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Jackson updates school policies including graduation requirements and suicide prevention plan

During the Jackson R-2 School Board meeting on March 13, the Board approved changes to the graduation requirements and three other district policies.

The requirements for graduation were updated to state that prior to graduating, students must receive 30 minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) instruction and first aid training for choking. This will be embedded into a health or physical education class.

The updated policy adds an American civics exam that students entering the ninth grade next year must pass prior to graduating. The examination will consist of 100 questions similar to the 100 questions used for the U.S.

Citizenship Test. Students will take the test when they take their government class. The first aid training and civics exam are the result of new state laws.

The policy will now allow students to fulfill requirements in English, math, science and social studies with district-approved agriculture or career and technical education course. Students can only fulfill one requirement per subject area with technical classes, and cannot substitute courses that require an end-of-course statewide assessment. This change is in addition to a waiver of one unit of academic credit students can currently receive if they successfully complete an eligible three-unit career or technical program.

A requirement to have taken all required end-of-course (EOC) exams was also added to the graduation requirements.

The District added a suicide awareness and prevention policy to comply with a anti-bullying law signed by Governor Jay Nixon in 2016. As part of the law, districts must adopt a youth suicide awareness and prevention policy by July 1, 2018. That policy includes strategies that can help identify students who may be suicidal, strategies for helping those students and protocols for responding to a suicide death.

The District will establish a crisis response team that will be responsible for implementing the District’s response plan. As part of the plan, when students show signs of having a suicide crisis, employees will make every effort to locate the student and not leave the student alone. Crisis response team members will then assess the student and use their training to implement the appropriate action including whether to call emergency services.

The plan also states that at an appropriate time after the crisis, school counselors will meet with the student and their parents to discuss available resources and support systems.

“We have been working with our counselors and social workers on this,” Assistant Superintendent Dr. Beth Emmendorfer said. “We felt many of the requirements that are a part of this policy were in place, but most of those were the pieces of reaction if we have a student who is possibly a threat for self-harm. So what we are spending a lot of our time focusing on the prevention piece.”

All current District employees and future new employees hired will receive information regarding the policy and the district’s protocol for suicide prevention and response.

During the teacher workday on March 21, a therapist from St. Louis came to work on first responses for when students are in a crisis. Emmendorfer said that they would then focus on putting together age-appropriate information to give to students. She said the goal is for students to be able to pick up on the signs of their friends and know how to communicate if they see a friend in distress.

The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education will solicit information from districts about their experiences with youth suicide every three years starting in July 2021.

The District also updated its at-risk students policy to comply with a state statute to identify ninth-grade students and transfer students who are not on track to graduate or be college/career-ready. The district previously had an at-risk program policy, but it did not specify how the district identifies students in need of the program.

The state now requires the district to use eighth grade Missouri Assessment Program (MAP) scores, the number of district students taking remedial courses at the college level, the student’s attendance rate, the number of credits the student has earned toward graduation during their freshman year and student’s disciplinary behavior.

The updated policy states that once a student is identified as being “at risk,” the district will provide academic and career counseling to help the student graduate on time and be prepared for a college or career. Students who drop out of school will also be offered counseling and will be reported to the state literacy hotline.

Emmendorfer said the at-risk programs at all the schools are already doing what is in this policy. At the high school, girls soccer coach Justin McMullen, social workers, school counselors and other district staff meet every Monday morning to identify students who are struggling and aren’t on track for graduation.

“We feel very confident that we already have the procedures in place to work with our students who are at risk,” Emmendorfer said.

Lastly, the District changed its policy on student guidance and counseling. The addition includes a section on a written guidance curriculum that school counselors will create and implement. The curriculum will promote students’ academic, career and social development. The curriculum will be reviewed and modified based on school data collected at least every three years.

A Guidance Advisory Committee, composed of at least one counselor from each grade level, a principal and teachers, will “systematically review the district’s comprehensive guidance program, including the guidance curriculum.”

The policy was also changed to say school counselors will create a plan of study with students prior to entering high school. As part of the process, counselors will identify college and career goals and personalize the student’s plan accordingly. Counselors will then continue to work with students throughout high school to evaluate and amend the plan if necessary.

The policy now has a section on confidentiality, stating that it is necessary for counselors to build trusting relationships with students but there are limits of confidentiality. These limits will be made available in a variety of methods including classroom lessons, student handbooks and the district Web site.

“There were a lot of updates, but the main reason it had to be updated was to comply with the at-risk policy,” Emmendorfer said. The policy now says that counselors will provide academic and career counseling for at-risk students.

In other action:

• The board amended the current school calendar to make April 20 a snow make-up day. The date was scheduled to be a professional development day. Superintendent John Link said the change would not affect anything else and had received “rave reviews” from staff members.

“It allows us to end school on a Friday instead of ending school on a Monday,” Link said.

• The District authorized the issuing of the remainder of the $22 million bond project, totaling $13.5 million. The District issued the first $8.5 million last year to get the construction projects started.

Joe Kinder, from the investment-banking firm George K. Baum & Company, advised the Board to issue the rest now. Due to the national tax reform legislation, rates are still very low but are projected to increase if the District waited.

The District received an A+ rating, and Kinder said there was interest from investors nationwide to buy the bonds. The District will begin making principal payments in 2027.

• The District accepted a bid of $7,800 from Rick and Renee Auffenberg for use of the District’s land on Old Toll Road. The Auffenbergs will be able to use the 84-acre orchard for the next three years.

“Obviously if we need to use it before this three years is up, it’s been talked about and discussed,” Link said. “I’m assuming they can farm what’s left.”

The District purchased the land last summer for future development. There were three other bids for farming the land.

• The Board approved two bids for the construction at the high school, middle school and North Elementary. Approved were Loyd Slink-ard Painting’s bid of $311,307 for painting the three projects and Flooring Systems Incorporated’s bid of $291,860 for the flooring of the projects.

• The Board recognized the All-State Band and Choir students. Eight Jackson students were chosen for the All-State Choir and Zachary Zielinski sang a solo at the concert. Seven Jackson students were chosen for the All-State Band, including Clayton Greenlee. Greenlee was first chair baritone saxophone as a freshman.

Students who performed in the 2018 Southwestern ACDA Honors Choirs were also recognized. Nine middle school students, six junior high students and three high school students performed in the regional choirs in Oklahoma City.
 
• Tina Sample, the art teacher at South Elementary School, spoke about how 18 of her fifth-grade students met Missouri plein air artist Billyo O’Donnell as part of the February Annual event. O’Donnell did a portrait of a student, Dade, and the artwork was given to Dade at the Board meeting.

• Library Advisory Board students from the Jackson Middle School library presented how the library has grown in the past year. The library has given students opportunities to make crafts, create digital creations and solve monthly challenges in a “Makerspace.”

The club meets every Monday during lunch and has organized special library events at Halloween and Christmas. The club also talks about new programs, which are then implemented in the library.

• Librarians from across the District presented their plans for Jackson Reads. The annual event takes place at the Jackson courthouse lawn on April 10.

The event was first held last year and 200 students and their family attended. The event is in cooperation with the Regional Riverside Library and area parochial schools.

Bank of Missouri will provide refreshments and food trucks will be located nearby. A book swap will be located at the event, where people can trade books that they have already read. The Cat in the Hat and other storytellers will also be at the event.

• The School Board scheduled a special Board meeting for March 26 to discuss the incoming turf bids for the football and soccer fields. Look for the coverage of the special meeting in next week’s paper.

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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