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Outcomes, student voices, board governance addressed in meeting

The principal of Two Mile Prairie Elementary School on Thursday explained how his school is progressing and where more attention is needed.

Among the strengths, principal Amanda Ruyle said students made significant improvements from fall to winter in a reading assessment, from 30 percent to 50 percent proficiency. In math, the proficiency level improved from 8% in the fall to 20% in the winter.

“I know this is not where we need to be,” Ruyle said.

Even students who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals have seen gains in reading measurement, he said.

Growth areas have been possible by prioritizing interventions that the school calls “two-mile time,” he said. It’s four days a week, Monday through Thursday.

“Making that a priority is definitely an action that led to that strength,” Ruyle said.

He also talked about student engagement.

“When I go to class, our students are really engaged,” she said.

Meeting the needs of minority students, students on special education plans, and those eligible for free and reduced-price meals is something that requires ongoing attention, Ruyle said.

“All of our students are expected to earn and grow,” he said.

One obstacle is student absences, he said. The school has a “Wildly Important Goals” poster, updated every week which lists classes with perfect attendance.

Students who are sick shouldn’t be in school, he said.

“If you’re feeling good, it’s a priority that you’re in school,” Ruyle said.

Ruyle praised school counselor Andi Synon, who said she uses data to create interventions.

“It’s so amazing,” Ruyle said of Synon. “Students don’t need outward behavior or big behavior to still need help. We need to make sure their basic needs are met.”

She has a weekly newsletter for parents, and parents contact her “all the time,” Ruyle said.

“Two Mile is my thing,” Ruyle said. “It’s my happy place.”

Give students a voice

Janet Tilley, senior director of research for the Association of School Boards of Missouri, has proposed ways the school board can include student voices and improve governance.

Student surveys are one tool, he said.

“Polls are a double-edged sword,” Tilley said. “You actually have to do something with the poll results.”

Some school districts have student advisory committees, student advisory committees in Columbia public schools meet with the superintendent.

Several school districts have student representatives on their school boards, he said.

Another strategy for giving students a voice in decision-making is to ask them to research a topic and propose solutions, she said.

“In North Kansas City, it became a course in their high school,” Tilley said.

Tilley asked the board to “road test” some of the ideas.

“You’d be doing my organization a favor,” Tilley said. “Will you do me a favor.”

Tilley offered a change to the document he provided.

“Dr. Yearwood, we can fix this in a way that scholars say,” Tilley said.

Some school board members expressed enthusiasm for the proposed ideas.

“I don’t even have to think about it,” said board member Katherine Sasser. “I want to do all these things here.”

“This is something the board can really rally on,” said board member Chris Horn.

Board chairman David Seamon said it would probably be best to pursue the ideas after the school board election on April 4.

Tilley also asked the board to test principles developed by MSBA using the data to improve board governance. Among these were student learning and achievement, accountability and progress tracking, board meeting practices, and board discussion and decision making.

The information in the document is consistent with the research it has done, said council member Blake Willoughby.

“This can help get us back into a space where we can go back to these things,” she said, noting that the pandemic has disrupted many efforts.

“I’m also super amped up for it,” Sasser said.

Board member Suzette Waters said she can be counted on.

“I’m also very interested in doing this,” Waters said.

This project will also be undertaken after the new school board members are sworn in.

Roger McKinney is the Tribune’s educational reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] or 573-815-1719. He’s on Twitter at @rmckiney9.

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