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WATCH: Full interview with Jefferson City School District Superintendent Bryan McGraw


Bryan McGraw is getting ready for his second year as the superintendent of the area's second-largest school district.

The Jefferson City School District is heading into the school year after winning public support for a massive bond issue to upgrade buildings and equipment. McGraw spoke with ABC 17 News as part of our series of superintendent interviews as the school year begins.

Questions have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Morgan Buresh: Is the Jefferson City School District fully staffed for this year?

Bryan McGraw: We are.

We have some specialty areas that we're still looking for. But overall, we are fully staffed -- 140 new teachers to the district. So we're excited to have them for this upcoming school year.

Buresh: What is the district doing to recruit and retain quality teachers?

McGraw: A couple of things. ... Our board allowed us to bring in teachers on a greater step if they had experience, so we take people up to 15 steps in the district. We have a career ladder program, which was sponsored by the state. We were one of the first to get involved in that. We had over 500 employees take advantage of it last school year. And we have even more signed up for this school year where if they put in 100 hours outside of the school day towards student achievement, they could get up to $5,000 extra salary.

And we've also added a pre-K program for staff and we have over 50 students enrolled for this coming school year that will be students of staff at all levels -- teachers, secretaries, administrators, janitors, all involved in the program.

Buresh: Teachers received raises this year. Why is that important?

McGraw: It was total of $2,000. When you take everything combined, so highest in 15 years, they deserve it.

We know we want to, we want to retain our teachers and attract people at the end of the day. They are the talent that, they are with kids each and every day making a difference in their lives. So we have to give them the respect they deserve. And many times it's with the salary we pay and pay them.

Buresh: What construction projects are happening in the district right now?

McGraw: We have a lot going on. So right now we have we're in talks sort of pre-K building, which will serve our whole community up to 350 students will be able to attend. We're going to renovate both middle schools, which we've made some changes this summer. We have Thorpe Gordon STEM Academy, which is opening for the first time this school year, 23-24 school year, we put 540 interactive boards in classrooms, pre-K to eight and also at (Jefferson City Academic Center). So a lot of changes. We're also expanding the Nichols Career Center to add cosmetology in a building trades program.

Buresh: What's the timeline on these projects

McGraw: They'll be done over two phases. Phase 1 will be next summer and Phase 2 will be the following summer. There's such large buildings that we had to break it up it couldn't be able to do all that in one summer.

Buresh: What new construction will students see when they return?

McGraw: The biggest thing is the interactive boards in the classroom. So the teachers have been training on that new technology throughout the summer and even today. So 540 boards, our tech department assembled got together and up and running. So we're excited for kids that have that classroom experience.

Buresh: Are there any other bond-related projects happening this summer?

McGraw: We are opening our new athletic facilities at Capital City High School. It be the first time that students will be able to play on campus for their sports, football, soccer did a little bit, but the first time the fall sports will able to be played there. So we're excited even to have that facility for our kids.

Buresh: What is the status of lead testing and remediation?

McGraw: Yes, we were. We did find it. We have to remediate those areas so that way it's safe for kids. And then in the buildings that haven't been tested. We'll be doing those tests throughout this school year into next summer to comply with the provisions of the law.

Buresh: And to clarify, lead wasn't found in taps meant for drinking, right?

McGraw: Yep. To faucets and sink areas, but those have been fixed.

Buresh: Does the Jefferson City School District have school resource officers?

McGraw: We do, yep.

We have seven officers current currently assigned throughout the district. We have a great relationship with the Jeff City Police Department. Our officers are skilled with working with kids and the police department specifically paid to place them for their talents in those areas. So it's a great relationship and we're thankful that we have it. You know, have our community support it.

Buresh: What are the biggest responsibilities or goals for having those school resource officers around?

McGraw: The No. 1 pro already is to keep kids safe. And by doing that, you know, it's just not policing, it's relationships with students and, and their ability to have someone to talk to -- a trusted authority figure where if a kid reaches out for help, they can help them.

Buresh: Where are they stationed?

