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Jackson R-2 Board looks at adding artificial turf fields

The Jackson R-2 School Board approved for Incite Design Studios to design artificial turf fields for football and soccer, as well as moving sod that would no longer be needed to the junior high football field.

Incite Design Studios, which worked with the District on designing the current bond renovation, will design and put the project out for bid. The cost for these services is 4.5 percent of the finished project.

As part of the study, the District will also look into adding a shock pad underneath the turf on the football field. The shock pad helps protect students from getting a concussion if their head hits the field.

Superintendent John Link said this had been something that the District had talked about for a long time, and it is time for the District to take a serious look at whether to add artificial turf. He added that if they go forward with the project, the District would save money that they currently spend on maintenance for the grass fields.

“With our football field, we’re on that thing four or five nights a week,” Link said. “We’ve been fortunate with the weather the past couple of years that our fields are still in pretty good shape, but you have junior high, JV and varsity playing out there, plus band.”

Link added that if the plan went forward, the band would be able to practice more on the field, freeing up their current practice space for a future performing arts center.

“This is something that is an eight to 10 year investment,” Link said. “I want to make sure it’s going to last that long.”

The turf would not be a part of the bond product and would be paid for through lease-purchase financing or from the District’s reserve. Link said he hopes to show costs and financing options at the next Board meeting on Jan. 9.

In other action:

• The Board updated many of the School District’s policies for clarity and to incorporate changes made by state laws and Missouri School Boards’ Association guidelines. The policies now contain stricter confidentiality enforcement for Board members and will allow Board members to fully participate in meetings using video conferencing.

In the selection of architectural and engineering services, the updated policy requires the identification of the individuals or subcontractors who will perform each service, and adds the firm’s “past record of performance” as one of the criteria evaluated.

The policy regarding teaching about religion has been updated to state that books of a religious nature can be used in the classroom as long as they do not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This addition doesn’t noticeably change the District’s previous policy, which said these texts may be used, but they must not promote any particular religious belief.

Similarly, the policy on the compulsory attendance was modified for clarity, stating that the compulsory attendance age is “between seven and 17 years of age or, if under 17, until the student successfully completes 16 credits toward high school graduation.”

The policy dealing specifically with student complaints and grievances was removed, and student concerns will now be treated the same way as those from parents or other community members.

The only new policy added focused on staff use of communication devices. It states that employees cannot use communication devices when it interrupts their performance or when they are supervising students.

The policy also had a section focused on when employees drive District-provided vehicles or is transporting students as part of their job. In these instances, employees are not allowed to use communication devices.

Exceptions will be made to report illegal activity, to receive medical help, to obtain directions, to relay “necessary, time-sensitive information” in a method allowed by law and to play music as long as the driver is not the one manipulating the device.

• The Board approved an evaluation of the technology department for the District. The department is in charge of maintaining district data, updating and installing technological equipment, monitor network connectivity and insuring student safety through security cameras and online firewall technology.

“The District currently has 14 buildings that require Internet, networking and communication services to function properly,” Associate Superintendent Matt Lacy said. “It’s a big job.”

The department, led by Tom Schreiner, backups the District’s data daily and is currently reviewing cloud-based storing options. The department also plans to upgrade the District’s Internet bandwidth to stay ahead of the increased use of the network.

The District currently has 4,200 computers, iPads and Chromebooks connected to the network and plans on adding an additional 1,600 Chromebooks next year.

“We passed out 1,800 Chromebooks in three days [at the beginning of the school year] and we got them all to work,” said Lacy. “That is a credit to Tom and his staff.”

• Students from Orchard Drive Elementary School performed for the Board to show that elementary music programs help students learn the fundamentals necessary to succeed in choir or band at the secondary schools.

Kelly Crawford led her students in playing rhythm instruments. Both the way they read the rhythms and the instruments they played showed how the level of difficulty changed from the kindergarten students to the third graders.

The presentation ended with all the students singing “Skip to My Lou” and playing their various percussion instruments. The Board gave the students a standing ovation.

• Instructional Technology Specialists Danna Bruns and Brandon Brazel spoke to the Board about their role in helping teachers incorporate technology in the classroom.

The facilitators recently brought a moon walking virtual reality experience to students, as well as showing students in 31 classrooms to code using Ozobots. These experiences provide problem-solving opportunities for students, as well as showing that technological jobs are a possible future career.

They also provide one-on-one coaching and other professional development opportunities for teachers to train them to incorporate technology into their curriculum.

All the initiatives are voluntary for teachers to use, but both facilitators said they have seen great responses from the many who participate. They also have started providing technological education for parents. They hosted a seminar on digital literacy and plan on providing more seminars in the future.

• Link ended the meeting by speaking about his concerns about recent actions by Gov. Eric Greitens to replace State Board of Education members with his own appointees, and the firing of former Commissioner Margie Vandeven.

“Right now, whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, it doesn’t matter,” Link said. “Both sides are mad about what’s going on.”

Link stated his concern, as well as that of other superintendents he spoke to, of the new appointees seem to favor charter schools, which may affect the amount of funding the District receives. Link said he will keep the Board informed with future actions at the state level, and that Jackson R-2 will “continue to strive, come hell or high water.”

Jay Forness covers education, county government and community events for The Cash-Book Journal. He graduated from Southeast Missouri State University with a degree in multimedia journalism and has lived in Jackson for the past four years. He can be reached at cbjedit@socket.net.

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