Independence School District officials met with community leaders and citizens from Independence and Sugar Creek to discuss making over the schools annexed from the Kansas City School District.

Over chicken, pasta, bread and salad, community and business leaders, elected public officials and representatives from the Independence School District cajoled Thursday at V’s Italiano Ristorante discussing with much passion what is needed to make the ISD’s Extreme School Makeover July 26-27 a success.

The gist of information provided at the luncheon, sponsored by Maywood Baptist Church Pastor Bob Spradling, was from Lori A. Smith of Vibe Marketing Group. Smith detailed a corporate and individual sponsorship packet the district had drawn up to solicit supplies, hands-on volunteers and corporate financial support.

Smith, hired by the district to aid in the makeover project and handle media inquires about the transfer of seven Kansas City School District schools in western Independence into the ISD, said only recently has she come to the reality of how bad some of the schools involved are in need of an cosmetic upgrade. A tour of Nowlin Middle School was the eye-opener, Smith said.

“As soon as I walked through the doors, I was taken aback by the metal detectors,” said Smith, the mother of a soon-to-be sixth grade student. “There was obvious gang graffiti on the walls and four letter words. The bathrooms were dirty. I thought ‘this is horrible.’

“Being inside there gave me a whole new perspective. I can’t imagine my son there. I would be so fearful of what his experience would be. Can you imagine what those parents feel for their children and what the children feel being inside that school?.”

Jim Hinson, ISD superintendent, said the blight is exactly why the district has taken the lead role in making over the schools.

“When students return to school in August they need to really understand there is a difference,” Hinson said. “They need to know things have changed and things are changing.”

Independence Mayor Don Reimal and Sugar Creek Mayor Stan Salva attended the luncheon. Both were excited about the future possibilities of the expanded school district.

“We have an opportunity to do something that has never been done before,” Reimal said. “We have a chance to help turn these kids’ lives around.”

Salva added: “Everyone is excited. This is a dream come true for the city of Sugar Creek. We are very proud of our school and we are proud it’s going to be a part of the Independence School District.”

Sugar Creek Elementary is one of the annexed schools, along with North Rock Creek/Korte, Fairmount, Mt. Washington and Three Trails elementary schools, Nowlin and Van Horn High School.

Hinson said district representatives Friday will participate from Jefferson City in a teleconference with the arbitration panel convened to settle real estate issues between the two districts. Hinson said he doesn’t expect a ruling from the panel during the teleconference. He added the district will be ready to take over the schools July 1 regardless of the arbitrator’s decision.

“Things are in order,” he said. “Things are ready to go. I can promise you this, the lives of those kids and their families will change. We are excited about this endeavor. We think we are making history.”

More in-depth information on the Extreme Makeover, donations slips and how to volunteer will be available on the district’s Web site by the end of next week, Smith said.