It is once again that special time of year in which we personally reflect on the year past. For me, coming back home to join the Jefferson West family has been indeed an honor for my family and me. The opportunity to work alongside a dedicated staff of veteran educators that love students only makes the investment even more special.
With that, a strong community and school partnership are vital for not only the future of our young people but our quality of life as neighbors in Jefferson County. The state of Kansas invests over fifty cents of every dollar in tax revenue into public education. That is because Kansans take seriously the return on investment our public schools have in the prosperity of our small communities and businesses.
Public schools are not only evolving to address innovative ways to prepare our students for a marketplace and skillset not yet defined but also working to increase our accountability and stewardship to the community trust. Earlier this year, the legislature, along with Governor Kelly, signed into law House Bill 2567, also known as the open enrollment policy law, set to begin in the 2024-2025 school year. With that, you may choose to agree or disagree with aspects of the law. Still, as a fellow community leader, I embrace the opportunity to strengthen our school-community partnership to better support the needs of our students and the health of our public schools. Finding creative ways to do it is a small investment with an even greater long-term return on investment.
Many of my fellow Jefferson County neighbors have invested decades of support to our community schools through your local taxes. With that, our leadership team wants to continue to honor that investment while preparing for the new changes the law brings. Seeing some of the recent decisions, you may be asking why a school district is increasing its public visibility and messaging. As with any organization, it is only successful with a clear mission and vision embraced by all the stakeholder groups it serves. We have a duty to share what we do well and to encourage others to join our community.
USD 340 has a long history of fantastic community support. We must not keep the secret any longer, as new families who will be looking to move to the area need to have a clear picture of what our school and community values are and why their children would be successful here. As a parent of a recently graduated senior, I receive some kind of daily communication from multiple schools telling me why my son should choose their school. Further, we are obligated to our patrons to grow and maintain a high quality of life for all our community members. Research and history demonstrate that this only occurs with a strong community, school, and business partnership.
With that, your elected board of education is working tirelessly and innovatively to create more value in our community and schools by preparing our district in the same fashion we prepare our students for a future yet defined. They are invoking the same principles of running any effective business. They recently voted to hire regional professionals in facilities planning, community research, strategic planning, communication, and the development of staff and community recruiting tools to better prepare the district for the upcoming changes in how students enroll in public schools.
By next year, we will have many tools to help better position the district for the new law and the anticipated growth we will see, all at a cost less than hiring a part-time classified staff member. You may have a neighbor or friend that was recently contacted about a patron focus group. We are working hard to get a strong cross-section of input from a variety of stakeholders in the community as we start developing our plans for the future. Our only goal is to strengthen the community and school partnership and continue to preserve the long-term investment the school brings to our communities. Your input will provide much direction as we continue to develop our strategic plan and better analyze how to be good stewards of our facilities and district investments.
Remember, these small investments today in communication, strategic planning, and facilities review will help position the district to be competitive in landing future businesses and families who choose to live in Northeast Kansas and provide a substantial return on investment over time, thus creating more value for our tax paying patrons. Our district has faced many challenges recently, such as declining enrollment and the inability to recruit professional and classified staff. These resources will better leverage our ability to overcome these challenges, which in turn creates value for our community and, most importantly, support for our students.
Furthermore, our district needs to begin planning for recruiting new talented educators to replace our retiring professionals in the next five to seven years. This goes beyond a simple college career fair as we are reaching out to families to join the communities we serve; it requires a proactive approach and forging new relationships as we see fewer people choosing education as a professional career. Our students deserve the best staff and opportunities, and your support of these current initiatives allows that to happen!
Jeff West proudly has one of the most veteran educational staff in Northeast Kansas, and that speaks loudly of the community and patron support this district has invested in its staff over the years. As we did thirty years ago, it is time again to put the spotlight on the best-kept secrets that have kept our staff here, many of which were their first and only educational assignment.
There are many exciting things on the horizon for our school and community. I challenge you to join the conversation on the second Thursday of every month for a free patron breakfast and coffee. We will be meeting next month at the high school on January 12th at 7:30 AM. We would love to hear your thoughts and what makes the community special to you. I am also happy to meet at any time with your group or community partners. By working together, we are demonstrating our commitment to making our school and communities stronger by delivering a higher quality of life for our children and future generations.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes.
“Education is not only a ladder of opportunity, but it is also an investment in our future.” – Ed Markey
Wishing you the happiest of holidays,
Superintendent of Schools
USD 340 Jefferson West