Over the course of just a few months, the community responded to the St. Joseph School District’s high-school-facilities concepts through various sessions and surveys, and now, that feedback is public.
DLR, the architecture company that partnered with the St. Joseph School District to provide data and feedback on its high-school facilities plans, released its High School Concepts Feedback Summary last week. The document spans nearly 70 pages, though a vast majority contains comments and questions provided by the community during various focus group sessions, community sessions and online surveys.
Respondents to the meeting exit survey as well as the online survey were asked to rank the five high-school-facility concepts from one to five, with one being the most-preferred.
According to the exit surveys, the building of two new high schools, Concept B, received the most support, with the highest Rank 1 numbers. Meanwhile, Concept D, involving the renovation of the three current high schools, received mixed reactions, with fairly equal Rank 1 and Rank 5 marks.
The online surveys tell a similar, albeit more hotly contested, tale. Through 606 votes, Concept B barely edged out Concept D, and Concept C, the building of one new high school while renovating Central, isn’t too far behind.
Opportunities for student academic success, extracurriculars and the impact on the community narrative were touted as being some of the biggest factors for decision-making when it came to the surveys and ranking process.
The SJSD Board of Education will be tasked with taking all of this information as well as questions received into account when they meet Dec. 16 to further define where they’d like to go and which concept they would hope to back in the future.
“The board really is trying to look at data — not just one piece of data, but all of the different pieces of data that they have, which are the surveys, the community forums and the conversations that they’ve had with people,” Superintendent Dr. Doug Van Zyl said. “And then they’re going to take a look at questions that were left from DLR, and they’ve asked us administratively to put the answers of those questions together. And then they’ll use that data to hopefully inform how they’re going to move forward.”
Questions still to be answered include the overall timeline for specific concepts to be implemented, boundary adjustments and the possible locations the district could utilize should new facilities be built.
“People have different ideas in what they would like,” School Board Member Dr. Bryan Green said. “We learned from the feedback from the community that this is not going to be a walk in the park. We have got some convincing to do with the community that this is going to be a good approach for the community to take.”
Van Zyl said that such feedback is extraordinarily important when it comes to making a decision going forward, especially one that will benefit students in the long term. He also explained that the district is spending around $2 million to run three high schools compared to what they could do with a different high-school model.
“We’re not able to guarantee the exact same opportunities for all of our kids because when it comes to those smaller schools, a class may not make it when we do our class selection. In a larger school, you have more kids that may choose to take a class, and that’s normally what happens, so some of our kids may have the opportunities fall through the cracks,” Van Zyl said.
During last week’s Board of Education Meeting, Green expressed more interest in moving toward a two- or one-high-school model over the idea of spending the money to renovate Central, Benton and Lafayette, to which many board members agreed.
It’s an idea backed by DLR’s feedback summary, and while some have shown support for such change online, others have voiced their opposition.
“Complacency is is an issue, but I think the biggest thing is not truly wanting to be informed,” Van Zyl said. “For some reason in society, it’s a lot easier to stay comfortable and not be as informed as you can be. And then you’re able to speak from that misinformation rather than being fully informed. I’ll never tell you that we’re perfect in what we do or how we do it, but I do feel like we are trying to get the information out to people and get information from people — their thoughts and feelings. The challenge is that just because somebody has an opinion, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do. And for too long, I think within school districts in general, not just here in St. Joseph, we’ve made decisions emotionally or we’ve made decisions in order to save money rather than looking proactively down the road.”
The High School Concepts Feedback Summary is available online at www.sjsd.k12.mo.us through a link in the story “Board Narrows High School Concepts, Requests More Information” under the District News & Announcements banner.