Thursday, December 26, 2013

Grandview District Grows by 300 Students in Three Years

By Mary Wilson
The Grandview School Board began their meeting last Thursday, December 19 by honoring a student for her artwork on display in the board room at central office. Hope Butler, a third-grade student at Belvidere Elementary School, is the final artist to be recognized for her work on display. The board also recognized Grandview Pro-Start students who participated in the Sodexo Culinary Throwdown competition against Center and Belton on December 4.

During Superintendent Dr. Ralph Teran’s report to the board, he noted the increase in enrollment in the district. According to Teran, the growth is predominately at the early-elementary level and at the high school level, with nearly 200 new students this year alone.

“We have grown in our district,” said Teran. “We’ve grown by approximately 300 students in the last three years. If the trajectory of 100 kids per year continues, we will begin to really experience some concerns.”

The main concern for the district is available space. Two schools in the district are at or near capacity, Martin City’s elementary portion and Meadowmere Elementary. Teran noted that with the use of technology in the classrooms, teachers have come to use space in new and different ways.

“We need to look in the future at the possibility of adjusting some boundaries,” said Teran. “In some districts that are growing, every year they have to do that. It’s just normal.”

Teran acknowledged the sensitive manner of the possibilities of changing the elementary school boundaries in the district. Community input meetings will be held before decisions are made, possibly in January or February of 2014.

Also at the meeting, the Board received a report on the evaluation of the district’s technology program. District programs are evaluated annually to determine progress towards meeting goals and make recommendations for improvement. These evaluations are summarized and formalized through Board presentations for compliance with Missouri School Improvement Program requirements.

The goals and recommendations of the evaluation, presented by Scott Sizemore, were to explore ways to increase the number of staff members who attend voluntary technology professional development sessions and to continue efforts to increase accessibility to high-quality instructional technology resources, tutorials and training materials in an effort to provide professional learning. The department would also like to continue to expand available technology professional development, and develop a model that better supports individual training needs.

Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Lisa Walker presented an update to the Board on the Quinpoint School Improvement Process system. Quinpoint provides a systemic delivery of a guaranteed and viable curriculum, utilizes walk-through and observation tools with clearly defined indicators and rubrics, maximizes academic learning time, monitors student achievement, and promotes a culture and climate conducive to learning and developing professional practices.

According to the report Walker provided, administrators and instructional coaches received training on the Quinpoint Building Walkthrough (BWT) tool in September/October, 2012, and implementation of the BWT tool began in October, 2012. School Improvement Teams (SITs), comprised of site administrators, the instructional coach, and the District Improvement Team (DIT) member, meet weekly to discuss the data to identify goals, inform instruction, and guide strategic development and implementation of professional development at the site level. The District Improvement Team (DIT) meets weekly to review district and site-level data to inform instruction and guide strategic development and implementation of professional development at the district level.

“Following the observation, teachers are provided with feedback on instruction related to the respective observation tool,” said Walker.

Finally, administration proposed to the Board the issuance of $5 million of General Obligation Bonds to fund improvements to district facilities. These bonds would mature from March 1, 2021, through March 1, 2024, and contain an average interest rate of 2.63%. The total interest expense on these bonds, if they run to maturity, would be $1,175,425.69. The Board then unanimously approved the issuance of the bonds.

The next regular meeting for the Grandview School Board is Thursday, January 16 at 6:00 p.m.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Hickman Mills Earns Clean Audit for 2012-2013

By Paul Thompson
Just four years removed from a reserve fund balance as low as 4%, the Hickman Mills C-1 district
has nearly quadrupled that figure, raising their reserves to a high of 21.99% at the end of the 2012-2013 school year.

Diana Klosterman of Westbrook Audit delivered an optimistic review of the district’s finances during a Wednesday, December 11 audit review, conducted at the C-1 Board of Education’s monthly work session.

“This year, you’ve got your reserves up to 21.99%,” said Klosterman during the review. “To be able to tell you that you’ve got that awesome number up there is very exciting. This is a terrific place to be.”

