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Examiner
  • Superintendent: Another elementary school possible

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  • Although Independence School District Superintendent Dale Herl only mentioned it briefly, a second new elementary school in western Independence could be a possibility in the future. “We just opened Mallinson Elementary and expected between 320 to 350 students,” Herl said Friday during the Independence Economic Development Council’s Eggs and Issues breakfast. “We hit that amount, but the demographer we have been working with projected those students to move out of the other elementary schools (in western Independence), giving us more room. But we are still packed.” The Eggs and Issues breakfast is an annual event hosted by the IEDC that brings together the three superintendents with schools in Independence – Paul Kinder, superintendent of the Blue Springs School District; Mark Enderle, superintendent of the Fort Osage School District; and Herl. The goal is to provide each superintendent an opportunity to discuss what is going in their respective school districts. Herl chose to focus on the rise of western Independence since the annexation of those schools from the Kansas City Public School District six years ago. He said while the opening of Mallinson was supposed to help with overcrowding issues at the other elementary schools in the area, specifically Sugar Creek, Three Trails, Korte and Fairmount, early enrollment numbers indicate that those schools are still at capacity. “We are actually having discussions about having to hire some more teachers,” he said. “We may need to look at building another elementary school in western Independence.” Herl also spoke of Van Horn High School and the great strides the school has made since becoming part of the Independence School District. “I shouldn’t have favorites. But my favorite school to go into is Van Horn High School,” he said. “It is a wonderful environment for kids. We started that first year with 450 kids, and we should have almost double that this year. They are the most polite, thankful and appreciative kids around.” Enderle spoke about the Fort Osage district’s new "1:1" initiative, which will work toward putting technology in the hands of every student. The first students to receive a Google Chromebook are seventh graders, who will receive the computers in November. Before that, Chromebook labs will be available at Osage Trail Middle School as well as the remaining schools in the district. Each student will have a Chromebook to use throughout the year and will keep it until they graduate. A small laptop, the Chromebook operates with a Google Chrome browser. Next year, the Chromebooks will once again be given to the seventh graders as well as the ninth graders. “About 18 months ago I was sitting at a session (during an administrative conference), and I was listening to a superintendent from Mooresville, N.C., about a similar initiative. I sent a rare text to (assistant superintendent) Dr. (Maria) Fleming. ‘This is the future,’” he said. “The idea of the importance of technology is not groundbreaking. But what would students be able to do with it if they each had their own laptop?” Both Enderle and Kinder touched on the safety improvements that both districts have made over the summer. In Fort Osage, buzzer systems have been installed at all schools, forcing visitors to buzz in, show identification and state their reason for entering the building before being allowed access. At some of the buildings, such as Blue Hills and Fire Prairie elementaries, new vestibules or entrances were constructed to provide additional security before someone enters the building. “Before Newtown, we had no controlled access, we had no buzz-in system,” Enderle said. “I know we can’t make schools completely safe, but we can make them safer.” In Blue Springs, voters earlier this year approved a $20 million bond issue, most of which went to pay for significant safety improvements at seven elementary schools, all four middle schools and the Freshman Center. This included new entrances to force visitors through the front office before gaining access to the rest of the building. Other safety enhancements include about the installation of bullet-proof glass, expanding the district’s panic button system and installing telephones in every classroom. “When I started in this business, we never talked about the security of our students or the safety of our buildings. But Columbine and most recently Newtown changed that,” he said. “We now spend as much money on security as we do on the Title I program.” Kinder also discussed the introduction of MSIP 5 (Missouri School Improvement Program), a new performance grading system for state schools, into the accreditation process. This is the first year that those standards will be used, and Kinder, along with many in the educational community, is concerned that some of the new requirements will force the number of unaccredited school districts in Missouri to rise. Currently, there are only three, including Kansas City, that are unaccredited and eight that are provisionally accredited. Kinder said some studies show that next year there could be as many as seven unaccredited districts and 50 with provisional accreditation. “Once you are provisionally accredited, it is a slippery slope where unaccreditation is not too far behind,” Kinder said. “This isn’t just an issue with the legislature, but for the taxpayers of this state. In 30 other states, these districts would not be unaccredited because our standards are so high. Now, they want to make those even higher.” 

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