Friday, September 26, 1997

Hickman seniors commended: Nine students are eligible for National Merit Scholarships, and 18 were named semifinalists

Published in the Columbia Missourian

Twenty-seven Hickman High School seniors have been honored with national commendations. Nine are National Merit semifinalists, eligible for college scholarship awards from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. Hickman also has 18 National Merit commended students not eligible for National Merit money but who hold Letters of Commendation. The letters were earned by only 35,000 high school seniors nationwide.

Semifinalists are: Matthew Arthur, Aimee Blanchard, Michael Dixon, Ian Harrison, Erin McElroy, Angela Paneck, Ben Parks, Andrew Riskin, and Prashant Velagaleti. They are members of a group of about 15,000 students nationwide. Ninety percent of semifinalists become finalists by fulfilling additional requirements. Half of the finalists will earn the National Merit Scholar designation. Scholarship winners will be announced beginning April 1998.

Hickman's Commended Students are: Sabri Benachour, Phillip Coleman, Lindsey Erickson, Erin Gallagher, Justin Gerke, Elizabeth Havey, Nahyoung Lee, Naichang Li, Paul Lightner, Travis Linneman, Christina Losapio, Joel Miller, Andrew Misfeldt, Morgan Smith, Bruce Troyke, Wesley Walker, Lindley Wall and Megan Williams. "We're really pleased with the achievement of our students," said Bragg Stanley, Hickman's Director of Guidance.

More than 1 million high school students nationwide participated in this year's Merit Program by taking the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test during their junior year of high school.

High school students interested in participating in the PSAT/NMSQT program can find more information at their high schools' guidance offices.

Thursday, September 25, 1997

Students recognized for scores: Area high schoolers in the National Merit program could receive money for college

Published in the Columbia Missourian

Five Rock Bridge High School seniors have been honored in the 1998 National Merit scholarship program. One is a National Merit semifinalist, and four are commended students.

Hickman High School is waiting for its list of National Achievement Scholars before releasing a list of this year's student achievers.

Marina Somers is Rock Bridge's only semifinalist, one of 15,000 nationwide. About half will be chosen as National Merit scholars and awarded money toward college tuition.

"I was pretty surprised," Somers said. "I guess I must have eaten a good breakfast the day of the test."

Seniors Gil Alexander, Anne Hillman, Corey Webel and Aaron Wright will receive letters of commendation from the school and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation at the school's homecoming assembly Friday.

Last year, Rock Bridge had four semifinalists and five commended students, said Principal Jim King.

"Counselors encourage students about testing programs," he said. King also said the school's guidance office runs in-house test preparation programs.

"It's important for students who are serious to take it seriously," King said. Nationwide, 35,000 students will be honored this year as commended students. Although they are not eligible for National Merit scholarships awarded next spring, these local students are in the top 5 percent of more than a million students who entered the 1998 Merit Program by taking the 1996 Preliminary Scholastic Achievement Test/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Outgoing senior Somers is preparing to take the SAT again in November. She uses commercially available practice books.

She said she hopes to attend MU, Rice University, the College of William and Mary, Yale University, Wake Forest University or the University of Richmond. Somers, co-editor of The Rock, Rock Bridge's student newspaper, might major in journalism.

However, she is applying for a Rotary Club youth exchange that would permit her to live in Germany for a year. She has studied German for six years. "It's kind of scary, but it will be a good experience," Somers said. Webel, Wright and Alexander said they are happy with their test results. Alexander and Webel said they have older brothers who were National Merit finalists but are proud to be commended students.

Colleges and universities are interested, too.

"You get sent a lot of mail," Alexander laughed. Wright and Webel also are getting promotional mail from numerous colleges.

Alexander, who said he is ready to wander a bit farther from home, plans to study music in college. He said he hopes to attend Northwestern University, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor or Rice University.

Wright decided he wants to be a college professor, though he hasn't decided in which area he would like to teach. He intends to go to MU, Washington University, Grinnell College or Carleton College.

Webel has a large number of interests, including academics, sports and music. He will apply to MU, Truman State University and Wheaton College, though he doesn't know what he'll study.

Monday, September 22, 1997

School district screens prospective staff: Columbia makes the checks even though the state does not mandate them

Published in the Columbia Missourian

The Columbia Public School District takes your children's safety seriously. Though Missouri is one of 12 states that does not mandate any criminal background checks on prospective school employees, the district performs these checks on all new school employees and volunteers, including substitute teachers. The lone exception is parents who serve as volunteers in classrooms.

The district has never had a problem with former criminals in schools, said Gene Huff, district director of personnel.

Local background checks are done by both the Missouri State Highway Patrol and Clarence M. Kelley and Associates, a private investigative and consulting firm in Kansas City.

If an applicant is from Missouri, the Highway Patrol performs the pre-employment check, which includes Missouri Department of Family Services child abuse and neglect records.

Kelley and Associates handles out-of-state background checks and reports information from agencies in places the subject has lived or worked.

Each report provides information on a subject's criminal background, including offenses against children. Pending cases, convictions and sentences are reported; " not guilty" verdicts are not part of anyone's criminal record.

The report turnaround time is quick, said Darren Dupriest, investigations manager at Kelley and Associates, because his clients have employers and job applicants waiting for the results. "Three to four days is pushing their envelope," he said. The Highway Patrol check takes 14 days, said June Baker, assistant director of criminal records and identification. The Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline Unit of the Department of Family Services report takes about 10 working days, said Martha Witt, a social services supervisor for the department. Both attributed the timetable to the paperwork involved.

Three factors influence the hiring decision: any infractions committed, the frequency of convictions and when the offenses occurred.