The 2013 year-end reserve ratio marks an 8.55% improvement from 2012’s figures, and more than a 12% leap from 2011’s final reserve ratio of 9.94%. The C-1 district hit its financial low in 2008, when it maintained operating reserves of just 4.04%.

The increasing reserves are all the more impressive when considering the budgetary pressure that the district is under. Hickman Mills was able to increase that balance in spite of dwindling property taxes, student enrollment, and state funding. Klosterman submitted her glowing review despite those impediments, but noted that the district will have to maintain a close watch over expenditures in order to maintain its gains at the end of the current school year.

Board member Darrell Curls was thrilled at the progress, even admitting that he wasn’t sure he would see the day that the district pulled out of its financial hole.

“I’d like to, number one, commend (Wiltsey) and Dr. Carpenter and our staff. They’ve always told us that the ideal fund balance was 24-25%,” said Curls. “At that particular time, I was like, ‘no way.’”

“I think that having fund balance to that degree really says something about our district,” he added. “I never thought I would see us at 21%.”

The gains in reserves can be largely attributed to cost-cutting. Klosterman pointed out that the district’s transportation costs decreased by a total of $330,000 in 2012-2013, while the C-1’s food services program actually produced a modest profit. Although community services still cost Hickman Mills over $800,000 last year, the losses sustained by those programs actually decreased compared to previous years.

“Community services are activities that you provide outside of K-8,” explained Klosterman. “Your loss on community service is over $877,000. That is a big improvement from last year, where the loss was over $1,000,000.”

Klosterman did come across some minor issues while conducting the audit, though none were considered serious enough to classify as material weakness. The biggest problems revolved around the reconciliation of attendance figures. The audit revealed discrepancies in attendance for grades 10-12, summer school attendance, extended school year attendance, and the free and reduced lunch count. The misinformation was due primarily to inputting issues, which had all been corrected by the time the audit findings were presented.

“We worked your attendance over hard,” said Klosterman. “We saw some non-reconciliation between your software that was used to record your data and what was sent to DESE. All of that was fixed, which is why it’s considered an ‘immaterial difference.’”

The audit was ultimately approved unanimously by the board, and Superintendent Dr. Dennis Carpenter stated his satisfaction with the job done by Klosterman and her associates at Westbrook Audit. “I find Westbrook to be very, very competent, and I find Westbrook to be very, very thorough,” said Carpenter.

Also at the December 11 meeting, Executive Director of Human Resources Delilah Norris presented a demographics report for the district’s newly hired certified staff. Out of 106 new hires, Norris’ data showed that 63.5% were white females, 16.9% were black females, and 15% were white males. In addition, 2.8% were black males and 1.8% were Asian females. 55.7% of new hires came equipped with a Bachelor’s degree, while 40.5% possess a Master’s degree. 3.8% hold a PhD or Educational Specialists degree.

The demographic report also showed the work experience of the district’s new hires. The figures show that 59.3% of the district’s new certified staff have less than five years of prior experience. 19.8% have between five and nine years of experience, 11.5% have between 10 and 20 years of experience, and 9.4% possess 21 or more years of experience.

The Hickman Mills C-1 Board of Education will next meet on Thursday, December 19 at 7:00 p.m. at the district’s Administrative Center.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Asphalt Plant Not Only Concern for Grandview

By Paul Thompson
For weeks, the City of Grandview has been caught up in litigation regarding air quality at the Ideker Asphalt Plant, located on the west side of I-49 along 150 Highway.

While that issue awaits resolution, new concerns are being raised over potential oil drilling on the east side of town. The city first became aware of an issue over the summer, when a community member called Grandview city offices asking about the commotion by Kelley Road. Upon further investigation, city staff found that Kansas-based JTC Oil was drilling at the site.

“The state had issued them a permit,” said Grandview Public Works director Dennis Randolph. “They took the state permit, and came out and starting drilling. Community Development got a call.”
Community Development then went out to the site and shut down operations, telling JTC Oil that they would need to file an application for a conditional-use permit before drilling could commence. Although no application has yet been received, city staff has met with representatives of JTC Oil on multiple occasions.

