Though students were able to sleep in Friday morning, some 1,200 teachers gathered at Central High School for the St. Joseph School District’s Engage Innovation Summit.
The event kicked off at 8 a.m. with keynote speaker Missouri Western President Matthew Wilson. Educators then separated into various groups to attend a number of different sessions, some led by the district’s teachers and others by representatives from Missouri Western State University and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, to name a few.
Sessions came in many different forms. Some were simply presentations, others had educators working with iPads or finding themselves in a poverty simulation that covered an entire gymnasium.
“My first session was Making it Real with Mark Korell, who was a finalist for Teacher of the Year, where he showed us how to engage our students on an upcoming unit,” said Aly Fiegel, who teaches sixth grade at Carden Park Elementary. “I definitely think it gives us more ideas to implement into our classrooms and also kind of lights a fire under you and reignites your passion for teaching.”
She said she looks forward to future innovation summits, and she believes them to be very beneficial to all teachers, a sentiment shared by fellow teacher Tori Grable.
Grable currently teaches seventh grade at Bode Middle School and has about 30 years of teaching experience. She said she appreciates the flexibility of the district’s innovation summit, as it caters to a number of teachers at different levels.
“One of the things that I like best is that the Engage Summit follows a model that you see a lot in professional conferences at the state level and at the national level. I’ve gone to English conferences and tech conferences both in and outside of our state, and they follow a similar model,” Grable said. “It’s kind of invigorating, and this is a great time of the year to do it. … We are treated like professionals to make our own choices and be in those places that are going to best benefit us, so I think that’s a huge plus.”
Using an online event organizer, teachers chose how their day was scheduled, making time for a number of different food trucks outside before visiting with local businesses in Central’s main gymnasium.
Nancy Kirby, a curriculum adviser for the St. Joseph School District, was excited to have so many sessions planned for teachers, and she said the administration will hold evaluations to help make the event better in the future and even bring back popular speakers.
“We know that personalized professional development is something that is most beneficial,” she said. “Teachers get the most out of it because it truly personalizes what they are needing to benefit from.”
On Friday morning, a local veteran of the Vietnam War was presented an award for his heroic action in a combat zone, 50 years after leaving Vietnam.
Mike Pollard, a farm boy from Northwest Missouri, was drafted into the Army when he was around 20 years old. The man served as a cook, among many other duties, for a year in the combat zone of Vietnam.
“I was drafted before the lottery, so it wasn’t a number thing; each county had their quota,” Pollard said. “In those days, if you were eligible for the draft, you pretty much got drafted.”
Near the end of his time in Vietnam, his company officer told him that he wanted to make sure Pollard was honored for his service in some way. A few months after arriving home and finishing up his paperwork, Pollard saw what the officer had in mind when orders saying he had received the Bronze Star, which had arrived in the mail.
“But I was not in service at that time, and I didn’t go on a military record because I already processed out,” Pollard said. “It was there, but it wasn’t.”
When Pollard was nearing retirement from his civilian job as a teacher, someone with the commission saw that he had never been properly awarded the Bronze Star. Jamie Melchert, spokesperson for the Missouri Veterans’ Commission, said that this is something they see often, especially with those who served in the Vietnam War.
“This veteran earned his award in 1971, and here’s 2019,” Melchert said “But you have to understand at that time, it was a combat zone; There was a lot of things going on. So, I’m sure the Army did not want to slight the soldier, but there were a lot of things going on, and for whatever reason, he was never presented an award. So, we’re trying to make it right with the veteran.”
On Friday afternoon, Pollard was presented with the Bronze Star by the Missouri Veterans’ Commission during a special ceremony held at the Missouri Veterans Home in Cameron, Missouri. The award, which is given to those who showed heroic service in a combat zone, was pinned to Pollard along with the Vietnam Veteran’s commemoration pins.
“Vietnam veterans were not recognized, as you can see, like today, as they should have been at that time,” Melchert said. “So, the Pentagon took it on as a federal program to start recognizing veterans. So whenever we have a ceremony for a Vietnam veteran, we also present them with a commemorative pin as well.”
While Pollard was happy to have been given the recognition from the military in the ceremony, he said that seeing the change in the public’s opinion of Vietnam veterans means just as much to him.
“I walked through the protesters in San Francisco to get a plane ticket to come home; you know, it’s discouraging,” Pollard said. “Fifty years later, it still means a lot to me to see the country’s attitude toward veterans be positive like it is today; it probably means just as much. I really appreciate that.”
A newly formed committee will be tasked with finding and reporting suggested improvements for St. Joseph’s downtown parking situation.
On Monday, the city council approved an 11-member group that will hold meetings, discuss problems and ultimately make a report to the council with findings and suggestions.
The group was meant to be an 18-person committee with each council member and the mayor selecting two members, however only 11 could be identified by the time the council voted, though more could be added later.
The committee is made up of members who live, work or own businesses downtown:
President of Downtown First and owner of Nesting Goods on Felix Street Cris Coffman said parking is something that needs to be addressed.
“I own a business in downtown and own property, although I don’t live down here, but we hear parking as a concern often from customers and from people who work and live in the downtown,” Coffman said.
She said the group has not taken any action or met yet, but she believes they will look at not only making parking more convenient for downtown goers, but at finding ways to cut costs and increase revenues into the city’s parking fund.
Owner of Room 108 and Felix Street Gourmet Pat Modlin agreed that the group would be looking into ways to save costs.
“There’s financial considerations on how it operates, the city has kind of a business perspective on trying to make sure there’s good investments with city funds to support the parking,” Modlin said. “Now there’s the garages, but also someone that drives around and kind of monitors and issues citations, and that’s expensive.”
The parking fund is a subsidized fund that operates at a loss annually due to high maintenance costs on parking garages and low inclome from tickets and parking passes sold.
Modlin said he is not going into the group with any ideas on what to do, but hopes the group researches past studies and strategic plans together in order to determine the correct course of action.
“I don’t really have a preset idea of what the right answer is, I just know that we can do better than the way that it is,” Modlin said.
Coffman said she hopes to look into other cities’ solutions and said the problems are caused by a growing downtown.
“I think that there a lot of cities across the country that face these issues, especially growing downtowns like ours,” Coffman said. “I’m hoping that as a group we can go out and seek some of the ways that other cities have dealt with this.”
The committee is expected to have a report for the city council by Feb. 1 of next year.