Springfield Public Schools all-staff back to school rally at Great Southern Bank Arena on the campus of MSU. (Photo by Jym Wilson)

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This fall, more than 5,000 people contributed to a broad discussion about what focus areas Springfield Public Schools should prioritize in the coming years.

On Nov. 15, the Springfield Public Schools Board of Education and Superintendent Grenita Lathan will examine themes that emerged from all of those responses. Then work will ramp up to craft a strategic plan in advance of a Dec. 15 state deadline to submit a version of it that fulfills the district’s Missouri School Improvement 6 planning obligations

The district’s current plan has five focus areas:

The two most recently elected board members, Kelly Byrne and Steve Makoski, campaigned in part on a promise of re-centering the district’s priorities around student achievement. They and the other five board members have had one-on-one interviews with staff from EGL, a consulting firm hired by the district to conduct a sweeping survey of thousands of people invested in the district’s direction. 

From left to right top to bottom: Steve Makoski, Kelly Byrne, Scott Crise, Shurita Thomas-Tate, Maryam Mohammadkhani, Danielle Kincaid, and Denise Fredrick (Photo by Springfield Public Schools)

At the Nov. 15 board retreat, a consultant with EGL will lead a presentation showing some of the main themes that developed during those conversations.

In October, Ben Hackenwerth, the district’s chief strategy and innovation officer, shared data with the school board showing who participated in the process, and the ways they added their two cents. The EGL survey included: 

  • 55 school site visits to interview staff in person
  • Five in-person focus groups for K-12 principals, split up by feeder pattern to the district’s five high schools
  • Three in-person focus groups for community stakeholders
  • Three in-person focus groups for parents
  • Three virtual focus groups for SPS staff
  • Three virtual focus groups for parents 
  • Individual interviews with board members and SPS executive leadership team members

All told, Hackenwerth said the group held 451 hours of in-person interviews with 618 participants. 

Online, students and adults participated in virtual thought exchanges, where participants could both share what they believed the district should value and vote in favor or against beliefs shared by others. 

Across the district, 1,107 high school students participated in the thought exchange. They collectively shared 622 thoughts and provided 16,420 ratings. 

There were 4,230 participants in the thought exchange survey for adults, with 56 percent of participants identifying as SPS parents, 27 percent as SPS employees and 11 percent as both. The remaining 6 percent of participants identified as community members or other. Together, they shared 2,939 thoughts and provided 103,549 ratings. 

The strategic planning process will carry on to the Nov. 29 board meeting and be finalized at a December board meeting. Or possibly two December board meetings. The option of scheduling a special meeting on Dec. 6 was floated at the end of October’s four-hour-long board meeting. 

If it comes down to voting on the strategic plan language on Dec. 13, that will dovetail with a scheduled vote to finalize ballot language for a $220 million school bond issue. Should that happen, Byrne requested that the board put the strategic plan first on the agenda. Asked why, he said that he wanted to have the district’s long-term plan established before voting on a $220 million ask of taxpayers, “even though it’s just a matter of moments apart.” 

Cory Matteson

Cory Matteson moved to Springfield in 2022 to join the team of Daily Citizen journalists and staff eager to launch a local news nonprofit. He returned to the Show-Me State nearly two decades after graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Prior to arriving in Springfield, he worked as a reporter at the Lincoln Journal Star and Casper Star-Tribune. More by Cory Matteson