“Back in July we met with guys from the oil company, and told them the process they needed to do,” said Community Development Director Chris Chiodini. “Then they hired an attorney to represent them, to draft some of the required information, and the attorney had several questions. We had a second meeting with them, and I know city planners and myself have followed up with their attorney.”

Randolph remains worried both about environmental repercussions and the long-term effects to one of the city’s most promising development areas. According to Randolph, the biggest environmental concern is that the property in question lies along a flood plain. In terms of development, the city has already completed long-term planning studies for the area, and even did re-zoning there last year.
“Our plan doesn’t call for this being vacant with a bunch of oil wells in it,” said Randolph. “The view is basically a bunch of two-foot pipes sticking out of the ground, about 80 of them.”

Randolph further argued that the oil wells would conflict with the city’s best use of the land.
“We intend for this to have nice housing. Nobody’s going to want to develop with that,” said Randolph. “We’re concerned about the city. You know the work we’re doing for the city. Our vision for Grandview isn’t to have these types of uses.”

Although an application has not been submitted, Chiodini noted that based on his conversations, he expects JTC Oil to turn one in soon.
“They’ve been considering what their options were, I’m assuming,” said Chiodini. “My impression is that their intent is to meet the city’s requirements, and submit an application.”

Once an application is submitted, a decision on whether to grant a conditional-use permit can be expected in roughly two months. An application for a conditional-use must be submitted 45 days before the Planning Commission meeting in which the case will be considered. One week after that, the Board of Aldermen could hold a public hearing discussing the application. Two weeks after the public hearing, a decision could be made at a regular Board of Aldermen session. In order to receive a recommendation from the Community Development department, though, the company would still need to agree to several other conditions.

“There are other issues that need to be addressed, as far as landscaping, and screening, and containment systems for the oil storage tanks that would be on site, how they’re going to access in and out of the site, noise levels, and things like that,” said Chiodini. “We just don’t know enough because they haven’t submitted a permit yet.”

When and if the paperwork is submitted, however, city officials fear that they could be facing another public battle.“It’s another case where DNR (Department of Natural Resources) has issued a permit without talking to us,” said Randolph. “It’s déjà vu all over again.”

Thursday, December 5, 2013

For the Love of the Game

By Paul Thompson

Shahid Bhat was moonlighting as a physical therapy student at the University of Kansas when the idea that would change his life first dribbled into his consciousness. While studying at a campus library, Bhat used the database to look up the word ‘Kashmir.’ Although he was born and raised in Martin City, Bhat’s parents hail from Kashmir, a war-torn region of India that serves as a northern buffer for bitter rivals India and Pakistan.

Throughout his early childhood, Bhat and his family maintained close ties to their homeland. His parents maintained a residence in Kashmir, and traveled back every summer. His memories of those
years remain fond, but the region his family once called home became an inhospitable war zone in the late 1980s as tensions in the region escalated.

By the time Bhat entered the name of his homeland into the library database in 2006, he was 33 years old and hadn’t been to Kashmir since 1991. What Bhat found in his search was a book entitled Kashmir, Sunlight and Shade, by British missionary and educationalist Cecil Tyndale-Biscoe. Tyndale-Biscoe had set up a school in Kashmir in the 1890s, and had been partially responsible for introducing European sports like cricket, boxing, and soccer to the region.
 Bhat was immediately drawn to Tyndale-Biscoe, who he loosely compares to basketball inventor James Naismith, the University of Kansas legend from the same era. Eventually, Bhat wondered why he couldn’t do something similar in his homeland.

“I thought, ‘What if I can do for basketball what this guy did for other sports?’” said Bhat. “That was the genesis of it. What if I could bring basketball to Kashmir the way this guy brought soccer?”

Shahid’s epiphany didn’t come from nowhere; he had been a diehard basketball player for years. In fact, Bhat had fallen in love with the game instantaneously, gravitating to it as if compelled by magnetic force. Why shouldn’t the people of Kashmir experience that same joy?

