Press

March 1st, 2014

Benton’s shift to autonomous model on hold as STEM plan takes focus

Since Columbia Public Schools started discussing giving some schools more autonomy, the plan has been for three elementary schools to make the transition — Ridgeway, Lee and Benton. But for now, Benton’s transition is on hold.

Peter Stiepleman, assistant superintendent of elementary education, first presented the idea of so-called “small autonomous schools” to the Columbia Board of Education in 2010. The idea was to make these schools similar to charter schools in that they would have their own boards and some autonomy with regard to staffing, budget, curriculum, governance and school calendar. But the schools would still fall under the district’s authority.

March 1st, 2014

School board to interview four superintendent candidates

The Columbia Board of Education will interview four candidates for superintendent within the next several days, board President Christine King said in a statement yesterday.

Superintendent Chris Belcher announced in January that he would retire June 30 to take a job at the University of Missouri. The opening was posted in January, and the district received 18 applications, King said in her latest update. Now that has been narrowed to four possibilities.

February 24th, 2014

New app to help Columbia residents track public transportation

The City of Columbia discussed a new public transportation plan Friday in a meeting with Boone County, the Columbia School Board and the Chamber of Commerce.

The city has spent $165,000 to install tracking devices on Columbia Transit buses that will allow riders to track the buses via a smart phone app.

February 21st, 2014

CoMo Connect looks at possibly serving elementary schools in after-hours

With a new city bus system going forward later this year, transit planners are toying with another new idea: providing service to more schools.

CoMo Connect, the newly approved bus system, could be further expanded to include elementary schools, city transit manager Drew Brooks said during a joint city, Boone County, Columbia School Board and Chamber of Commerce meeting Friday morning. The meeting included a discussion of using CoMo Connect to fill the gap in direct service to schools.

February 20th, 2014

Columbia Board of Education votes to endorse Business Loop 70 tax district

King said she didn’t think the Hickman property needs any beautification or other improvements, but she thinks the CID could “certainly help” the area as a whole. Nothing in the proposal could harm Hickman, she said.

The proposal also won’t have a financial impact on the district, board member Jonathan Sessions said.

“The way I look at it, it’s a group of businesses that are coming together and choosing to tax themselves to improve their neighborhood,” Sessions said. “It does not impact the district” financially, “and Columbia Public Schools gets to be part of this and get all the benefits.”

February 19th, 2014

School district’s chief academic officer to retire in June

Columbia Public Schools Chief Academic Officer Sally Beth Lyon will retire this summer.

Lyon said she shared her decision with Superintendent Chris Belcher in November. She said the time seemed right for the move.

“I realized in my career that I’ve kind of been a five-year person. I spent five years as a teacher, five years as an administrator, five years in a research job,” she said. “This is my seventh year as chief academic officer.”

February 17th, 2014

Columbia City Council green-lights CoMo Connect

Residents still had a few suggestions for improving the project. The most common request was that Route 2 add a stop close to the MU Student Center so students could make use of the service. Jonathan Sessions suggested placing stops close to elementary schools so families could take their children to and from school. The project already includes stops at Columbia’s three high schools.

February 12th, 2014

Columbia City Leaders Try to Sell Downtown Development Plan

Columbia School Board member Jonathan Sessions told KOMU 8 News he has no problem with increased development in Columbia, but he worries a TIF would divert revenues that the school district would otherwise depend on. Sessions said the city has not put out enough numbers yet, and he is not sure the school district will get a fair piece of incremental tax revenue. The incremental tax revenue is the new revenue that comes in above what the base is set at.

“All of our budgets include growth,” Sessions said. “That’s expected revenue and right now a TIF would remove that expected revenue which would put the burden back on a school district to figure out how to keep the promises to our voters.”

January 15th, 2014

Columbia Public Schools officials look for ways to improve

Board members agreed the district’s website is a customer service area that could be improved. Jan Mees said it’s difficult to search for items on the site, and Jonathan Sessions said consistency among schools would help.

“I know we let schools have a lot of free rein, and free rein often has no bounds,” Sessions said. When parents have kids in multiple buildings, it would be helpful to have similar pages and similar navigation on the websites, he said.

November 20th, 2013

Columbia school boundaries could get regular reviews

As Columbia grows, schools will continue to see pockets of growth, which is why the district should consider having a policy to regularly review school boundaries, board member Jonathan Sessions told a Columbia Board of Education committee Monday.

“Other school districts do this just like a curriculum review,” Sessions told the group.

In Columbia Public Schools, boundaries are only redrawn when a new building opens or when schools become overcrowded because of growth. The most recent problem area is Mill Creek Elementary School, which reported 859 students enrolled this school year, up from 848 students last year and over the building’s capacity of 850 students.

September 18th, 2013

School district revisits rules for Board of Education candidates

At a district committee meeting Monday, Columbia Board of Education member Jonathan Sessions pointed out a concern with the policy for qualification for school board members — it does not specifically bar registered sex offenders from filing for school board.

