The JNEA BoE Interview team, Crystal Stokes, William Keczkemethy, Kylie Compton, and Christina (Chrissy) Landburg met with Lori Musser and Debbie Fort on Saturday, February 19th and Jeff Koch on Tuesday, February 20. The team asked a series of questions during the 45 minutes interviews. For example; why are they running for the board once again, what have they seen during their time as a board member and how will they continue the positive movement forward for Joplin Schools. After deliberating after all three interviews the team decided to endorse all three candidates running. Their answers are listed in their questionnaires as you can read for yourself in this post.
1. Name Lori Musser
2. Address 3502 Baker’s Branch Joplin, MO 64801
3. Telephone 417-439-0318
4. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
B. Education BS in Elementary Education/Early Childhood Education
MS in Guidance and Counseling
MS in Educational Administration
Ed.S in Educational Leadership
C. Career History - 25 years in public schools (Joplin) as a teacher, counselor and principal
- 2 additional years as a parent educator for Parents as Teachers
- 5 ½ years in higher education working with disabled students and teaching as - an adjunct professor (MSSU)
D. Civic/Community Activities - Executive committee for Jasper County Court Appointed Special Advocates
- Volunteer for New-Mac CASA
- Executive committee for Operation Fairy Godmother
- Volunteer for Missouri Mission of Mercy
- United Way Community Investment Panel member
- Boy Scouts volunteer
- Joplin Schools Board of Education for two years
E. School District Activities - Current school board member
- School district finance/salary/benefits committee member
- School district data committee member
- School district safety committee member
What factors led you to decide to run for the school board for an additional term?
I have thoroughly enjoyed these last two years serving on the school board. In my tenure of 22 years as an educator in the Joplin school district I experienced both the good and the bad. I remember when Joplin Schools was respected and was considered one of the premiere districts in the area. I want to get that respect back. I want to be able to hire the best teachers and retain the best teachers. We also have a young school board with not a lot of experience. I am hoping to provide some stability. A lot of positive changes have been made in the last few years and I want to be a part of moving that momentum forward. I believe common sense is one of my strengths and that is much needed on any school board. I also believe that my knowledge
and experience in education is an asset. In order to provide the best education for the kids of Joplin, we have to be focused and determined. I am both of those.
2. What are the critical issues currently facing the Joplin school district? How would you prioritize these issues?
1) Teacher recruitment and retention is top priority. They have the most significant impact on student achievement and we need to get back to competitive salaries and benefits so we can recruit and retain the best.
2) Mental health of students. We need to make sure that we are utilizing community and school resources in the best ways we can to ensure the mental health of our students.
3) Solid curriculum established. This is something that has been lacking for some time and something that we have demanded as a school board.
3. In a district with financial constraints, how would you prioritize the following items (1-12)?
5 Building & Grounds
2 Class Size
3 Curriculum Development
7 Equitable teacher plan time and workload
10 Existing Extra and Co-Curricular programs
4 Financial Reserve
11 New Programs
9 Professional Development
12 Reducing local tax burden
1 Salaries and benefits (maintaining)
2. There is considerable discussion about the future of the public schools and many people are
Please react to the following question: The role of public schools is to
educate all children. How do you think a school district can offer programs that meet the needs of different kinds of students?
Programs that meet the needs of all students needs to be based on data and not just a whim. They have to be individualized to meet the student’s need. They need to be teacher-driven because who knows better what the student needs then the teacher? Families and community resources and agencies need to be involved (Ozark Center, Lefflin Autism Center, etc.) RTI, differentiation, collaboration are all necessary. Year round school and looping could also help these students with retention of knowledge and skills. Funding can come from special education or Title I money.
3. What are your views on the effect of the following plans being offered to provide alternatives
to the public schools:
Vouchers provided from tax dollars to send children to private or parochial schools?Schools being managed by for-profit corporations?Publicly funded charter schools?I am not a proponent of any alternative programs to public schools. I don’t believe they are equitable for kids when compared to public schools. They are also less diverse. Public schools embrace all students without the need for lotteries or applications. The alternative programs often times takes funding away from public schools and are also easily influenced by outside forces, particularly in the private schools and for-profit schools.
4. The public has been polled many times about the major expectations for public schools. The three top expectations are safety and order in the schools, the teaching of basic skills first, and the need for standards as students progress through the system.