Bhat was in seventh grade when a neighbor put up a basketball goal in their Martin City driveway, inadvertently setting off a lifetime passion in the unassuming 12-year-old. Although Shahid remembers having success in his P.E. classes growing up in the Grandview School District, he wasn’t blessed with impressive athletic ability. In India, academics are paramount, and there is little tradition in athletics. Despite boasting the world’s second-largest population, India finished the 2012 Olympics ranked in 55th place and failed to take home a single gold medal.

Bhat, though, took to basketball immediately. On the court, he found his identity. What he lacked in natural ability, he compensated for with an insatiable willpower. He remembers going to his neighbor’s house every day to practice, determined to improve. When the older kids in the neighborhood tried out for the team during that first year, Shahid volunteered to be the team manager, soaking up knowledge like a sponge. The next year he tried out for the team and made the roster, albeit barely. His basketball career had begun, but it was far from taking off.

“In 8th grade, I don’t remember ever scoring a point,” says Bhat, who at the time was barely over five feet tall and weighed about 100 pounds. “I was on the bench, and I was just happy to be there. I was too small and scared to shoot.”

John Kalliris, a neighborhood friend of Bhat’s who was ahead of him in school, remembers Shahid as a hard worker and a fierce competitor who left everything on the court.
“I remember he certainly had a lot of heart,” said Kalliris of Bhat. “He looked up to some of the older players on the team, and he had heart.”

While his dedication was never in question, Bhat was soon able to grow both physically and as a basketball player. He went to basketball camps during the summer, obsessing over the fundamentals of his game. Once school started, he would stay up late drawing up plays for his team.

“I was even scared to put my name on it, but I knew I wanted to be a coach,” says Bhat. “I was slipping plays underneath (the coach’s) door before my first class.”

Bhat started on the JV team as a sophomore, and looked poised to play on varsity during his junior year. However, his father, ever focused on academics, decided to send his son to Barstow High School to finish out his high school career. As a transfer, the devastated Bhat was forced to sit out his junior season. He started at point guard as a senior, averaging about 12 points and five assists per game, but Shahid never got the college scholarship offers he felt he deserved. He tried to walk on at Central Missouri State, but never gained traction. While he continued to get better and better, Shahid Bhat had seen his organized playing career come and go. He felt snubbed by the system.

“I knew I could perform well, but in my mind I was thinking, ‘Man, nobody wants a little Indian kid,’” said Bhat. “I had a chip on my shoulder. I was highly motivated to prove to people what I was capable of doing.”

As his basketball career was winding down, the situation in Kashmir had reached a boil. By the late 1980s, skirmishes between Pakistan and India had broken out in his native land.

“I would hear (my family) talking a little bit, and expressing concerns about what was going on there,” said Bhat. “So I would kind of pick up on it. But at the same time, I just didn’t care. I was more interested in my basketball practices. I had lost touch.”

Bhat’s family went back to visit Kashmir in 1991, but their trip was cut short due to the violence. It would end up being Bhat’s last visit for almost 18 years.

“We’re supposed to go for one month,” he said. “Instead, when we get there, the streets are packed with army and there’s not a single tourist in sight. At night you can’t go out; it’s a shoot-on-sight curfew.”

Bhat’s family left Kashmir early, and he didn’t think much about Kashmir for years afterwards. He  college, coached and scouted basketball at Barstow, and went through what he described as an artistic “bohemian” period. Over the years, his family would occasionally go back to Kashmir, but Bhat had declined to accompany them; his interest in the region had not yet been piqued. But then came that curiosity, the library search of 2006, and with it the tantalizing notion of continuing his basketball legacy.

In 2009, Bhat once again got an opportunity to go to Kashmir, for a relative’s wedding. This time, he quickly agreed to go, intent on checking out the basketball scene. Although Bhat had carved out a niche as a sort of rec league all-star, he was never satisfied with the conclusion of his playing career. In Kashmir, Bhat saw an opportunity to teach others while also controlling the last act of his own career. In May of 2009, Bhat flew to Kashmir with his parents.

“I was totally flying blind. Google only returns so much,” he says. “I didn’t know if there was even a court in Kashmir. But I knew once I went there, I was going to make an effort to try and get involved.”

