April 28th, 2015

CPS committee mulls adding gender identity to nondiscrimination policy

Kerri Schafer, who works with the Transgender Health Network and is a psychological resident at the University of Missouri, provided committee members with information from a 2011 study on transgender discrimination in the United States. The study found that 48 percent of elementary through high school students in Missouri who reported being transgender were assaulted and that 7 percent of transgender students left school because of harassment.

She said 89 percent of transgender adults in Missouri said they experienced discrimination at work, and 28 percent blamed the loss of a job on gender identity bias.

Schafer said transgender students also are susceptible to mental health problems.

“Lots of transgender folks are just being besieged by discrimination,” she said.“A protection like this is basic,” Piccola said.

“From a policy standpoint, this is a very easy edit,” said school board member Jonathan Sessions.

Board President Jim Whitt said the practical applications of implementing the policy change would be more complex.

April 14th, 2015

CPS Board of Education approves boundary changes

The Columbia Board of Education on Monday approved new boundaries for seven elementary schools beginning in 2016-17.

Board members Christine King and Darin Preis — both re-elected April 7 — also were sworn in Monday. Superintendent Peter Stiepleman praised King’s service as board president.

The board elected Jim Whitt as its new president. Jonathan Sessions was elected vice president.

March 16th, 2015

CPS deficit spending can’t continue as planned reserves dwindle

Columbia Public Schools has built up reserve funds, but without a new plan deficit spending will deplete reserves within a couple of years.

School officials are mulling ideas to increase revenue, including an operating tax levy hike.

CPS Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said in 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11, the district cut spending to create reserves totaling 16 percent of spending and transfers. The money was needed to provide a financial cushion for the district, which anticipated the need for deficit spending as state revenue took a hit during the recession.

“This is planned deficit spending,” said school board member Jonathan Sessions. “We built up our reserves. We knew that we would be able to maintain that for a few years.”

Quinley told the board last week that under current projections, the district’s spending over revenue in the operating fund would total $3,516,910, leaving ending fund balances of $39,299,748. The ending balance is nearly 21 percent of total spending and would cover 2½ months of spending.

March 14th, 2015

Raspberry Pi Jam teaches children computer programming

David Drum, a Research Manager at MORENet, said a Raspberry Pi can be used to build a room or diary security system or even a smart phone. He said the hands-on learning is beneficial for students and children interested in STEM programs.

“For children learning about science, technology, engineering and math, it’s more about the experience than what they learn, up to a point. So the Raspberry Pi is a very safe platform on which to experiment, not just with computing and programming, but also with how the computer can interact with its environment.”

Thurnau said, “A lot of people don’t realize that in K-12 schools now, they’re teaching coding in library class, and that’s really exciting to me as a parent. It’s also a great opportunity to bring those lessons home with an easily accessible device.”

Saturday’s event included presentations from coders, as well as Jonathan Sessions from the Columbia Public School Board. They shared project examples and Sessions explained how this device could be implemented into public schools. He said he already completed a project with the help of three West Middle schoolers and had a great experience.

Drum said the computer can be easily purchased online or from electronics retailers, and there are project tutorials online as well.

January 29th, 2015

CPS nature school ‘in holding pattern’

Then the 2014 legislative session happened. Lawmakers approved tax cuts, and Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed them, withholding money from education. He released the money when legislators did not override his vetoes of the tax cuts.

But money for the nature school wasn’t included in the money released, Sessions said.

“It wasn’t feasible in last year’s budget,” Sessions said. “Because of the tax cuts and departmental budget cuts to DNR, there were not funds available.”

He said there has been no word from the Missouri Office of Administration on the status of the funding. Sessions said both the school district and DNR remain committed to the project.

“Columbia Public Schools is ready and committed to the project when the Office of Administration steps up,” Sessions said. “Until that time, we’re in a holding pattern.”

December 14th, 2014

Columbia school board gives final approval to policy allowing security personnel to carry guns

The Columbia Board of Education gave final approval Monday to a policy allowing school district security personnel to carry guns if they meet requirements.

Superintendent Peter Stiepleman said Tuesday he’s aiming for Jan. 15 for John White, Columbia Public Schools security director, and Ken Gregory, assistant security director, to carry guns. He said the administration must first establish a procedure for what action to take in the event that one of them fires his gun. White and Gregory are often the first on the scene at school incidents.


