I attended the December 13, 2021 6:00 p.m. meeting of the School of the Osage Board of Education. This is a summary of the meeting.
I want to preface this by saying I normally write about Camden County politics and the Commission because I live in Camden County, but I also live in the small part of Camden County that is within the School of the Osage School District. My kids attend school in the district and we’ve been happy with the teachers and our experience with the district has been positive so far. I mainly mention this because while my blog is pretty well known in Camden County, some of the Miller County folks might not be that familiar with it.
I went to the November 29, 2021 Board meeting just to check it out and the meeting was held in a small board room called the Archive Room. There were about eight people in attendance other than the board members and staff. We were asked to sign in as attendees and sign in on a separate sheet if we wanted to speak in public comment.
One of the parents who spoke during the public comment section raised concerns about the Panorama survey engine that was being used in the school system and its connection with racial equity education, social emotional learning sources, and teacher training that might not be in line with what we expect as a community. The Board members seemed concerned about this and promised that they would look into it.
Shortly after the meeting, the Superintendent Laura Nelson announced that the school district would no longer be using the Panorama survey.
A few weeks later, it was posted that the December meeting would be in a different venue. This meeting would be held in the Heritage Building Cafetorium. Cafetorium?I’d never heard of such a thing. Well folks, a cafetorium is apparently a combination of a cafeteria and an auditorium. It looked like a school gym to me.
The parking lot for the building was starting to get packed so I hurried in to get a seat. As I walked in, I noticed two uniformed police officers by the sign in table. That was new. I asked if I had to sign in on an attendance sign in sheet but apparently that wasn’t required for this particular meeting. There were probably about 140 people seated in the audience. At least two thirds of them were wearing maroon shirts that had “Our Tribe Our School” printed on them. The rest of us were just wearing our street clothes. I wondered if maybe I should have worn my Osage baseball cap.
The meeting started off with the pledge. After that, a group of high school students walked up to the front of the meeting and led the group in a recitation of what I assumed was the mission statement for the school district. Then the meeting started.
The School of the Osage Board of Education has seven members. BJ Page is the President and Alison Schneider is the Vice President. Page started the meeting by reading a statement from the Board. The Board wanted the community to stay informed and involved. The School of the Osage belongs to all of us. They support the use of technology in the classroom and understand the need to protect the students. They asked that everyone act with civility and respect. They reminded everyone in attendance that people speaking during public comment should behave civilly.
At no time during this meeting did I witness any uncivil behavior or arguments. While it did appear that there was a large faction present wearing their Our Tribe Our School shirts, nobody was confronting anyone. I’m assuming that the Board of Education was expecting some kind of big uproar and had prepared accordingly.
The first item presented was the 2020-2021 Audit Report. Lindsay Graves presented an Opinion on Financial Statements. The first two district funds which make up the operating funds were up 19% while expenses were up 5%. The district has six months of reserves to cover operating expenses. No new bonds were issued this year. The presentation was around fifteen minutes and basically it sounded like the audit went pretty well.
The next item was a Strategic Update for Academic Performance which was presented by Amy St. John. I believe she stated that 84% of the student learning for the district was onsite. She had a slide show but it was a bit challenging to decipher all of the bar graphs since the room was so big. A lot of her presentation was on various academic assessment statistics. One of the challenges the district is facing is that it appears Missouri keeps changing the assessment tests and telling the school districts not to compare the current year’s results with the results from previous years. This makes it hard to track trends and tell if the testing results are improving or not.
The bars on the graphs were divided into categories and she focused mostly on the top sections of the bars which I assumed were the Good and Excellent sections (or On Track and Exceeding, pick your adjectives). She had circled various sections on her slides where the School of the Osage grade year assessments were greater than the state average and she pointed them out to the Board. The crowd applauded as she pointed out each highlighted result.
She went on to the College Career Readiness numbers. The district’s ASVAB scores appeared to have dipped a bit this year, but the graduation rate was high at 98%. The Missouri state average was only 89.2%
The next item was actually three items. Superintendent Nelson announced that the district was going to be removing the Panorama monitoring tool from several different district plans. The district is going to develop its own tool to replace it. The Panorama survey tool will be removed from the Survey Plan, the Assessment Plan, and the Building Improvement Plan. This was pretty remarkable because the district paid for Panorama already and had been planning to implement it for over a year. One parent civilly raised questions about it at the November Board meeting and suddenly the entire thing was being tossed out the window? I guess the Board of Education does benefit from parents paying attention and communicating their concerns to them.