At the wedding, Shahid saw a teenager wearing basketball shoes, and approached him to see where games were played. The teen told Bhat that he attended Delhi Public School (DPS), and that there was a basketball court on the grounds. Bhat quickly got permission to run a basketball practice at the school, and stopped by in the days before he departed for America. He found immediate interest from the students at DPS, who were actually fans of the NBA. But when he gathered a handful of the students to run a practice session, he realized that the “players” had little to no formal training.

“Even a lay-up line became a complication," says Bhat. “This is when I start to get and education in basketball in India and Kashmir.”

After coaching about 10 players during his first practice, Bhat saw more than 25 students join his training session when he returned for day two. The following day, he began coaching a group of girls as well, splitting the court in half in order to give both genders equal time. Despite the low talent level, he was shocked at the response that an American with a basketball had received on the other side of the world. Before he left, Bhat handed out his email address to some of the more committed players and made tentative plans to return to Kashmir the following year.

Having seen the state of Kashmiri basketball first-hand, Bhat realized that he was probably the best player in Kashmir. A thought occurred to him: could there be an opportunity, while bringing the sport he loved to his homeland, to continue his own basketball career on the other side of the world?

“I’ll be the James Naismith, the Bill Self, and the Andrew Wiggins,” says Bhat of his perspective at the time. “I’ll be the best player, the coach, and the person who organizes everything. I still wanted to play basketball. I wanted to see if I could play with the best players in India.”

When he got back to the U.S., Bhat began doing research on professional basketball in India. Though there was no professional league, he noticed that there was a tournament called the Senior National Tournament, which pitted the states of India against each other in a yearly bracket. Bhat found that Kashmir’s state, called Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), was one of the weakest teams in the field.

“India is towards the bottom in Asia. Asia is towards the bottom in the world,” explained Bhat. “Within India, Jammu and Kashmir is the worst.”

 Immediately, the wheels started turning in Bhat’s head. He had already planned on going back to run basketball camps, but what if he could lead his home state to a victory in the country’s biggest basketball tournament? Bhat couldn’t think of a better way to end his playing career.

“I thought they would love to have me. Why wouldn’t they?” asked Bhat. “It’s like LeBron James showing up on your doorstep.”

When he went back to Kashmir in 2010, he hoped to meet with the J&K basketball team to offer his services to the roster. But upon his arrival, he instead got caught up organizing a tournament for the students at D.P.S. During the tournament he refereed every game, and ran practice sessions between contests. Surprised at the number of entrants and enthusiasm, he went on to form a rec basketball league.

“My mission was to put a good face on Kashmir, which had been troubled for many years,” said Bhat. “I was motivated to see this through. I was sacrificing everything I wanted to do in the U.S. in order to save the money for Kashmir.”

It was then, though, that Bhat encountered his first problems in Kashmir. Jealousy at his efforts mounted among the staff members at the Delhi Public School, and Bhat was required to stop running his league at the school court. He found a new venue, but also ran into trouble there while coaching girls. As he worked on drills, a group of men sauntered out to the court to take pictures of the players
in attendance. Sensing the girls’ collective discomfort, Bhat asked the men to leave. The simple request turned into an argument. Bhat was ultimately asked to discontinue his league once again, and felt that the issue had become political.

“Since the principal himself was a non-Kashmiri Indian, he sided with the (men),” said Bhat. “Jammu is a pro-Indian city, they had always discriminated against Kashmiri people, and held them down. I didn’t know that until I got there and saw it myself.”

The divide between Jammu and Kashmir was fully apparent when Bhat reached out to the official J&K basketball team, called the J&K Police. Essentially, the team consisted of a group of aged police officers from Jammu. Bhat contacted team representatives, asked to train with the team, and offered his services on behalf of his country. But the J&K Police team did not welcome Bhat with the open arms he was expecting. In fact, when Bhat practiced against the team, they took offense to the way he dominated the sessions.

“I was hearing things like, ‘Why are you even here? Maybe you couldn’t beat anyone in America,’” said Bhat.

