Russellville superintendent advises legislators

— Parents, teachers, administrators and concerned citizens had the chance to voice their concerns and issues to the Missouri House of Representatives Education Committee last week.

Helping the legislators dissect those problems and solutions aboard a bus ride across southern Missouri between hearings was Cole County R-1 Schools Superintendent Jerry Hobbs.

Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Poplar Bluff, invited Hobbs and a few other superintendents to be liaisons for the committee's tour.

Hobbs has testified before the committee several times in the past and is a regular visitor to the Capitol during the spring legislative session.

"They know where Russellville has come from — the bottom 100 schools in the state to now we're number 40 in only five years," Hobbs said. "It took a culture change."

The topics on the house committee's agenda also will have an impact on culture.

Moving from the 20th century industrial age into the 21st century information age, Hobbs said requires a shift in thinking along all lines.

The common core standards may have been the top discussion topic.

Many opposed to the nationalized curriculum were worried most about the loss of local control. Others voiced concerns about "brainwashing" a generation or "dumbing down" standards.

"At Russellville, we maintain local control because we expect more from our students than the common core standards," Hobbs said.

As a competitive person, Hobbs said he likes the idea of having an apples-to-apples comparison of successes. Under No Child Left Behind, each state sets its own standards.

"High-performing schools will use common core only as a base," Hobbs said.

Another issue that came up on the tour was modifying the state's requirements for a school calendar.

In the tourist-dependent areas like Branson, many would like to see schools begin after Labor Day and close before Memorial Day.

Currently, the state sets a minimum number of days and hours schools must be in session.

Hobbs was able to suggest to the committee they could eliminate the state minimum for the days, allowing local control over how the required hours are sorted out.

"The legislators said they hadn't thought of that before," Hobbs said.

Other topics included extended learning opportunities, the transfer rule for failing schools, bullying and virtual schools. The two topics which were off-limits during this tour were funding, over which this committee has no control, and teacher tenure.

About 800 constituents turned out to one of the six three-hour hearings held during the three-day tour.

During the tour, Hobbs was able to develop relationships with several of the legislators through casual conversations.

That is where the significant impacts were made.

Hobbs found opportunity to put in his two-cents-worth on the transportation crisis hurting rural schools, which was not an issue on the committee's official agenda.

More importantly, he was able to see and hear from these statewide decision-makers that they care about students and the future of education.

He was impressed at how they listened and took notes during the public hearings.

But he was pleased to hear them following up the next day on the phone looking for more information or seeking ways to resolve issues.

They also took some "bashing" along the tour.

"I was impressed with the way they handled themselves," Hobbs said.

The purpose of the tour was not for the committee to answer questions, but so local people could share their concerns and ideas.

"People appreciated just being heard," Hobbs said.

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