The board in June 2013 voted against a similar policy, but board member Paul Cushing, elected in April, asked the Policy Committee to reconsider it. The training requirements were added in the new policy. Board member Jonathan Sessions switched from a “no” vote in June 2013, citing the added training requirements.

September 19th, 2014

School board discusses certifying day cares, year-round school

Stiepleman and Adams gave a presentation on the Comprehensive School Improvement Plan. It included an animation that showed a middle-class student continuing to advance with each grade level. A low-income student fell further behind, especially during the summer months when not attending school.

Board member Jonathan Sessions said there were two important points the presentation for him: early childhood education and summer loss.

August 6th, 2014

District has plan to reduce number of trailers

Columbia Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions said when he was elected to the school board, he heard in every meeting and survey the desire to reduce the number of trailers. “The community wants us to get out of them,” he said.

This coming school year, the single trailer at Lange Middle School is scheduled to be removed. Six of the nine trailers at Two Mile Prairie Elementary School are scheduled to be removed in 2015-16, but the remaining three aren’t on the schedule. The 12 trailers at Shepard Boulevard Elementary School and seven trailers at Mill Creek Elementary School are scheduled for removal in 2016-17. The four trailers at Benton Elementary School, the five trailers the former Field Elementary School property, six trailers at Lee Elementary School and three trailers at Parkade Elementary School are scheduled to be removed in 2017-18. In 2018-19, the seven trailers at Cedar Ridge Elementary School are scheduled to be removed.

By the end of 2018-19, 17 school locations will have no trailers. Trailers will remain at 11 locations. The highest number of trailers will be left at Gentry Middle School with 13; Smithton Middle School with 12; and Derby Ridge Elementary School with eight.

“It is the demographics of the school district,” Linda Quinley, the district’s chief financial officer, said of the remaining trailers. “The challenge is the district’s growth. We aren’t adding buildings fast enough. It’s going to be a challenge.”

Stiepleman said another plan will be needed when the current one ends. “We’ll continue to grow,” he said. “We’re going to require more brick and mortar. Our growth is not ebbing.”

Sessions said he is pleased with the progress the district has made so far. “I’m glad we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

May 14th, 2014

Poverty simulation shows difficulties faced by families

That was the situation for my “family” during yesterday’s poverty simulation put on by Central Missouri Community Action at Missouri United Methodist Church on Ninth Street.

I was Pablo, 21-year-old student at the local community college, and I was handed a small doll to represent Pedro, my 3-year-old brother. I also had 13-year-old twin sisters, Patricia (Boone County Treasurer Nicole Galloway) and Penelope (Columbia Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions), who have “creative ways” of making extra money. We had $300 amongst ourselves, a few appliances and household items that we could pawn. Our rent was paid for the month, and Pedro’s child care was paid for the month.

April 9th, 2014

Cushing, incumbents victorious in school board race: Cushing joins Wade, Sessions on board.

Sessions, 31, and Wade, 37, also were excited last night. The two held a shared watch party at Bleu Restaurant.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity to serve the community for the next three years,” Sessions said. “The district has new leadership, and it’s a great opportunity to move forward and focus on academics, and we are eager to be part of that.”

Wade expressed a similar sentiment. “I’m hopeful we will continue the positive changes we have achieved in the past three years.”

The two agreed that in the immediate future, finances will be the first big focus of their new terms as the district continues to wait to hear how much funding it will receive from the state. Beyond that, the pair agreed they are excited to continue to vet new proposals such as the nature school and community school and to continue to work to “proactively address growth.”

March 18th, 2014

As Columbia schools superintendent, Stiepleman to continue Belcher’s goals

School board member Jonathan Sessions said after the Friday news conference that he was excited for the next school year under Stiepleman’s leadership.

“As Dr. Stiepleman expressed today, he has a deep understanding of the district that he’s gained as a teacher, principal and part of the administration team,” Sessions said. “He has a vision of how to build upon the district’s success and grow to be better.”

March 17th, 2014

Cedar Ridge would get new school if next month’s bond issue is approved

If voters approve a $50 million school bond issue next month, more than half of the money would go toward building a public elementary school somewhere on Columbia’s east side.

The school would be designed for 600 students, including the students and probably many of the teachers, staff and administrators from Cedar Ridge Elementary School at 1100 S. Roseta Ave., off East Broadway and east of U.S. 63. Estimated to cost $28 million, the new school would open in 2018 and is part of a 10-year plan to address overcrowding in the district.