It soon became clear that the team had no intention of adding Bhat to the roster. Instead of embracing him, they perceived him as a threat.

“I would have been the first player from Kashmir to ever play for the J&K state team. Jammu had always represented J&K basketball. Jammu had neglected Kashmir,” said Bhat. “That was the end of my association with J&K Police. None of these guys are Kashmiris, and I could see already that they didn’t want me on the team.”

Bhat’s dream of playing for his home state was quashed, but he remained committed to growing the sport of basketball in Kashmir. He set up the Srinagar Kashmir Basketball Association (SKBA) to keep running camps, hoping to attract the best players in India. But as Bhat’s visits to India and Kashmir grew more frequent, resistance to his efforts increased. His training sessions were more frequently disrupted. Imitation leagues emerged with the intention of taking attention away from Bhat’s activities. Supposed friends began taking Bhat for granted, or worse, angling for favors or payouts.

“Guys started to create their own Facebook pages to try to squeeze me out. They didn’t even play basketball,” Bhat said. “It was an education I got in my homeland. The young people are trapped, and they only know a cycle of jealousy, revenge, and agitation.”

By the summer of 2013, Bhat had made inroads at Kashmir University, where he was allowed to hold practices and tournaments. He had even lobbied for the school to build a new, cutting edge public basketball court. He quickly learned though, that a project such as that would take more than just a passion for the sport.

“After four or five meetings, I could see that it wasn’t going anywhere,” he said. “I could see that if I greased some palms, it would move along. But I wasn’t in a position to do that.”

The troubles came to a head in 2013 when Bhat was holding a tournament at the university. When he decided to play in a two-on-two tournament he'd put together, Bhat received disparaging comments on his SKBA Facebook page for the first time. Some local Kashmiri’s felt that they were being shown up by an American imposter. During one particularly scary conflict, a group of ruffians rode a motorcycle onto the court where Bhat was holding a practice. The men confiscated his basketball, holding up the training as they refused to return it. Exasperated and hoping to avoid a serious incident, Bhat walked to a nearby market to cool off and get some juice. When he returned, he’d found that the men had ripped down the rim he was playing on, effectively ending his practice. Bhat was furious.

“I never went back to that Kashmir University court after that,” he said.

Bhat once again was forced to finish up his practices at a different school, which he rode a bike 40 minutes each day to get to. Away from the controversy, Bhat once again found solace in coaching.

“I really enjoyed working with those kids,” he says. “When I saw the looks on those kids’ faces, that’s all I ever wanted.”

But by this time, Bhat had nearly reached his wit’s end with the distractions surrounding his efforts in Kashmir. When he last left his homeland in the summer of 2013, he didn’t know if he would ever return. The man with an immeasurable passion for the sport of basketball had grown tired of a culture that wouldn’t reciprocate that passion. This fall, mere months after a frustrated Bhat had most recently left his homeland, a brand new, state-of-the-art indoor basketball court was built in Kashmir.
For Bhat, the construction provided a sense of validation. The new public court represents an olive branch; an example of progress in a place bereft of it. Someday, probably soon, Shahid will be back in Kashmir, and he’ll get a chance to play on the court he’s long fought for.

“I wanted to raise the standard of basketball in Kashmir and in India,” says Bhat. “I think my efforts in Kashmir had a lot to do with that court getting built.”

With the new court in tow, the door that Bhat has struggled for years to break open has finally creaked ajar. Any person in Kashmir now has the opportunity to fall in love with the game Bhat has dedicated his life to. For another person, that alone might be enough. But Shahid Bhat is not satisfied; perhaps he’ll never be. His focus has shifted once again, locked in on another goal, another dream. Buoyed by the news of the world-class court, Bhat is re-energized. But he’s now shifted his focus again, turning to another sport that hasn’t gained traction in Kashmir.

“My whole focus has shifted to introducing American football to Kashmir, and possibly even learning from my mistakes in the past,” says Bhat, eyes flickering with enthusiasm. “I have no idea where that’s going to lead me, but I’m excited.”