Sessions noted that a state law, which went into effect in August 2012, prohibits sex offenders from being school board candidates, but Columbia Public Schools’ policy does not specifically mention that stipulation.
The district’s policy only requires that board candidates be citizens of the United States, voters of the school district, have lived in the state for one year preceding the election and are at least 24 years old.

“It’s something to add to our list” of policies to look at, Sessions told the group.

June 12th, 2013

Columbia school board rejects change to gun policy

The Columbia Board of Education last night voted down a policy that would have allowed two Columbia Public Schools employees to carry weapons on school grounds.

The district’s policy committee spent several months discussing the proposal, which would have allowed the director of security and the assistant director to carry weapons on campus. The committee had discussed the same idea in May 2011, but it did not go before the board for a vote then. The discussion was brought up again after last year’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

If adopted, the policy would have marked a major change for the district, where only school resource officers, who are employees of the Columbia Police Department, can carry weapons in schools.

Board members Jonathan Sessions and Jim Whitt joined Rose and Preis in voting against the policy.

April 10th, 2013

Columbia School Board Member Starts BEARD PAC

A Columbia School Board member founded a new political action committee early this month.

Jonathan Session is the co-founder of the Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy, referred to as BEARD PAC.

BEARD PAC thinks individuals dedicated enough to grow and maintain a quality beard are the kind that would show dedication in office.

Sessions said, “With the resurgence of beards in popular culture and among today’s younger generation, we believe the time is now to bring facial hair back into politics.”

April 9th, 2013

Electronic Devices Can be Used in Columbia Public Schools

Smart phones, tablets and gaming devices can soon be used for educational efforts in Columbia public schools. A new policy was put in place Monday night by the Columbia Board of Education that gives schools the option of using devices in classroom. The current policy prohibits that usage.

“The hope is students will engage actively in education with the devices and that they hopefully won’t let it be too disturbing,” said board member Jonathan Sessions.

Sessions acknowledged there will be challenges in avoiding students from being too disturbed by having the devices in class and said an effort is needed to prevent that from happening.

March 21st, 2013

New system lets teachers track students over time

Teachers can look at data for students in their classroom, principals can look at building-level data, and district administrators can see all data. At yesterday’s meeting, Sharp pulled up district-level Missouri Assessment Program scores, which can be sorted by factors such as race and can look at scores for a specific group of students over time.

Previously, MAP scores only compared grade levels each year — for example, looking at scores for last year’s third-graders compared with this year’s third-graders.

“This allows us to … look at the cohort as they move forward,” committee Chairman Jonathan Sessions said. “We’re looking at student growth versus student competition.”

DASH also shows teachers information for all the classes in which a student is enrolled, Sharp said. For example, if a Hickman High School student is taking a class at the Columbia Area Career Center, the teacher can see how the student is doing at both buildings.

The system is frequently updated to provide teachers with the most recent data.

January 12th, 2013

Schools panel considers catching up on salary schedule

At the finance committee meeting Wednesday, Jonathan Sessions, school board and committee member, said he would like that consideration to be a priority for next school year’s budget.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean now is the right time to make those payments, he said. “What I’m looking for is … what the impact might be long term,” he said.

Making up pay and benefits for the 818.04 full-time-equivalent positions affected by the first year of freezes would cost the district $798,623, district Chief Financial Officer Linda Quinley said. Including pay for the 886.02 FTE positions affected by the second freeze would add another $849,816. That figure doesn’t include hourly staff, Quinley said.

Sessions said the issue is something the committee and board will discuss more in upcoming months. “It’s something I know has been on a lot of teachers’ minds for a while,” he said.

October 10th, 2012

Columbia School Board supports raising state’s cigarette tax

Columbia School Board member Jonathan Sessions says the money will be appreciated but he is more interested in the impact on smoking rates.

“Evidence shows that this price increase could be a barrier to youth beginning smoking at such an early age, and that’s my primary reason for being in support of Proposition B,” Sessions says.

June 13th, 2012

Hinkson Creek group ready to move ahead

Committee member Jonathan Sessions, a member of the Columbia Board of Education, told Grindstaff the group was ready to begin reviewing information and options for improving the creek.

“I think we’re all right with the process,” he said.

Southern District Boone County Commissioner Karen Miller, also a member of the citizens committee, suggested the group take a field trip to see the creek before its next meeting in July.

“I hear it’s just horrible, then I hear it’s not all that bad,” she said.

Sessions agreed a group field trip “would help put some things in perspective.”

June 11th, 2012

Columbia schools face a time of transition

The April 2012 bond issue was the first step in a 10-year plan developed by the district’s long-range facilities committee. The ultimate goal, committee Chairman Jonathan Sessions said, would be to eliminate all classroom trailers by 2018 or 2020.

April 29th, 2012

School district’s notification system due for upgrade

The need for a new automated phone system is much in response to the aging system in place now, said school board member Jonathan Sessions, a former committee member — the system makes it difficult to get messages out quickly or to send notifications at the building level. The upgrade also is in response to the disaster in Joplin, he said.

“It’s about how we can be prepared as a possible reaction to similar disasters,” Sessions said.

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