Fulton faculty, parents, students show support for Arms

Mandi Steele/FULTON SUN: Many crowded into the Fulton High School Library to attend the school board work session Tuesday evening.

Mandi Steele/FULTON SUN: Many crowded into the Fulton High School Library to attend the school board work session Tuesday evening.

The theme of a special session of the Fulton School Board Tuesday night — held before an executive session rumored to concern Fulton High School principal Teri Arms — seemed to be one of support for the administrator.

A crowd of faculty, parents and alumni packed into the high school library to share their opinions regarding the school’s leadership — all of it positive.

Science teacher Carol Robertson started off the show of support. She said she was proud to be a part of Fulton High School and charged the board to listen to what the staff had to say.

“Generals can learn something from foot soldiers because they’re the ones who know the ins and outs of the everyday job,” Robertson said. “Allow us to share our expertise. Don’t let yourself be isolated from the wheels and cogs that let this district run.”

Next up was theater teacher Mikelle Cortez, who outlined the many ways high school faculty and staff try to keep parents informed about what’s going on with their students.

“Teachers are required to update their SIS (student information system) parent portal every three weeks and we’re also asked to put homework on there,” Cortez said, noting that in that time teachers see each student seven to eight times.

In addition to mentioning regular parent newsletters, the district Web site, monthly faculty meetings and weekly faculty memos within the school, Cortez also said the four parent teacher conferences each year are more than any other district she’s ever worked in or heard of.

Later in the meeting parent Donna Musgrove said she felt like communication with the school has “been an open door” any time she has had a question or problem.

“If someone doesn’t know what’s going on it’s because they’re not involved,” Musgrove said. “I know probably 75 percent of the faculty, and my son probably has only had 50 percent of them.”

“I’m here to lend my support to the current administration and teachers ... and express appreciation for my daughters’ educational success,” said Roger Kempker, who has had two children graduate from Fulton. “I know they will succeed in life because of the foundation they got at this school. You should consider what you have before you consider changes.”

Later, Kempker said he attended because “I’m totally in support of Teri Arms as the principal of the high school.

“I felt as a concerned citizen and voter and taxpayer I wanted to speak up. (The school board is) so secretive on these things, but the word I heard is that the meeting tonight is to get rid of her. I hope that doesn’t happen.”

Lynn Dacey, chair of the high school math department, spoke regarding grades and test performance.

Noting that 28 percent of students had one or more Fs at the end of the term, “but 74 percent had one or more As,” she said that no teacher wants to put an F on a grade report.

“I say ‘put an F’ not ‘give an F’ because grades are earned, not given,” Dacey said before pointing out the high school has high standards because it is the school’s job to “prepare students for college and the work force. We are continually trying to find ways to inspire, to motivate students to learn.”

Dacey also addressed concerns about the district’s dropout rate. She said 47 students dropped out during the 2009-10 school year: Twenty-seven from the alternative program and 20 from the high school.

“That’s a 27 percent drop at Fulton Academy and a 3 percent drop at Fulton High School, and that is what we feel responsible for,” Dacey said, noting the difference in percentages.

Practical arts teacher Linda Simon addressed the atmosphere, which she noted was the best she has worked in, citing the “Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable” quote that can be seen on walls throughout the school — including the administration office.

“To me that was just a saying until I started working here,” Simon said. “I think we’ve all pulled close together as a staff. We go to bat for each other.”

She said that feeling of support extends to the students. In one of her classes, Simon asks students each semester whether they have at least one adult at the school they feel they can go to if they need help. In the six years she has been here she said not one student has said no.

“They will write paragraphs about anyone from a janitor to a coach to an administrator to teachers,” Simon said.

Simon also highlighted the school’s practice of recognizing students for positive things they have done both in and out of the classroom through things such as Recognition Friday assemblies held once a month.

Last up for the faculty was English teacher Mary Sasser who read a letter from learning specialist Phyllis Swiney, who could not attend Tuesday night’s meeting.

“Over the past several weeks I’ve spent time reading the weekly memos from 2009. Accountability is one word that prevails,” Swiney wrote in the letter.

Swiney wrote that she had never been held more accountable than she has been at Fulton High School.

“I’ve taught out of state, in other countries and at four other districts in Missouri. Fulton High School ranks as No. 1 in my career,” she wrote. “This is a committed group of people under superb leadership.”

The board adjourned from regular session to executive session to discuss personnel issues.

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