Superintendent Nelson continued to speak and ended her statement by reaffirming that their commitment to the mental health, social, and emotional well being of the students would continue to be a focus of the district’s staff. This triggered a thunderous round of approval from the Maroonshirts in the audience. The noise of clapping hands reached a crescendo and Superintendent Nelson sat there, smiling approvingly, as the waves of applause washed over her.
The next item was a parent who had asked to be placed on the agenda. She was given 5 minutes to speak and she pointed out that the speakers on other items had been given much more time. She introduced herself and stated she had looked at some of the assessment statistics available online. She made a comparison of the Osage School District and the Eldon School District. She specifically examined the MAP scores of the 8th grade students in each district, comparing the percentages of students who were assessed at the “Below Basic” level. She conveniently provided handouts for everyone so I can point out some of the data she quoted.
|Osage 8th Grade ELA Below Basic||22.6 %||20.4%|
|Eldon 8th Grade ELA Below Basic||23.2%||8.6%|
|Osage 8th Grade Math Below Basic||15.9%||36.4%|
|Eldon 8th Grade Math Below Basic||23.2%||23.9%|
|Osage 8th Grade Science Below Basic||8.8%||18.4%|
|Eldon 8th Grade Science Below basic||20.3%||18.8%|
She said she selected the 8th Grade results because those students were well into their schooling and were preparing to move onto the rigorous demands of high school education. She then pointed out a comparison of the high school graduation rates for each district.
In 2016-17, Osage had a graduation rate of 95.6% while Eldon had a graduation rate of 80.1%.
In 2020-21, Osage had a graduation rate of 98% while Eldon had a graduation rate of 93.3%.
She questioned why the Below Basic 8th Grade percentages for Osage were worse than Eldon, but Osage was exhibiting a higher graduation rate? She wondered why Osage was trending downward in 8th Grade assessment results and questioned whether the focus on surveying the students was taking away from instructional time in the classroom.
In my experience, statistics are only one indicator that there might be an issue and it’s often difficult to put a finger on the factors that contribute to a statistical result. However, they are a tool that can be used to identify potential issues in an institution. When her time ran out, the parent went back to her seat and there was no applause at all. The audience didn’t seem to appreciate this more critical analysis of the assessment results.
The second parent speaker was concerned about the affects of technology in the classroom. The Osage school district has a 1:1 ration of iPads at the kindergartener level. She felt that the kids were being inundated with learning technology when they were too young. She also raised concerns about the student data that was being collected by the school district and its technology vendors. She warned that changes had been made to the federal laws that allowed these vendors greater access to student data.
She felt that parents should have been given an opportunity to review the school surveys before they were administered to the students. She had reviewed the school district’s contract with Panorama and noticed that the Superintendent had signed on behalf of the Osage parents to give Panorama access to student data. She became emotional when she expressed that she had just wanted to talk to the Board about this issue and hadn’t expected the whole thing to become such a spectacle.
There was an opportunity for public comment but no one volunteered to speak.
The Board of Education then discussed dates for a January meeting but I couldn’t make out what they were saying because the crowd started getting louder as they were getting ready to leave.
The Board then went into closed session pursuant to RSMo 610.021.3 (Personnel), 610.021.13 (Personnel Records), and 610.021.14 (Records which are protected from disclosure by law).
Everyone began to leave and once again, everything seemed peaceful and there were no arguments between attendees. Some parents were talking in groups outside and in the parking lot. I heard later that a School of the Osage School District employee was seen video recording a group of the parents who were talking in the parking lot. I’m not clear on why that was necessary.
All of the attendees I spoke with at the meeting were very supportive of the teachers and appreciated the challenges they face with teaching our children. The Board of Education stated that it encourages parents to be involved and provide input. In this case, that obviously paid off because they were first made aware of the concerns parents had with the Panorama system by a parent at the November Board meeting and just one month later, they had jettisoned the program.
It did seem like the whole event had been a bit orchestrated by the school district. I get the impression that they felt like there was going to be some big riot about the issues and they rallied all of their supporters to make a show of strength. They even made sure the police would be there. Just in case.
It was an overreaction to a few parents following the Board rules and asking questions. Questions that the Board claims it wants to hear. It frankly rubbed me the wrong way. Our Tribe Our School means the school belongs to all of us. Not just one group that decided to all wear the same shirt to show solidarity.
Well, I’ll be at the next Board meeting and I encourage parents to come and see what’s going on with the organization that educates your children. Maybe they’ll reserve the football stadium for the meeting and have the National Guard standing by.
I also wanted to mention that I am a regular guest on the Daily Show with KB and Bill on Key Radio 89.3 FM. I’m sure we will be discussing this meeting when I’m on the radio on this Monday, December 20. If you listen to the live show, you can call in to (573) 633-5395 and ask us questions. You can also listen online at:
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