monday night to discuss different avenues to finance the city’s education system.

“Conversation was deep and honest about where we stand financially as a district, but very board driven.” said Board of Education Vice President Jonathan Sessions.

The group discussed two solutions to generate more revenue for improvement ventures in the public education system.

One option that would be available to voters is a 65-cent levy increase that would generate $14.3 million.

That money would go towards investing in better training techniques and equipment for teachers in the Columbia school system as well as salary increases.

October 13th, 2015

School board debates CPS handling its own sports marketing

“The five years have been good learning years,” Quinley said. “We don’t believe we can do it less expensively than the 30 percent we’ve been paying Kelly Sports Properties. We believe we would spend every bit of that 30 percent internally.”

Quinley said the revenue has never approached what was anticipated in the contract, which includes a second tier of revenues from $666,668 to $1 million and a fourth tier for more than $3 million in revenues.

“When we started the program five years ago, we had hoped that the revenues would be higher,” Quinley said.

“You mean Kelly has never been able to take the revenues to that level?” asked board member Jonathan Sessions.

“Yes,” Quinley said.

September 24th, 2015

Columbia school board debates weighted grades

Board members Christine King, Jonathan Sessions, Darin Preis, Jan Mees and superintendent Peter Stiepleman started out opposing the weighted grades. During the course of the discussion, Preis was swayed to become a proponent of weighting grades, and Stiepleman later joined board members Paul Cushing and Jim Whitt in a group of undecided participants.

Stiepleman said he was impressed by the points made by junior Brielle Thompson and invited her to apply for a teaching position after college.

“Come back and teach for us,” Stiepleman said.

August 1st, 2015

GRAND OPENING: Gravity

Columbia Apple users are in luck.

For about the past 10 years, Jonathan Sessions worked on computers with a focus on Macs. Now, he has opened Gravity, a business certified by Apple to handle in- and out-of-warranty repairs for Apple computers and devices. People who have problems with hard drives, for example, won’t need to take their computer to Kansas City or St. Louis for the same service they could get at an Apple store.

When MacXprts closed last year, it created a void in the market for Sessions to set up shop as an Apple Authorized Service Provider. He said he will be able to fix devices such as iPads and iPhones very shortly, but he can facilitate those repairs in the interim.

“We provide in-house services for individuals that just need home computer repair and in-shop” services, Sessions said. “Apple has their Genius Bars. We provide the same services right here in Columbia.”

June 8th, 2015

Columbia public schools inch closer to changing nondiscrimination policy

Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions serves on the policy committee that unanimously voted to send the policy to the school board for approval. He said the committee worked with a local psychologist to help craft the language of the policy.

“We’re just adding gender identity and gender expression to two policies, our discrimination policy and a policy that is referenced in our bullying policy, where these things were enumerated,“he said.

Sessions said the proposed changes include adding language to make up for an inconsistency in the existing bullying and discrimination policy.

“We did not have sexual orientation enumerated on our bullying policy so we’re also adding that to policy JG-R (the student bullying policy),” he said.

Sessions would not speak to whether or not he expects the board to pass the policy, saying only “I hope there is support on the board for this policy.”

Sessions said he has not personally received any negative feedback from the community regarding the policy.

“I’ve had personally a lot of people reach out to in support of this policy,” he said.

The board read the proposal for the first time Monday.

“It’s about making sure that we’re protecting our staff and our students and that’s what we’re doing by these modifications,” Sessions said.

The board will not vote to adopt the proposed policy until its next meeting in September.

June 7th, 2015

School board weighing nondiscrimination policy changes

The district’s nondiscrimination policy covers both district employees and students. It would be amended to include the terms “gender identity” and “gender expression” under categories for which the district prohibits discrimination and harassment.

The district’s policy committee last month voted to forward the changes to the full school board. Monday will see a first read of the policy change, with final consideration at a future meeting. Board members Jonathan Sessions and Jan Mees both are on the policy committee.

May 27th, 2015

CPS policy committee recommends protections for gender identity, expression

One issue mentioned by committee members was whether there can be gender-neutral restrooms in schools. Another consideration might be what counseling services can be made available to staff or students in transition.

Committee Chairman Jonathan Sessions on Thursday said many of the questions will need to be answered later and will be based on the needs of individual students and employees.

Sessions, during the committee meeting, asked members to consider the policy separate from the procedures.

“This is a question of protection,” Sessions said of the policy.

“It’s impossible to foresee all the things you’re going to need in place,” Tager said. “The sooner you do the policy change, the sooner you’ll start working on process and procedures.”

May 26th, 2015

Columbia schools mull impact of adding gender identity protection

A wording change in the Columbia Public Schools’ nondiscrimination policy could lead to district-wide changes.

The Columbia Board of Education’s Policy Committee unanimously approved a wording change to include “gender identity” and “gender expression” the school district’s nondiscrimination policy. This change began at the committee’s April meeting when community members raised concerns regarding protection of transgender students and staff as well as those who do not conform to traditional gender identities.

The policy already protects sexual orientation and genetic information from discrimination and harassment; however, Kyle Piccola of PROMO said this leaves out a demographic of the LGBTQ community.

Piccola is a senior field organizer for PROMO, Missouri’s statewide lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual advocacy organization.

“The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, commonly referred to LGBT, faces certain barriers when it comes to living in the state of Missouri,” Piccola said.

At the top of the list is discrimination. Piccola said there is little legal protection for transgender men and women in the state of Missouri.

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