Long-Range Planning

School opens up long-range planning to community
Posted on 06/10/2013

In a recent survey the community expressed support for combatting Poplar Bluff Schools’ increasing enrollment, and now community members have stepped up to help develop a sustainable solution.

The first of a series of long-range planning meetings among the citizens’ advisory council—a cross-section of about 50 Poplar Bluffians who represent various sectors of the population—took place on Tuesday, June 4, at the 5th & 6th Grade Center.

The group has been charged with coming up with a recommendation for educational planners to compile in a report to be considered for approval by school officials during the last quarter of the calendar year.

“Our goal is to provide quality facilities so that we can continue to prepare for the academic programming necessary for our students to compete in the global economy,” R-I Superintendent Chris Hon defined as the mission. “The school and community are one, and together we will develop a long-range plan that will look into the future. The resulting master plan will succeed the administration and Board of Education and prepare our school facilities for the proposed growth.”

Funded in part by the Greater Poplar Bluff Area Chamber of Commerce, a demographics study by Business Information Services released in May of 2012 projected that enrollment will increase by several hundred students over the next decade. A 16-person steering committee of administrators, board members and community leaders was assembled to produce a long-range plan.

In October, Patron Insight released the results of a vendor-sponsored survey after polling 400 registered voters from across the drawing area of the district’s four elementary schools. The majority of respondents favored supporting a bond issue to expand facilities. Presently the R-I tax levy is less than that of Sikeston, Cape Girardeau and Jackson, despite the fact that the school is the largest in Southeast Missouri.

“I think a very solid school system is the key for every town and city to be successful,” stated Steve Sells, school board president. “I don’t just want to maintain status quo, I want to improve and elevate our school system and make our facilities better for our students and staff, and keep everybody safe above all.”

To ensure a data-informed decision is made, Sells continued, Ittner Architects of St. Louis in partnership with Educational Consulting Services of Lincoln, Neb., and local architectural firm Dille & Traxel was hired in January to devise a master plan for the school facilities that supersedes any single board or administration.

“In the case of Poplar Bluff, Dille & Traxel are already familiar with the facilities, so why not use that learning curve?” explained Dennis Young, Ittner president and chief executive officer. “(Owner of Educational Consulting Services) Jerry McCall brings an educational perspective and has had recent success in Jackson and other nearby schools, so this time we have various players filling roles on the team. Our job is to facilitate the process.”

McCall has solicited input from the entire R-I staff for comments on restrictions of present space in and outside of the classroom, with an emphasis placed on future needs of departmental programs.

“I’m mostly interested in staffing patterns,” McCall said. “That’s 80 percent of the budget, depending on how efficient you are, so we need to be providing (employees) with optimal space to do what they do.”

Much like what the city of Poplar Bluff and Three Rivers College have put in place over the past several years, the master plan will become a living document that is revisited by school officials in cycles, according to planners. This roadmap will not only take into account growth patterns of the school—soon to become the third largest employer in Poplar Bluff—but the community at large.

Having recently designed the state-of-the-art Kindergarten Center on PP Highway along with overseeing major renovations at the historical Junior High site, Dille & Traxel has surveyed all the schools so Ittner can grade the district’s existing assets.

“It’s about taking a step back to look at the big picture—the entire school district—and assess every building on each campus and ultimately try to use all the facilities we have,” Architect Brett Dille said. “The more minds the better, especially at this early stage, and we really have a great group of people involved.”

Initial options for the school district were broken down into the categories ‘as is,’ blended, centralization and decentralization for the steering committee last month, but Ittner Project Manager Todd Powers noted that once the citizens’ advisory committee determines the scope of phase one, the result will likely be a hybrid of all of the above.

“We’re not trying to set the table, we’re just creating an outline or a structure,” Powers said. “It isn’t a right or a wrong, there are pros and cons to every idea we will explore, and in the end, it’s the best educational option that fits you.”

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Cutline: Representing a “microcosm of Poplar Bluff,” according to Ittner CEO Dennis Young who is shown leading the discussion, the citizens’ advisory council of the school gathered last week at the 5th & 6th Grade Center for the first of four meetings to help adopt a long-range plan for the school district.

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