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Input sought as Jackson R-2 plans for future

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The Jackson R-2 School District will again be seeking input from the public as it prepares a long-range strategic plan to guide the district into the future.

While speaking at the Jackson Area Chamber of Commerce Business Breakfast on Friday, Jackson R-2 Superintendent Scott Smith announced two community-engagement meetings to be held in the Commons Area in Jackson High School.

The first meeting will be Thursday, March 31, at 4 p.m. A second meeting will be held Monday, April 4, at 6:30 p.m.

“We’re going to be asking for your input, your thoughts about how we are doing. What can we do better? We need some honest feedback. We are providing a future work force for you. We need your input to continue to grow. We need your voice to be heard,” Smith said.

“Our strategic planning is in process,” Smith said. “This is vital. The last time we did strategic planning was six years ago, and we got community support. We set the goals. You did the J-Wing. You did multiple projects across the district to multiple buildings. You made secure entrances. You’ve added technology, one to one devices for every student in our district. You have accomplished every one of those goals that was established during that strategic planning process. The reason all that was done was because you as a community, as business leaders, came; you attended, you gave your input as to what you wanted from the district. Thank you for that, and we hope we can get more of your input moving forward.

“It seems like only yesterday I was standing before you for the first time, introducing myself, and telling you how excited I was to be part of Jackson,” Smith said, who is in his first year as superintendent. “Let me tell you folks, the longer I’m here, the more excited I am.”

The district now serves over 5,600 students. In addition to seven elementary school buildings, the district has a middle school (grades 5-6) and junior high (grades 7-8) that each serve over 900 students, and a high school (grades 9-12) that serves over 1,700 students.

Over the last five years, enrollment has increased by more than 400 students.

Increasing enrollment is just one of the challenges Jackson R-2 is facing. Another is a shortage of workers. The district employs about 900 people, but it has had a hard time finding more people to work.

“As a district, we’ve struggled this year,” Smith said. “I think the best we got was within 13 custodians needed. Most of the time we’ve been 17 to 20 needed, just to keep our facilities clean and going. That’s an issue. But I will tell you that the ones we do have employed, they are dedicated. They make up the difference. They work so hard — that’s what keeps us going.”

Jackson R-2 has 73 school buses that run 58 regular bus routes daily, plus several special needs routes daily, and the occasional shuttling of students to and from events.

Last week, the Missouri Highway Patrol conducted its annual school bus inspection. The inspection is very thorough. For example, there are over 1,000 lights on a bus that must be in working order or points are knocked off. Jackson, with all those buses, again scored very high at 97.2 percent. “What they did find was all minor stuff, like a light bulb that went out,” Smith said.

A new 83-passenger school bus costs $130,000, so the district staff tries to keep the buses running as long as possible. “We’re trying to take care of what we got,” Smith said.

Food costs are rising, and Jackson R-2 serves over 6,000 meals a day. “We are definitely the largest restaurant in town,” Smith quipped.

Jackson R-2 tries to deal with the “whole child,” helping to take care of their social needs. The district has five social workers and plans to add five counselors next year. It has food pantries to feed hungry students.

In academics, the district is “doing well.” The last five years, Jackson students taking the ACT test have scored at or above the state level. JHS has a graduation rate of 95 percent. Last year, of the 386 students who graduated, 65 percent furthered their education in a two- or four-year program, 19 percent joined the work force, four percent joined the military and the remainder did not respond to the survey.

While some school districts across the nation may be discouraging parents from participating in the education of their children, Jackson is not one of them. “We believe school should be a place where you can participate,” Merideth Pobst, director of communications for the district, said.

“We have been in business a long time; since 1908 officially, and before that we were a military academy, so our roots are very strong in Jackson,” she said.

The district also promotes patriotism and citizenship by having students recite the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in every school building, said Smith. “Everybody stops. Wherever you’re at, you better find a flag and say the Pledge of Allegiance,” he said. “To me, that’s special, to see our kids still showing respect for our country and our flag.”

In addition to Smith and Pobst, JHS Student Body President Lydia Pobst and Vice President Brooke Gerau spoke briefly about what they liked about Jackson High School.

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at cashbook@mvp.net.

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