McGraw: I'd rather not get into specifics, but they are more secondary focus. I think, you know, their proximity to all the buildings and the response times. You know, when you talk about 18 schools are within a couple minutes, even if they're not covering a specific building,

Buresh: How much does the school district pay for these officers?

McGraw: We split the difference with the city so the city supports half and we do the other half.

Buresh: What is the security protocol for getting into school buildings?

McGraw: We have secure vestibules in our buildings, so they would check into that secure area and have a conversation if they're picking up a kid for an appointment that the child will come out and then they would sign them out of the building, but the parent wouldn't enter the building. Now if they had a specific appointment, then we would allow access. But outside of that the vestibules have allowed us another layer of safety.

Buresh: Is that every school in the district?

McGraw: Yep.

Buresh: How does JCSD plan to use the Raptor Alert school safety app?

McGraw: It will allow the staff and administration as well as the police that are in the school buildings, able to respond quickly and more efficiently if there is an emergency within the building

Buresh: What are your goals for that? How are you hoping it helps the district?

McGraw: I think communication is always a great thing. So you know, the more interactive scenarios we have where staff can report things in a quicker fashion, whether it be a fight or a bullying scenario that adults can respond and make the situation safer for kids, then that's what we want.

Buresh: Are there any other security updates that have happened either through the last year or over the summer?

McGraw: I think we're always constantly trying to improve our safety for our kids.

I think the one thing I can encourage parents to do is if there is a scenario that they're ever concerned about that they reach out to us immediately so that we can respond.

Buresh: How should parents feel sending their kids off to school this year? Should they feel confident about the safety of their children?

McGraw: I think they should be excited to provide their kids with a great school year, 23-24 school year. We have 8,500 students coming into our district, a team building, so we're looking for everyone to have a great experience.

Buresh: Have buses flagged by the Missouri State Highway Patrol been fixed?

McGraw: Yes, we were you know, we're not thrilled with the inspections but also was an opportunity to improve ... the buses that are in place with First Student. So they were brought to their attention, they fix them and hopefully, in the future, we will correct those before the inspections when we see things of that nature that are not a safe scenario.

Buresh: How is bus driver staffing?

McGraw: We have buses. I think what we're struggling what you see nationwide is with drivers we have increased pay to try to attract more drivers for students, offering a bonus signing bonus to attract them. We're also putting monitors on some of our buses that had elevated disciplines, trying to make it a better experience for drivers. But the struggle right now is staff. So you know that has caused us the biggest issue.

Buresh: How short on drivers is the district?

McGraw: I think we're down a few drivers from where we were pre-COVID but enough to man the routes and have kids here and learning. You know, the goal is to have everybody here on time. And you know that at times was a struggle last year because you know, if you even if you're fully staffed, but when you have people calling sick during the winter and things of that nature, now you're down a route, you got to combine routes and that causes those delays. So we're always trying to avoid that. So the more people the better. So if people are interested, we encourage them to apply.

Buresh: What is the goal of the new bus monitor program?

McGraw: You know, it's a difficult thing when you're driving students and you have 40 or 50 kids behind you. Your priorities, obviously, the kids that you're transporting, but also what's going on, you know, out on the highway. So this will enable support to support the kids and the driver.

Buresh: Is that on every bus?

McGraw: No, just specific ones, where we know, our maybe longer runs where kids will be on there a while or some that we had more disciplines than others. And we've seen, you know, that two adults are sometimes better than one, that's for sure.

Buresh: Has attendance been an issue in the past for the district?

McGraw: I think that's one more thing we're focusing on this school year is, you know, when you're, we want kids to learn, we want them to grow and succeed. But if they're not in front of us, you know that that's a problem. So, coming out of the pandemic, you know, that where people were home learning, you know, for a period of time, we're hoping that we've seen our attendance rates go up in some areas and go down.

And others, I think, it's a big push for us this year, one of our main goals is to have kids in-seat because when they're with us, we know they'll do great things. And one of the things that has helped us attract kids into buildings are activities. And we've added some additional activities at the high school level, but also at the elementary and middle school level with the career ladder program. And you have teachers after school, doing clubs, yoga club and, and chess club and drawing those kids into things where, "hey, I want to be here, because I don't want to miss those things."

