FULTON, Mo. (KMIZ)
Ty Crain took over the leadership of Fulton Public Schools in 2020 -- just in time for the world to turn upside down.
Crain's tenure at the school has taken place under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, with effects such as staffing shortages and learning loss still being felt. Crain said Fulton needs more classroom professionals and more bus drivers but has adjusted to operate without them.
Crain is one of several superintendents being interviewed by ABC 17 News as a new academic year begins. Questions are edited for brevity and clarity.
Grace Pankey: What is being done in preparation for the first day of school?
Crain: Well, for us in preparation for the first day of school, we have a lot of our typical things going on as far as buildings and grounds and maintenance. Been working hard all summer to prepare all of the classrooms and the waxing and those type of things and some of the projects that we've had replacing some carpet, replacing tile, a lot of maintenance and upkeep.
But this year, it's been complicated because we've had a number of construction projects as part of our 2020 bond issue that we're finishing up, we've got an eight-classroom addition, going on to the middle school, and also finishing a parking lot project here at the high school and beginning a kindergarten center project at the early childhood. So with those projects going on, that's kind of gotten in the way of some of our normal maintenance and ... compressed some of our timelines, but we will have the classrooms ready to go and look forward to the students coming in and opening some of those new areas that we've had recently built and added to the district.
Pankey: So everything is on track for the first day?
Crain: Everything is on track for our students to come back. We have some teachers that sometimes like to come in a little earlier than they're required to come in. And we have had to push some of those dates back, but we will be on track with all of our official start dates for our staff, as well as our students. Very exciting.
Pankey: Have any important policies changed since last year?
Crain: You know, we don't have any important policy changes, I would say one thing we are preparing for its legislative changes with the Get the Lead Out for the lead testing. We are preparing for the lead testing and all of our buildings and facilities to do this fall (to) comply with that legislation. But I don't know that's necessarily a policy change. But we are preparing for that, but no major policy changes.
Pankey: How is staffing? What about teacher retention?
Crain: Yeah, absolutely. teacher retention. And recruitment is a huge focus of our Board of Education, our community. We have relationships with both of our local colleges, with Westminister and William Woods for "grow your own" programs. That's helped out through our foundation and through the district in order to try to bring some of our own students back to Fulton to work in our schools. So that's been important for us, as we move forward, we hope to continue to grow those right now.
I think like most industries, we are seeing some difficulty with recruitment and retention, just from the simple fact of, you know, we've had more leaving the profession than coming into the profession. And so trying to identify those candidates and try to grow some of our own candidates to come into those positions. We have all of our positions filled to start the school year, we do have enough people to be able to begin school, but we still have some holes that we could fill, but we've got enough to be able to start the school year, and we'll continue to seek those positions.
Pankey: Have you noticed any issues with hiring bus drivers for this coming year?
Crain: Yeah, we're short about three bus drivers, we have all of our routes covered. And when I say we have all of our routes covered, we've had to adjust some routes to make sure that we, you know, if we had enough staff, and enough drivers, an additional couple of drivers, we would probably add a route or two so the buses weren't quite as full. But we are prepared to be able to transport all of our students and but by all means, if somebody's looking to drive buses, we have some availability for that.
Pankey: Does Fulton use the state-funded Raptor Alert school safety app?
Crain: ... The governor put aside money to help pay for all schools to use it if they want to. So there's some grant funding out there for that. So I think that's where you read that all schools use it. So in Fulton's case, we were actually looking into Raptor before funds were made available by the state because we were already looking for some type of a solution for our teachers to have that panic button and that, you know, that can be on them at all times where they have the opportunity to notify the right people of any emergency that takes place.
So we are going to be in the second phase of Raptor this fall as far as rolling it out. So we don't have it right now, but we will be rolling it out this fall. And for us, we're going to utilize it for that panic button for staff. And we're also going to utilize it for the reunification process. So if for some reason we have to relocate our students and our staff to an external location, because of any emergency, we can utilize Raptor to help reunify with the appropriate parents or guardians and have a process for that. And then lastly, we'll also utilize it to manage our drills. But we'll be rolling out this fall.
Pankey: Will Raptor be used for drills?
Crain: No. I don't know what all the capabilities are for it, in our case, the most emergency for us, we wanted our staff to have a way that whether they were in their classroom, or outside, wherever they may be, they always had something with them to be able to say, "hey, we've got an emergency, we have a suspicious person in the building, somebody's not supposed to be here, we need to lock down the building," for them to be able to do that from wherever they are at any given time in any place and be able to get that information out to authorities.
We still have our typical fire alarms and all of those things that go with that. This was really more for them to be able to do that individualized alert when they saw a threat for the school.
Pankey: What is Fulton doing to get test scores back up after the pandemic?
Crain: Oh, absolutely. I think that's a focus not just in Missouri, but across the country. As we come back off of the pandemic and the learning loss that we've seen.
We focus a lot on interventions and providing opportunities, whether that be before or after school, during school to identify students and where they are struggling, utilizing localized assessments to determine what areas they need additional help with, and then providing the time and the staff to have those individualized interventions with them. And so that's an ongoing process. I think it's not new -- we've always been trying to address student needs. It's just the needs are greater now than they've been in the past and trying to account for that learning loss and get our kids caught up and where they need to be on grade level.
Pankey: Is Fulton working to fight dropping attendance rates?
So we recognized a year ago, this time that we had a real concern with the attendance and that it was going to need to be a focus. So we started an attendance campaign last year that we focused on throughout the year, utilizing different signage, including messaging to our parents and our families and our students throughout the year. We even had messages we put out at ballgames and public announcements of the importance of attendance, and some different facts and figures and how that impacts students' earnings throughout their entire life and how that impacts their ability to graduate and to be successful.
And so we actually ... saw over a 6% increase in attendance this past year from the previous year. And we're gonna continue that focus and continue that campaign so that we hopefully will just see that number rise even more this year. So to answer your question: Yes, we will this year, but it'll be a continuation of what we did previously.
Pankey: Anything else we should know?
Crain: Yeah, no, I appreciate the opportunity. We're very excited. It's gonna be a great school year. We're looking forward to the kids coming back and being able to get all the activity started. Athletics started this week with activities, band has been going on for a couple of weeks. And so we're excited to get the kids back, get them into the classrooms and see the amazing things that they do and they access the successes that they have and being able to work with them. So we're just looking forward to the school year and the opportunity to work with our families here in the community.