Although background checks are only done before hiring, school personnel who commit crimes during employment should consider their jobs in jeopardy, Huff said. Each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, he said. A decision to fire would require a conviction, rather than an allegation or formal charge. The seriousness of the crime also is a factor, Huff said.

Kelley and Associates can perform different kinds of background checks for clients, including verification of work experience and educational credentials, Dupriest said.

Also, because Dupriest's case managers have law enforcement experience, they can assist clients in understanding the information in the reports the firm delivers.

"We report whatever's publicly accessible within the guidelines of applicable laws," Dupriest said.

Because the Columbia school district is a new client of the investigative firm, Dupriest said he was unable to comment on the frequency of requests from Columbia.

He did say school districts are regular requesters of pre-employment background checks.

All applicants for Missouri teacher certification must declare a felony conviction, said David Adams, assistant director of teacher certification at the Missouri Department of Education.

Failure to truthfully declare a criminal history is perjury.

The Missouri Department of Education shares lists of revoked teaching certifications with other members of the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, Adams said. Although the monthly list of new revocations is large, the number of Missouri teachers affected is low - fewer than three in an average year, Adams said.

The state doesn't mandate background checks because it expects school districts to properly investigate applicants on their own, said State Rep. Vicky Riback Wilson, D-Columbia.

Until there is evidence the system isn't working, there is no need to place additional restrictions on school districts, she said. "It's one of the things we leave to local control."

Sunday, September 14, 1997

Schools use fewer trailers: The district is experiencing temporary relief from the overcrowding problem

Published in the Columbia Missourian

Columbia public schools are using fewer mobile classrooms this year than in the past, in an attempt to bring students into permanent school buildings. School officials are optimistic about eventually moving away from trailer use, but say that the district's bonding capacity limit prevents them from moving forward more quickly.

This year, there are 121 mobile classrooms around the Columbia Public School District, down 15 from last year. Ten of those are at Lange Middle School, which opened with them this year because of an inability to finance a larger permanent facility.

Many students and teachers like the trailer-classrooms, for their space, atmosphere and climate control.

"It was a lot smaller, and I liked it because it had air conditioning," said Andrea Smith, a fourth-grader at Fairview Elementary, whose class was held in a trailer last year.

"I enjoyed my trailer because they're large," said Joan Rawson, an eighth-grade language arts teacher at Oakland Junior High.

"You're out here by yourself," said Justin Towe, a sixth-grade math teacher at Lange. "We have the same facilities other people in the school have except that we're outside."

However, Two Mile Prairie Elementary's art teacher, Kathy Dwyer, is happy she's back inside. Dwyer was in a trailer last year with no running water, which made cleanup more difficult.

Harris Cooper, president of the school board, calls mobile classrooms a temporary solution to an overcrowding problem.

"Mobile classrooms ought to be used in a very limited fashion," Cooper said. He wants them replaced in time with permanent structures. Trailers can only increase classroom space and not infrastructure; bathrooms, lunchrooms, auditoriums, and gymnasiums become inadequate for the student population size, he said.

Financing problems
Major renovations are needed at some schools; most schools need more classroom space than they have. School officials say there is not enough money for everything.

By law, Missouri school districts can only issue bonds worth 10 percent of the district's assessed property value. In 1996, voters defeated a statewide constitutional amendment that would have permitted an increase of bonding capacity to 15 percent.

The Columbia district is already bonded to its maximum capacity. An expansion of that capacity would have permitted over $40 million of additional bonds to be proposed by the board, still subject to public approval.

Renting vs. buying
Deputy Superintendent Marjorie Spaedy said no records are kept for annual mobile classroom maintenance. The district leases 87 trailers with an option to buy and rents 28, according to Greg Cooper, district purchasing agent.

The trailers each cost between $6,500 and $7,000 annually to rent, Spaedy said. The district has moved from leases with buy options to rentals, Spaedy said. "Recently, we've been hoping we would be able to return some as we built new buildings," she said.

Replacing all of the existing trailers with permanent classroom space would cost nearly $11.5 million.

The main company renting trailers to the school district is Missouri Equipment Leasing, of Springfield. Purchasing a trailer there would cost between $35,000 and $45,000, including transportation and installation. With a toilet included, it would cost at least $40,000 delivered and installed.

Tony Andrews, of Modular Technologies Inc., of Kinston, North Carolina, said the district is "coming out a lot better" by renting trailers from his company than by purchasing them. He said purchasing a trailer from Modular costs around $25,000 , not including transportation or installation. In their leases, Modular Technologies includes transportation, installation, and removal as well as structural maintenance.

Planning for the future
Cooper noted that while enrollment stabilization is difficult to predict, some catching up has been possible with the opening of Lange Middle School. Also helping this year is the fact that enrollment increased by only 23 students, far lower than projected. He hopes that new bond issues will be able to continue to relieve overcrowding.

Lange Principal Carole Kennedy said the use of trailers "really isn't poor planning." Lange opened with 10 trailers because there was no money to build a larger facility, she said.

Spaedy reported that the planning process for each of the three middle schools includes plans to double their capacities, though that construction would require further district bond issues. Kennedy said school facilities plans also include trailers.

The district maintains all the trailers it uses.

"Their life span depends on how long you make them last," Spaedy said. A typical lifetime is between 10 and 30 years, she said, noting that she is not aware of any trailers discarded by the district.

More pressing concerns?
"It's clear that they don't plan to move these trailers," said Helen Burnham, a parent of four students in the district.

Burnham doesn't consider mobile classrooms a major problem.

"They're not that big a deal," she said. "My children tend to want to have classes in trailers."

Burnham would rather the district focused on reducing class size rather than reducing trailer numbers. Most of the district's educational goals could be met, she said, by lowering class numbers and giving teachers more time with each student. "A nice group of 15 or 20 of them in a trailer is fine."