Chromebooks beneficial for 7th graders

There has been a decrease in insubordination and more student engagement as a result of issuing Google Chromebooks to all 7th graders at Osage Trail Middle School, say both OTMS principal John Schuler and Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Maria Fleming.

Fleming said seventh graders have had the laptops the last five months and serve as a supplemental tool to enchance math and reading instruction.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Schuler about the 7th grade behavior change from Chromebook usage. “Classroom interruption has decreased, students immediately know learning expectations and instructional time has gained significantly. There is no wasted time.”

He added that students are working more independently and “are learning to problem solve without teachers.”

“Teachers rave about it and students love it,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”

The district plans to expand its Chromebook program by issuing the laptops to both 7th and 9th grade students next school year, as well as all district teachers.

Proof of residency required next school year

The 2014-15 school year will be the first time the district requires proof of residency for student enrollment, said Fleming.

Some reasons for the district requiring vertification of residency are to protect the integrity of district boundaries and ensure at-risk or homeless families receive better support from the district, Fleming told the board.

“We want this to be electronically as much as possible,” Fleming said of how the district will handle the residency verification. She added written information will be sent out, both digitally and conventionally, later this spring to remind families of this new requirement. Also, all building secretaries will convene in June to devise an efficient method to obtain residency vertification documentation, such as utility bills or other mail proving students live within district boundaries.

Fleming said it’s possible that students could withdraw from the district if they cannot prove their residency by the end of September.

Capital campaign for multipurpose room

Fort Osage High School is having a capital campaign beginning April 24 to raise $500,000 for the school’s multipurpose room, teacher grants and student scholarships. FOHS activities director Brandon Hart said $400,000 will go towards expanding “the most utilized room in the district” by 4,800 square feet and to add a new weightroom, equipment storage facility and wrestling room renovations. The remaining $100,000 will contribute towards student scholarships and teacher grant money, said Hart.

“This will be very challenging and time consuming,” Hart said of the campaign effort. He added the school should reach its $500,000 goal within the next 3 to 5 years.

Superintendent's update

Superintendent Mark Enderle reported to the board that Missouri Senate Bill 493 is “getting a lot of discussion” in the Missouri Legislature. He pointed out the bill creates three accreditation systems for charter, private and public schools, but still allows students from unaccreditated districts to transfer to accreditated schools. Plus it allows Missouri private schools to “cherry pick” students wanting to transfer from unaccredited schools. Missouri SB493 has so far passed the Missouri Senate.

Digital communication growing

Fort Osage School District parents and students are embracing digital communication, according to the district’s public relations director Stephanie Smith.

Smith told the Fort Osage Board of Education that the district’s mobile app, which launched earlier this year, so far has 3,101 downloads to date--or roughly every family in the district having the app. She added that 569,605 messages have been sent on the Fort Osage app to date.

Another app that is popular among Fort Osage parents and teachers is ParentLink, said Smith. ParentLink allows “positive interaction” between parents, students and teachers and lets teachers to leave either a voice or text message for students. Smith also said the app allows teachers to focus on a targeted group of kids outside of the classroom to encourage academic improvement.

Besides the district’s mobile app and ParentLink, Smith reported to the board that the most popular form of digital communication is still Facebook, an online social network. The district currently has 48 Facebook pages comprised of various teacher clubs and sports, including the district’s official Facebook page. Plus the district has 19 official Twitter accounts and a Pinterest account as well.

However, Smith said the district had to shut down 10 unofficial Facebook pages and 12 Twitter accounts by contacting the social media platforms.

Smith told the board the district is wanting to utilize social media even more.

“We want to establish a better partnership with parents,” Smith told the Fort Osage school board. “Also business partnerships to provide kids with job shadowing and internship opportunities.”

Controversial reading

A heated exchange took place between board members Gary Thompson and David Shrout on whether the district should retain the book “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.”

The book was formally challenged and a committee was subsequently formed to review the material. The board decided to retain the book in both its middle and high school curricula by 5 to 2. Parents still have the option whether to opt-out their child from reading the book, said Enderle.

Thompson questioned the district’s moral compass by listing the number of vulgarities he found after reading the book. Shrout, on the other hand, told Thompson that today’s society isn’t “Ozzie and Harriet” anymore and that children are already familiar with the slurs and offensive material. He added that a lesson was to be learned from the controversial content and there are reasons why it is included in the book.

Board reorganization

Board members David Shrout, Kirk Stobart and Gary Thompson were sworn into office again by board secretary Sandy Klick after their seats remained uncontested for the April 8 election.

New board officer appointments were made as well. Diana Rice was elected by the board to be president, while Sharon Dankenbring was chosen to serve as vice-president.

– Brandon Dumsky