So those are some of the things where you're trying to have that relationship with kids to have them be here each and every day. So yes, it's a priority for us.

Buresh: Do you have an attendance rate goal for this year?

McGraw: Over 90%. Which is lofty. We're gonna get there.

Buresh: Do you have any other ways you plan to reach that aside from these programs you mentioned?

McGraw: We're looking at alternative ways to get kids to school. So maybe if they miss that first bus that comes through their neighborhood that, you know, is there a hotline, they can call, like, send out another bus or get them to the building, because even if they come in late, it's better than not coming at all.

So those things, again, the clubs, the activities, the ways to draw kids in, and I think our educators like today, they're going through at the elementary level and secondary level, a learning fair, where they're learning from each other things and techniques that work to draw kids into their classrooms. And we put a lot of time into that. And throughout trainings last year.

Buresh: How has the pandemic affected Jefferson City's test scores and where would the district like to be?

McGraw: They were never happy with the, you know, the results, we always want to do better. We want to continue to grow students.

So what kids look like on day one versus the end of the school year, we want them to grow and become better students, a better person. You know, at the elementary level and middle school level, we put in a great deal of work on our curriculum to align it and you know, try our different teaching practices and our staff has, has really been receptive to that and put in a lot of hard work. And at a secondary level, we're really happy with our scores, our advanced placement scores, which is a national test. This past year, we had 324 students pass an Advanced Placement Exam. Back in 2018, we had 86. So we're thrilled that that number keeps going up with 57 AP scholars in our district, which that's students who pass three or more advanced placement exams.

So are we you know, our goal at the end of the day is for every student who's college-bound, or secondary-bound student, post-secondary students take at least one AP exam before they leave Jeff City. So we're hoping that as that trend continues to go up, we'll experience more success.

Buresh: You specifically mentioned focusing on middle schools.

McGraw: Yes, I think we talked about attendance, and also focusing, you know, on our math scores at the middle school level, those are our two areas that we've really dialed in on.

Buresh: What are some specific things being done to improve academics?

McGraw: The main thing, we have professional development working with our educators on best practices, so, you know, we looked at in two ways. One is ... having some professional development on relationships with kids, getting them attracted to your classroom and, and feeling comfortable within your classroom. So on one end, we did it that way. And then on the other end, curriculum-wise as far as teaching practices, and what's the best way to teach this math strategy, and what's successful, maybe at the secondary level that could work at the middle school level, or what's been successful at the elementary level that could work at the middle school level. So getting all that feedback and trying to put together a package for kids that will raise student achievement.

Buresh: This is your second year here as superintendent. What did you learn in your first year? And what are your goals for this year?

McGraw: I think I've learned what a great community we have and how they support our school district.

We passed the Kids FIRST bond initiative with 68% of the vote, which shows a great faith in the direction that we're going, and that we're a true family-oriented district, you know, the community supports it, families support us, our kids are happy to be here. And most importantly, our staff love working here.

Goals for the future is to continue that championship atmosphere that we focused on from day one, we want our staff to feel like they're in an environment where people care about them, that we have a great culture, and that we have this championship mentality and have high expectations for our kids, for our staff, even for the superintendent, and just continue that path of success as we move forward.

Buresh: What should parents know about safety when sending their kids to school this year?

McGraw: I think that to have open communication at all times with their child and have that trust with them where if there's anything out of the ordinary, if a kid is feeling bullied or sees something that just doesn't sound good, that they have the ability to talk to their kid and then get that information to us in our priorities is if we can handle it within the school building. It's a scenario where there's a bullying incident that we can take care of that and put an end to it. If it's a more serious scenario we have the police department involved in on-site, ready to assist so I think that will be the priority -- to have that communication with your child, because it will ... ultimately lead to all of our success.

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Morgan Buresh

Morgan is an evening anchor and reporter who came to ABC 17 News in April 2023.


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