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Jackson R-2 School Board approve two safety projects

Preliminary plans for the Orchard Drive Elementary drop-off expansion project. Submitted graphic

The Jackson R-2 School Board approved two safety projects during its regular May 10 meeting – including an expansion to the Orchard Drive Elementary School drop-off area and improvements to the visitor football stadium bleachers at Jackson High School to counteract erosion. Fronabarger Construction of Oak Ridge had the low bids for the projects and received both bids.

The $153,679 Orchard Drive Elementary School expansion project will extend the drop-off loop in front of the school to East Lane to get more cars off the road. There would also be additional parking in front of the school until 2 p.m. each school day.

“Orchard Elementary opened up in 1989, and the building is basically the same as it was then and was designed for those kind of numbers,” Associate Superintendent Keenan Kinder said. “If anyone has been around Orchard Drive at pick-up time in the past couple of years, it’s like gridlock in Paris. There are cars backed up down Springview, Orchard Drive and East Lane.”

Kinder added that 14 buses pick up students at the school. The buses no longer fit under the built awning and instead have to loop around the building. There is also congestion for buses leaving the transportation department’s bus yard near the school.

Kinder said there have been safety issues dealing with the congested traffic, including a 911 response being delayed two years ago due to the traffic. “I am fearful of a tragedy at some point,” he said.

The project at the high school football field will cost $221,686 to add new concrete slope paving under the visitor bleachers. The new concrete will stop the bleachers from collapse in the case of further erosion.

“If you drive down Jefferson Street in the daylight and you look under the football bleachers, there is a serious erosion issue,” Kinder said. “The bleachers are held by concrete piers, and you will notice the dirt has eroded to the point where you can see where the piers were formed.”

The other bleachers, including the home bleachers and the band bleachers, do not have erosion issues. Kinder said they looked into adding riprap rock under the visitor bleachers, but it would not necessarily stop the erosion. “The architects at Koehler Engineering do not believe the bleachers are unsafe, but after a long enough time, it would become unsafe,” Kinder said.

The new slope paving will include steps and a walkway for school staff to be able to access the light poles and to retrieve items that may fall under the bleachers.

Work for both projects are scheduled for over the summer, with both projects completed in early August before the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year.

In other action

• The school board approved several changes to board policies, including a new policy on accommodations for employees, students and visitors to breastfeed and pump breast milk on district property.

The district is now required by state law to provide employees and students a minimum of three opportunities during the school day for lactation activities for at least a year after the birth of their child.

The district is also required to provide at least one room in each building that is to be used exclusively for lactation activities. The room can not be a restroom and must have a work surface and a chair, be near a sink with running water, have conveniently-placed electrical outlets, be well ventilated, have a door that can lock and be near a refrigerator for storage.

Associate Superintendent Jessica Maxwell said most of the district buildings have had this accommodation before this requirement. Board member Kristen Lewis successfully asked the board to add the word “women” to the proposed policy to match the wording in the state statute.

The board also approved changes to the policy focused on professional staff employment benefits, adding that benefits for classified employees such as health insurance would become effective on the first day of the month following 30 days of employment. Prior to this change, the benefits did not have a 30-day waiting period.

Maxwell said the change was due to many people quitting after five to 10 days of being employed. “The manpower for us to go through that process and the wait time for reimbursement was taking quite a lot of time,” she said.

Staff leave policies were updated to account for a new leave for victims of domestic or sexual violence approved by the state. The district is now required to provide up to two weeks of unpaid leave to be used for court appearances, counseling, medical attention or other services related to being a victim of domestic or sexual violence. Employees can also take this leave if a family member or member of their household has been a victim of domestic or sexual violence.

The last changes were made to the district’s policy on when students would be physically restrained or secluded from others. Physical restraint will never be used as a punishment and can only be used as a last resort when there is imminent danger of physical harm to the student or others. In the event that these interventions occur, parents will be notified by the end of the school day and will receive a report on the incident within a week. All staff members will now receive training on this policy annually.

• The board approved the social studies English language arts curriculum for the district’s secondary schools, beginning a review project of the district’s curriculum. “It’s been a while since we’ve done a curriculum review cycle,” Associate Superintendent Matt Lacy said, adding that the board will hear more about the district’s curriculum in the upcoming months.

The curriculum covers the content that is taught, what is assessed and what students should learn. Teachers throughout the district are involved in developing and maintaining the curriculum.

