In the eight months since Gabe Edgar became superintendent of St. Joseph schools, a variety of challenges have emerged. One by one, he and his team have faced attendance issues, classroom space issues, redistricting and expansion.
This is on top of the daily challenges educators face in regard to finances and recruitment. The Board of Education has already demonstrated confidence in the approach Edgar has taken by extending his contract through 2026.
The latest and most difficult challenge to date perhaps is the recent gun-related death of a high school student in a South St. Joseph neighborhood. To help with the grief process, the district sent counselors to schools, and according to Edgar, they have been an important part of the process of dealing with this tragedy.
“Elizabeth Chase, who is our director of counseling did an outstanding job,” he said.
He adds that though there is never any perfect response to situations like this, he feels like the district did a good job of making sure there were resources available.
One of the many challenges of COVID-19 was the impact it has had on school attendance. Edgar notes that the district has brought in attention interventionists to help school leaders and parents to bring attendance numbers up districtwide.
“The challenge with (attendance) is that pre-COVID, we were in a pretty good spot,” he said. However, in this post-COVID environment, he adds that attendance is “not where it needs to be.”
The biggest challenge to this endeavor, according to Edgar, is partnership with parents. Another of many collaborative efforts between the school district and other leaders in the community is bringing about a team approach to bring students, parents and educational leaders together in dialogue to raise overall attendance.
About this collaboration, Edgar said, “We’re up to the challenge.”
“As you know, we are a big manufacturing community,” he said, adding that because of that, Hillyard plays a positive role. He also adds that the expansion of Hillyard would not have happened without American Rescue Plan Act dollars and the cooperative efforts of the city and the county.
“I don’t think it will stop here,” Edgar said. “I think you’ll see other expansions in the future, because it is just that vitally important.”
In addition to post-secondary education partnerships with the likes of Missouri Western and Hillyard, Edgar notes the importance of the new designation of Mark Twain School as a new district preschool.
“I was very pleased to see that this was a high priority, as far as the Vision Forward process was concerned,” he said. He adds that reaching those children at a young age can help preempt future discipline and attendance problems. Building early relationships with parents, while at the same time teaching children how to behave and how to interact in school at ages 3 and 4, can prevent larger issues from arising when they are 6 and older.
Edgar calls this initiative one of “the most important things we have going,” even though change is difficult and the repurposing of schools is a challenge for children and parents.
All of this, though, according to Edgar, is part of doing the job that he and school personnel are committed to doing every day.
“We walk in the building, and we say we’re doing to do what’s best for kids. And as long as we do that, then we’re doing our jobs,” he said.
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