In advance of Tuesday’s Joplin Board of Education election, The Joplin Globe posed questions to the three candidates vying for two available seats.
The candidates are incumbents Sharrock Dermott, board president; Jennifer Martucci; and challenger Michael Joseph.
The two candidates receiving the most votes win seats on the board.
The questions, exactly as they were posed to the candidates, are printed below, followed by the candidates’ responses.
Responses were published in alphabetical order of last name, and some of the answers were edited for length and style only.
Q. What would you like to see a new Joplin High School principal make his or her highest priority for the school? (This question was posed before the announcement last week of Stephen Gilbreth as the new JHS principal.)
Sharrock Dermott: “Our priority throughout the Joplin School District is to provide safe places for every student to advance and succeed in broadest terms — academically, socially, athletically or however. I believe students are most likely to succeed when all of us — students, parents, teachers, administrators, staff and our community — share responsibility for this priority.
“Gilbreth is an experienced principal and will set his own priorities. Whatever Gilbreth decides, I believe he is most likely to enhance student opportunities and achievement by identifying, prioritizing and meeting the needs of all who come in contact with Joplin High School.”
Michael Joseph: “It appears to me there is a definite need to heighten the community’s awareness of the many good things that are going on at Joplin High School. Many students are performing at an exceptionally high level in advanced classes and in the Career Technical Education program areas. It should be the priority of the new principal to recognize and celebrate positive student successes and identify the staff who promote and help students achieve high student performances in the programs provided at Joplin High School.”
Jennifer Martucci: “First off, I would like to say that the superintendent and Board of Education could not have made a better choice for JHS principal than Steve Gilbreth. Gilbreth has a compassion for kids, rapport with parents, respect of the teachers, and love for the Joplin community that will serve him well as he steps in to lead Joplin High School. His role at JHS will be to provide instructional leadership to the teachers, establish high standards and expectations for students in the areas of behaviors and academics, promote partnerships with the Joplin community to integrate student learning with real-life experiences with Joplin businesses. In short, his priorities will be students, staff, and community.”
Q. What do you believe is the biggest issue or challenge facing the Joplin School District today?
SD: “I believe the biggest challenge facing the Joplin School District today is that we raise our community’s expectations to be the regional leader in all district activities. Joplin schools already compete well in many areas, and we are working hard to improve areas where we lag. All of us might benefit from adopting the district’s strategic goal of continuous improvement. Many great things are happening in Joplin, and I believe our own raised expectations — in our homes and in everything we do — can have a dramatic impact upon challenges we face within Joplin schools.”
MJ: “The major challenge that is faced by Joplin schools is related to the need to increase the level of districtwide support. Unlike adjacent school districts where the school and community are one, Joplin experiences divided loyalties as the result of having four private schools that operate within its boundaries. By working to increase the awareness of the true strength of Joplin schools the overall perception will be improved and the level of the community’s support of the school district will also increase. There is a definite connection between a community’s support of it public school system and the growth and stability of the community in general.”
JM: “Internally, I feel our biggest issue currently is facilities. There is an inequity within the district in facilities that I believe needs to be addressed. We have schools that have amazing learning spaces and ample room for all classes and services, and others that have makeshift classrooms in hallways and portable buildings. Student safety is becoming an issue that the district is working to find a solution, however we need to be diligent in finding a solution quickly. Externally, the biggest issue the district faces is perception and social media. There is a perception that Joplin schools are somehow less than surrounding school districts, when in reality, Joplin schools offer more opportunities, career paths, exceptional teachers and administrators, and athletic and extracurricular opportunities than others.”
Q. What do you think would be the best use of the additional tax revenues the school district will receive as a result of the early pay-off of the Joplin disaster recovery Tax Increment Financing district?
SD: “I believe the best use of additional tax revenues is to reinvest in our district — ensuring we have adequate facilities for all of our students and competitive pay/benefits for our employees.”
MJ: I believe that first and foremost is the need to continue to close the teacher salary gap between Joplin schools and other Southwest Missouri school districts. Failure to do so will detract from the district’s ability to obtain and retain the best and brightest educators to serve in our classrooms. Secondly, we need to assure that our programs are sufficiently funded to maximize the opportunity for every student to perform at the highest level possible. Finally, appropriately allocating these resources will better serve all students and result in the improved morale of students, faculty and staff at all levels within the district.”
JM: “If it is a sustainable income, and not a one-time influx of money, it would be a good resource that could allow the district to increase teacher salaries and make a more competitive pay scale to attract and retain quality educators. If it is one-time money, depending on the amount, (it) could be used for instructional supplies, technology, capital project needs, or other areas of need identified by district administration.”
Q. “What do you believe is the future of Columbia Elementary School, including its gymnasium/community storm shelter, given the various maintenance and upkeep issues it faces?”
SD: “I am concerned that Columbia Elementary School requires significant investment to meet existing repair needs and that the site has been an impairment to recent construction expectations and goals. I am also concerned that even if repairs to Columbia are successful, the facility and grounds will continue to lack many amenities presently enjoyed by most other elementary schools in the district.”
MJ: “The questions the Joplin board will have to address at Columbia appear to be as follows — A: Is the existing site suitable for additional construction/preparation efforts? B: Will the exiting 92-year-old facility continue to meet the educational program needs for decades to come or should other options be explored?”
“I am committed to working toward the goal of ensuring that there is as much equity in the educational programs and facilities throughout the district as possible. I look forward to working with the Board of Education, administration, staff, parents and community leaders to answer these difficult, but critically important questions.”
JM: “The district administration and Board of Education, along with parents and community leaders need to develop a plan for the school. I am not sure if it will be possible to keep the school in that location simply because of the mining issues underground that are not suitable for a safe and solid foundation of any new building. I am aware that the district is looking into a possible plan for asking voters to extend — not increase — a local sales tax that would provide adequate funding to build a new school. While every school cannot be equal in size due to land limitations and with a priority of maintaining neighborhood schools, it is imperative that all students have safe schools with room for all classes and programs, with room to grow. The gymnasium/safe room was built with FEMA funds, therefore, even if the school moves, it will be a requirement that the safe room be maintained for the Columbia community as a safe place in a storm.”
Q. The district has taken steps to increase teacher pay in recent years. What is it doing or what could it do differently to increase retention of new and experienced teachers?
SD: “I believe Joplin’s wage and benefits packages are very competitive. Within the last two years, Joplin School District has adopted wage tables commensurate with those used by nearby districts. Whenever possible, the district should also continue to look within for available promotions to increase retention.”
MJ: “It would be my goal to continue to close the teacher salary gap between Joplin schools and other Southwest Missouri school districts to better assure that we do not lose our experienced teachers to neighboring school districts. Retaining quality teachers is critically important to the goal that quality education is provided to all students served by Joplin schools.”
JM: “What attracts or retains employees is generally a combination of two things: salary and benefits. While the pay raise may never be as high as we would like it to be, last year the district put together a Health Benefits Committee, on which I served, to evaluate the benefits package offered to all employees. This school year, the district was able to offer a plan that includes access to both local hospitals, well baby, child and adult care, teledoc services, along with co-pays and access to out-of-area hospitals, such as Barnes Jewish in St. Louis, all while lowering the premiums paid out of pocket by employees. While it may not have been a larger increase in pay, employees are keeping more of their take-home pay by paying less for benefits. This year Joplin Schools has recruited earlier for vacant positions and has been attracting experienced teachers with a breadth of knowledge who will continue to expand the quality of education that the administration, parents, and taxpayers expect from Joplin schools.”