“The important thing to know about our curriculum here in Jackson is that Jackson teachers create curriculum for Jackson students based on the state standards,” Lacy said. “Our teachers have real ownership of the curriculum they are teaching.”

Mike Tornetto, a history teacher at the high school and the social studies curriculum coordinator for fifth through 12th grade, presented the secondary-level social studies curriculum to the board. Each course is broken down by units, including the Missouri learning standards each unit covers and how long each unit should take. The specifics of how the curriculum is instructed is left up to the individual teacher.

“The Missouri learning standards are pretty comprehensive and there’s a lot of them,” Tornetto said. “These standards have been selected by teachers as what we need to teach, and they are the most relevant to that unit of study.”

Joey O’Neal, the instructional facilitator for secondary education, presented the ELA curriculum for fifth through 12th grade. The curriculum format was similar to the social studies courses, with the Missouri learning standards covering writing, speaking and listening, reading informational text and reading literature.

O’Neal said the ELA curriculum development team for the secondary schools includes around 40 teachers, including special education teachers. “We start with the standards,” she said. “We sit down in our teacher teams, and we unpack every single one of them to figure out what each standard means.”

She said the teams try to pick three to five standards each term to be the priority and then decide how they organize the learning targets around those priority standards into instructional units. “We try to create the path, but the teachers have autonomy to move their students along the path to get them there,” O’Neal said.

The curriculum teams also create assessments to test if the students succeeded in learning the priority goals.

• The board approved an evaluation of the health services department, which includes all school nurses throughout the district.

In addition to providing emergency care to students and staff members, nurses provide health screenings to students, supplement curriculum with health-related resources and offer a comprehensive wellness program for staff members.

The nurses also add new student health information and have been working on digitizing their paper files. By the end next year, all student files should be digitized.

Last school year, school nurses saw a total of 40,868 students through office visits, sending 2,555 students home. “We keep your kids in school, and we hopefully keep them in the classroom,” lead nurse Tasha Borgfield said.

Maxwell added that the nurses have put in a lot of extra work over the past two years due to COVID-19. “A big part of the reason we were able to have our doors open with all of this began is because of these amazing nurses,” she said.

• The board approved an evaluation of the family and consumer sciences program, which teaches students life skills and prepares students for careers in food and nutrition, housing and interior design, fashion, child development and teaching.

Five instructors teach these courses at the high school, junior high and middle school – with 537 middle school students taking quarter-long classes, 306 junior high students taking semester long classes and 737 high school students taking semester-long classes. The program also includes the FCCLA (Family Career & Community Leaders of America) student organization.

“They are very popular classes and we are really going to have to scrutinize staffing because right now we are not able to meet all the demands for these course offerings,” Lacy said.

Over the past five years, the number of students enrolled in family and consumer science classes has increased from 1275 to 1580. The number of students requesting these classes has also continued to rise steadily, with the high school needing 18 additional class sections to accommodate the approximate 980 students who would like to take these courses next year.

• The board approved bids for various food products. Prairie Farms won the bid for milk and dairy products, Bimbo Bakeries won the bid for bread products and Goldstar won the bid for grocery items.

• The board approved meal prices for summer school, as the free school meal program is scheduled to end after the current school year. Elementary school lunch meals will cost $2.80, secondary school lunch meals will cost $3.05, elementary school breakfast meals will cost $1.75 and secondary school breakfast meals will cost $2.

• Orchard Drive Elementary School special education teachers spoke about changes they made over the past year. Before this school year, special education students spent an average of 35% of their day outside of the general education classroom.

The special education department was able to listen to guest speaker Ken Williams last summer, who spoke about the importance of every student having the same goal of meeting the standards of each grade level.

Orchard Drive special education teachers changed their approach this year, joining their students in the general education classrooms and assisting them as they received their general education. This year, special education students were only taken out of the classroom eight percent of the school day. This helped the students not miss as much of the general education curriculum as before, while still receiving the help they need.

Last year, special education students at Orchard had an average growth of 65% in ELA and 83% in math. This year, the students grew 213% in ELA and grew 117% in math.

• High School ELA teacher Abigail Beckwith spoke about the high school students who have won various writing contests, including Southeast Missouri State University’s writing contest, the Shawnee Community College’s writing contest and the Missouri State Poetry Society Contest.

“Each year that we have been in the Missouri State Poetry Society contest, our students have won the top prize – which means the best in the State of Missouri,” Beckwith said. “With that honor, their work is sent on into the national contest.”

Beckwith added that the students who won in the Shawnee Community College competition won up to $100 for their work.

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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