Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan gave her State of the Schools speech at Good Morning, Springfield, hosted by the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

At the conclusion of her State of the Schools speech Thursday, Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan invited several hundred people gathered at the soon-to-open Plaster Manufacturing Center to turn to one another and share their connection to the district. It was a variation of an educator’s go-to, the “turn and learn,” she said, and it also folded into the theme of the upcoming school year: “Your story is our story.” 

After a few minutes of turning and learning, she asked a few of the audience members at the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce’s Good Morning, Springfield, event about their current or future connections to SPS. One person who attended the event at the newest Ozarks Technical Community College wing said he was interested in volunteering to read at schools. 

“Oh, we will sign you up,” Lathan said. “Welcome to our community.” 

After pointing out that 11 district students earned both their high school and associates of arts diplomas last year thanks to a partnership between the district and OTC, Lathan said the needs of students, staff and the community are central to every decision she and her leadership team make. 

Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Grenita Lathan, right after her State of Schools address for the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

“Every student, employee and community member has a personal story. Every story matters, and our individual stories help tell the collective story of Springfield Public Schools. These stories contain unique realities and compel us to develop effective strategies for celebrating and maximizing academic achievement for every child.”

The latest chapter began on Saturday, she said, when 6,200 people lined up throughout the day to join scores of district staff and volunteers in the Springfield Expo Center for the district’s first Back to School Bash.

There, kids played games, bounced on inflatables, picked out their favorite color of free backpacks, took physicals and received immunization shots. Parents collected free groceries and personal hygiene supplies to bring home. Everyone who wanted it got a free lunch and ice cream. On Saturday afternoon, after announcing a round of raffle prizes from an Expo Center stage, Lathan said events like these are central to the district’s mission. On Thursday, she thanked the 35 sponsors that contributed to an event that helped students and their families. 

“The Expo Center was filled with community partners and volunteers committed to honoring our SPS families with their generous gifts of time, energy and resources,” Lathan said. “It was the perfect way to open this new chapter, and I’m so thankful for this community for making it a reality. Springfield is a truly special place set apart by its compassion and collaborative spirit.”

Inside of the Robert W. Plaster Center for Advanced Manufacturing, folks watch Springfield Public Schools’ “Back to School” video as part of Good Morning, Springfield on Aug. 4, 2022. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Events like the Back to School Bash and the upcoming Sept. 13 SPS University events are geared to enhance communication between district staff and community members, which Lathan said was one of her three major goals for the upcoming school year. Along with that, she said revising the district’s strategic plan and increasing student performance are also at the top of her priority list. 

The process of revising the strategic plan began earlier this week during a school board retreat. There will be a number of ways the district seeks to improve student performance this year, Lathan said, starting with the first of three assessments that will be administered early in the school year with a universal screener tool, Galileo, that is new to the district. 

“This will allow teachers to bridge any gaps in skill mastery and enhance academic achievement for every student K-12,” she said. “An assessment will be given at the beginning of the year, middle of the year and end of the year.”

Lathan said championing equity and diversity continue to be district priorities, as does the expansion of extracurricular activities. She cited the development of an electronic sports, or esports, program, continued investment in archery across middle schools and the expansion of Student African American Brotherhood programming to middle school and Launch Virtual Learning platforms as examples. 

She touted community partnerships to improve student and staff health services and to add social workers throughout the district. She praised the conscious discipline approach, a strategy that is expanding to four more schools this year. 

“Conscious discipline is an approach that helps adults and children to better regulate emotions and response,” she said. “Maybe our entire country could benefit from Conscious Discipline training.”

Those efforts to address health and behavior issues are designed to reduce time away from learning and increase student performance, she said. 

At the conclusion of her address and her turn and learn activity, Lathan asked those who attended to take an online survey that asked one question: Based on what you have learned today about the SPS story, what aspects are most important to emphasize in 2022-2023? 

“Our goal at SPS is for every student, employee and family to feel welcomed in an environment that allows them to share their unique experiences and feel embraced by a community that supports their journey and growth,” she said. “Our children reflect our community and when we succeed in working together to meet their needs, the state of our schools is stronger than ever.”

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