March 14th, 2014

Principal sees benefit of Battle students using iPads

When Battle High School staff got word that all students at the school would receive an iPad this school year, they knew they needed to change the paradigm of what people thought iPads were, Principal Kim Presko told the Columbia Board of Education earlier this week.

A lot of people think kids just use devices to play games or check social media, she explained. Although kids may use iPads for those purposes, the staff wanted the iPad to be an educational tool.

“We wanted to use this tool to create a higher level of thinking in schools … instead of using it for a substitution — it’s not just making things paperless,” Presko said.

March 14th, 2014

Peter Stiepleman is new Columbia Public Schools superintendent

Peter Stiepleman, who has been assistant superintendent for elementary education for Columbia Public Schools, will now lead the district.

The district made the announcement about 11:30 a.m. Friday. The Columbia School Board met Thursday evening to discuss and vote on finalists Stiepleman and Dred Scott, deputy superintendent of the Independence School District near Kansas City.

Stiepleman succeeds Chris Belcher, who has been Columbia superintendent since June 2009. Belcher announced on Jan. 8 that he will retire on June 30. He has accepted a job in MU’s College of Education.

March 12th, 2014

Columbia City Council, school board candidates questioned on disabilities issues

School board member Jonathan Sessions, who is seeking his third term, said public transportation is an issue for some low-income parents with students in Columbia Public Schools. City bus routes should be arranged so that parents can use the system to get to elementary schools later in the day.

“It’s vital for transit to reach our public schools,” Sessions said. While the implementation of CoMo Connect will not include evening service, the city plans to tailor some routes to serve Columbia’s three public high schools.

March 11th, 2014

Columbia City Council Candidates Meet to Discuss Disability Issues

Candidates for the Columbia City Council and School Board met today to discuss disability issues at a Forum at city hall.

Multiple Mid-Missouri disability services agencies hosted the forum to get the candidates talking about accessibility in the city. Community members submitted questions online, and the candidates discussed a range of issues, from playground accessibility, to inclusive hiring processes and expansion of the para transit system.

March 11th, 2014

Rock Bridge Elementary parents speak out about process used to pick principal

Parent Beth Hendren said she thinks about 50 letters were sent to the board on the issue. Board member Jonathan Sessions said the board received dozens of emails about the topic, but he said only some of those emails expressed “concern with the process,” while others voiced support for the district’s decision.

March 8th, 2014

Candidates take on hot issues

A school board candidate forum at the Muleskinners’ meeting Friday touched on some controversial topics, like guns in school and the Common Core State Standards.

Four candidates are running for three open three-year terms on the Columbia Board of Education. The candidates are incumbents Jonathan Sessions and Helen Wade; former school board member Paul Cushing; and newcomer Joe Toepke.

The Common Core standards, academic guidelines that have been adopted by 45 states, were brought up in the first question from the audience. While most states are implementing the standards, some have raised concerns over Common Core recently over perceived problems such as nationalization and appropriateness of curriculum and how personal student information is gathered and used.

March 7th, 2014

School board candidates on same page during first forum

Candidates for the Columbia Board of Education on Thursday night attended their first forum, where they addressed topics such as technology in schools, the achievement gap and strengths of the school system.

Four candidates are running for three three-year seats on the board. The election is April 8. Candidates include incumbents Jonathan Sessions and Helen Wade as well as former school board member Paul Cushing and newcomer Joe Toepke.

The four were in agreement on the majority of the issues brought up at the forum, which was sponsored by the Columbia Missouri State Teachers Association, Columbia Council PTA and Columbia Parents for Public Schools.

March 6th, 2014

Assistant principal chosen to head Hickman High School

Eric Johnson, assistant principal at Hickman High School, has been tapped to take over as the school’s principal next academic year.

Johnson will replace Tracey Conrad, who will retire at the end of the school year. The change requires approval of the Columbia Board of Education. Conrad has been the principal at Hickman for four years and assistant principal seven years before that. She is moving to Florida.

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  • 12.13.16

    It’s Official.

    This morning I filed for re-election to serve a fourth term on Columbia Public Schools’ Board of Education. I’m excited to get the campaign underway and am humbled by the support I am already receiving.

  • 12.5.16

    I’ve announced!

    This morning I spoke with Roger McKinney of the Columbia Daily Tribune and confirm that I will be seeking a fourth term on the Columbia Public Schools Board of Education.