I believe our Joplin schools are extremely safe. Mechanisms and policies have been implemented to ensure safety (locked entrances, safe rooms, trainings, etc.) I serve on the district’s safety committee so I am aware of precautions that have been implemented that the public may not be aware of. I do believe cyberbullying continues to be a problem. I don’t know what the solution is but it needs to be addressed by the entire community – it is not just a “school” problem. Students with behavior issues need to be addressed. The reason the student is misbehaving needs to be determined and help from the parents needs to be solicited. Students with behavior plans need to have specific and individualized behavior plans to which they are held accountable. There needs to also be classes where they can learn the coping skills needed and receive mental health support.
5. Communication with parents and non-parents is becoming a priority for a school system.
How can the Joplin Schools improve its relationship with the parents who send children to our schools?
I believe the Joplin Schools can improve its relationship with the parents by:
Maintaining an open door policies
Including parents on decision making committees
Classroom websites – kid ran
Terrific Tuesdays - find something positive to say about every child and send a note home to parents – this goes a long ways in improving communication, relationships and developing a positive partnership.
6. What do you view as the greatest strength of the Joplin Schools?
Strong leaders, awesome teachers, wonderful staff, concise and specific strategic plan, and the curriculum that is being developed.
7. What do you view as the greatest challenge facing the Joplin Schools? List some of your suggestions for meeting that challenge.
Teacher and staff salaries and retention – we have to find ways to save as much money as we can to raise salaries so we can attract and keep the best. We know that salary is not always the most important thing to a teacher but it certainly helps to be competitive as a district. We may have to look at increasing the tax levy to do this and that can be a huge challenge.
Paying off financial responsibilities of the district. Creative investing and advocating against TIF district will help a lot. Increasing the tax levy is also a viable option here as well.
Morale – it seems to be improving but teachers’ and staff’ voices still need to be heard and considered in decisions. We need to find ways to sincerely hold them up as valued.
A. Personal Data
1. Debbie Fort
2. 2725 E Wickersham Rd, Joplin, MO 64801
EdD St. Louis University Educational Leadership
EdS Missouri State University Principal, Superintendent, Sped Director K-12
MS Pittsburg State University Counseling K-12
BSE Missouri Southern State University Teacher K-8, EMH, LD, BD
C. Career History
2016- present MSSU Director of Project Stay
2013-2016 MSSU Academic Skills Specialist
1985-1993 1993-2014 Joplin School District Teacher, Counselor, Principal
1993-1996 Webb City School District Counselor
1980-1985 Jasper School District Sped Teacher and Coordinator
D. Civic/Community Activities
CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) for NewMac Counties
CASA Committee for Jasper County
The Alliance of Southwest Missouri, Treasurer
Former NAMI Board Member Trained in three NAMI Programs
Former Joplin Schools Board Member
The Light of Joplin Church
E. School District Activities
A plethora of activities when I worked for the district. Currently I am serving with a Youth Committee for the Prevention of Suicide through the Alliance. Next year I will be active at Kelsey Norman PTO.
What factors led you to decide to run for the school board for an additional term?
I served on Joplin School Board from 2014-2017. I made the decision to not run for a second term because I wanted to become a trained CASA and felt like I should devote my attention to that endeavor. I achieved that goal and now represent a foster child in court.
Unfortunately we have had three suicides at Joplin High School. One of those students and his family attend my church. I visited with his mom and felt encouraged to help. I believe this is a community issue and I have community connections to help solve this issue.
What are the critical issues currently facing the Joplin School District? How would you prioritize these issues?
First and foremost are salaries. Unfortunately we had too many stagnant years where raises were not given. During that time we lost a lot of our veteran teachers to surrounding districts. Classified staff salaries need to be looked at also. While competitive, they have not received raises.
Teacher retention would be my second issue and is directly correlated to the lack of adequate raises over several years.
The lack of veteran teachers contributes to my third issue, poor achievement. We know that the quality of teacher impacts the quality of education our students receive. I believe we have all the right people in all the right seats at administration. I am confident we are developing a sound curriculum.
By adjusting our salaries and becoming the employer of choice, we fix all three of these issues.
