High school students study on laptops.
Students studying. (Photo courtesy Launch Virtual Learning, Springfield Public Schools)

Last school year, Springfield Public Schools invited families to a collection of events called SPS University. There, they met teachers and administrators face-to-face, shared a meal and learned about available resources to help their kids in school. Those events took place across some of the district’s larger campuses. On Tuesday, all 52 schools will host their own versions of SPS University. 

SPS University was developed after Superintendent Grenita Lathan was hired in the summer of 2021, and it builds on programming created in her previous school district to link parents and families to the schools their kids attend.

Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan shows off one of about 4,000 backpacks given to district students for free during July’s Back to School Bash. (Photo by Springfield Public Schools)

What is SPS University?

The events will serve as both an open house and an introduction or refresher course for parents to two online platforms that help them keep track of the progress of their student or students. And then each school gets to put its signature on the event.

For example, the new AgAcademy will show off coats of arms featuring the strengths of students on display in the panels. Glendale High School is having pasta. 

Some of the events taking place Tuesday night will be uniform across all schools. Parents and guardians will get the opportunity to get familiar with Canvas, the online platform used by teachers to post information about grades and class assignments, and Home Access Center, which allows parents to view additional information along with grades, like attendance and registration information. Stephen Hall, chief communications officer with SPS, said the events will each include this feature because the platforms offer a number of ways to participate in their child’s learning process. 

“They can monitor grades,” Hall said. “They can make sure their information is updated. They can communicate with school representatives. They can advocate on behalf of their child. What we’re doing is really more of an intentional focus to make sure families understand the purpose of those online portals, what they’re used for and how they can be navigated.”

Free food and connections to community resources at SPS University

Along with the workshop on the online systems, each school will provide a free meal and include a resource fair that connects families with community partners. The thousands of SPS family members who attended the Back to School Bash in late July saw a supersized version of that, when 4,000 backpacks, 4,800 full grocery bags, 10,000 hygiene products and 5,000 meals were given away at the Springfield Expo Center. 

“I think what the community can really take from this is that we recognize that, in many ways, our schools can be a focal point for our community, and they can serve our families and our community at large in important ways,” Hall said. “They already are doing that, but I think there are new ways that we can increase awareness for what resources are available, what support services are available — and then, if there are new ways that we can make people feel welcomed and engaged, that’s really what we want to do.”

Support for college path

At Glendale High School, one way the staff will link families to resources on Tuesday is by providing college application, financial aid and student loan information to parents of seniors, principal Josh Groves said. And for families of all the school’s students, Groves said he wants to showcase resources on campus that could bring a student further into the Glendale family. 

“We are kind of putting our own spin on that, and every club, group, organization, activity, athletic organization, will have a table set up,” he said. “And it’s just really to show families all the different ways that their kids can be involved at school, in the hope that maybe they would, latch on to something, because data shows that if kids are involved in something extra- or co-curricular or just a club that typically they’re more academically successful, more engaged, and their social experience at school is usually better. So the goal will be just to make sure that they see a real wide variety of all the things that kids have available to them.”

And of course, there will also be Pasta Express. That’s for families who register with the school office in advance, so Glendale doesn’t over-order. Groves said he hopes a free meal might be enough of an incentive for a parent on the fence about attending to come into the fold. 

“We’re a service industry, and our job is to make sure that we take care of families because they’re sending their best to us,” Groves said. “So we have to make sure that we create an environment for them that hopefully feels like they know that we care.”

Schedule of Tuesday’s SPS University events

On Tuesday night, SPS University events will be held across all 52 Springfield Public School campuses. Each school will put its own spin on the event, but you can find information about a shared set of programming here. Doors will open at different times depending on the type of school. Here’s the schedule:

Elementary, Intermediate, and early childhood centers: 5 to 7 p.m.

Middle schools, magnet and K-8s, Study Alternative Center: 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

High schools: 6 to 8 p.m.

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