Now of course we need to maintain and upgrade existing buildings. Columbia Elementary needs to be looked at for construction purposes. We also need to continue to add to the bus fleet. Because our reserves have grown from a low of 8% to now 20%, we are moving in the right direction.
In a district with financial constraints, how would you prioritize the following items?
Salaries and benefits (maintaining) - I would add a definite need to improve!
Curriculum Development-we are on our way
Financial Reserves- continue to grow by another 5% while balancing with raises
Equitable teacher plan time and workload- this is more a secondary issue
Class size- particularly in K-1
Professional Development- always a strength until we try to add new programs!
Buildings and Grounds- Columbia
Technology-lack of training in educational use, cost of laptops at JHS
Transportation- add more buses
Reducing local tax burden- should consider increasing-too many years with no change
Existing Extra and Co-Curricular programs- need to look at stipends
New Programs- NO NEW PROGRAMS
There is considerable discussion about the future of the public schools and many people are offering alternatives. Please react to the follow question: The role of public schools is to educate all children. How do you think a school district can offer programs that meet the needs of different kinds of students?
With the proper use of technology, each student should be able to advance at their own rate of progress. I know of two instances where students are very advanced in math but each year they begin at the front of that grade level book again. We should be able to accommodate different stages of learning by making small groups for math just as we do for reading. I believe we accommodate different rates of learning better at the secondary level than we do at the elementary level.
What are the views on the effect of the following plans being offered to provide alternatives to the public schools:
Vouchers provided from tax dollars to send children to private or parochial schools? I oppose
Schools being managed by for-profit corporations? I oppose
Publically funded charter schools? I oppose
Most of these things have been tried and have been found to be not effective. Typically achievement rates are equal to or lower than public education levels. Private schools of course excel academically but are extremely selective in who is educated. I believe everyone deserves to be educated.
The public has been polled many times about the major expectations for public schools. The top three expectations are safety and order in the schools, the teaching of basic skills first, and the need for standards as students progress though the system.
Do you think students in the Joplin Public Schools have a safe and orderly environment in which to learn? What can be done about students who disrupt the learning of others?
I believe students in Joplin Schools generally have a safe and orderly environment in which to learn. I believe that leadership starts at the top with the Board establishing the expectation for safe and orderly. The principal of each building guides those efforts.
I believe Joplin has done a good job of establishing positive environments in the schools with Positive Behavior Support. We try to maintain the level of least restrictive environment. In my own experience I think we sometimes try to “save” a student when it really is to their benefit to make the referral to Beacon for students with extreme behaviors.
I believe we have a great opportunity to work with the community. Ozark Center has obtained a grant that would place social worker in our schools. I hope the Board has conversations about this opportunity.
Communication with parents and non-parents is becoming a priority for the school system. How can the Joplin Schools improve its relationship with the parents who send children to our schools?
Of course we utilize many avenues to communicate with our parents: newsletters, dialers, planners, text messages, etc. A practice I employed as a principal that was so simple but yielded but such great results
was this: each employee made one positive phone call a week to a parent, preferably at work. The result was that family and coworkers spoke highly of Irving Elementary and how much they love and care for our children! Excellent teachers always called the parents of the students who demonstrated negative behaviors. They looked for a moment to “catch them being good!” This cost nothing but a few moments of time but generated a great deal of support for our school.
What do you view as the great strength of Joplin Schools?
That’s easy. The Staff! I also believe we have the right people at Admin and we are building a positive climate of trust again as well as our financial reserves.
What do you view as the greatest challenge facing the Joplin Schools? List some suggestions for meeting that challenge.
The greatest challenge facing our district is the quality and tenure of our teachers. We unfortunately have not rewarded our tenured teachers and thus they transferred to surrounding districts. The result was we have a plethora of beginning teachers with few seasoned veterans. Teacher salaries need major increases. Support staff salaries need to be addressed. They are competitive for this area but haven’t received an adequate raise in years.
We must continue to look for places to be fiscally responsibility. Are there positions that aren’t necessary in administration? Our level of stipends is very high. We need to take a look at stipends and determine what is really necessary.
I also think we must look at the levy. For several years we did not increase our levy. I believe we can make small gains in salary by making small increases in the levy. We made a small increase last year and the impact felt by taxpayers such as myself was minimal.
Thank you for the opportunity to answer your questions. I look forward to meeting with you.