Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mid-America Regional Council Honors Grandview Main Street

by Mary Wilson,

As crews put the finishing touches on the fourth phase of Grandview’s Main Street renovation, the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) notified the City of Grandview that the project is among the honorees as a 2016 Sustainable Success Story.
Grandview’s $6.1 million, four-phase Main Street Improvement Project is an example of a complete street design, incorporating a road diet to minimize the width of the street, widened sidewalks, and pocket parks along the six-tenths mile stretch into the heart of Downtown Grandview. The Main Street Improvement Project is often seen as the catalyst for recent growth in Grandview, including a redeveloped Truman’s Marketplace shopping center, and construction of Gateway Village, a $300 million stay-and-play development of soccer fields, hotels, restaurants, retail and residential components.
 “With its unique style, native landscaping, special architectural features and design, and pedestrian-friendly feel, Public Works Director Dennis Randolph and our design consultants BHC Rhodes have created a whole new Main Street Corridor that should stand the test of time for our city’s residents for many years to come,” said City Administrator Cory Smith.
Grandview presented its Main Street Improvement Project at MARC’s Sustainable Success Stories program, alongside other innovative projects like the KC Streetcar, at the Kauffman Foundation.  MARC’s Sustainable Success Stories competition encourages local organizations to submit projects focusing on sustainable development in the Greater Kansas City region, with an emphasis on green and complete street policies, projects and initiatives.
Receiving over 20 submissions each year, MARC’s Assistant Director for Transportation and Land Use Martin Rivarola said that they chose Grandview in order to highlight a completed project that included a long-range transportation plan to improve and enhance the community.
“These changes can be challenging along existing corridors, impacting surrounding businesses and other pains as projects are improving the area,” said Rivarola. “What we saw in the project from Grandview as a good amount of effort given to implementing the street elements we were looking for, including streetscaping, as well as solid demonstration of innovative stormwater management, in conjunction with other economic development efforts currently taking place in the city.”
Rivarola added that MARC saw a need to showcase successful implementations of complete projects to replicate elsewhere in the region.

MARC’s Sustainable Success Stories is part of an ongoing community dialogue focused on building a better understanding of sustainable practices that have the potential to transform the entire community into “America’s Green Region.” By sharing local successes and challenges, MARC can enable community partners to learn about and replicate locally-tailored, high-impact sustainability practices.

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Bulldog's Christmas Wish

by Mary Wilson,

All Stanley wants for Christmas is to walk on all four legs. A two-year-old English bulldog, Stanley has spent his entire life overcoming obstacles. Born with a bilateral cleft lip, he underwent correctional surgery in March of 2015. He also had deformities in the bones in his legs, and his family was originally told there was no way to fix them. However, despite the initial setback, in July of this year, one of his hind legs was operated on to fix the disability that prevented him from walking. A few weeks ago, the other leg was corrected with another surgery.

“He was born with his hind legs tucked under him,” said Stanley’s mom, Deborah Pack. “So, with these surgeries, he’s learning to straighten his legs out and build the strength to stand and walk.”

Pack hopes that Stanley can be an inspiration to children with disabilities. Currently an ambassador for the Smile Train organization, Stanley helps to raise funds for children across the world to receive cleft palate surgeries.

“We want to show that Stanley is working hard, doing these exercises to build his strength,” said Pack.

Stanley visits the Animal Rehabilitation Center (ARC) in Grandview weekly to go through exercises and be monitored by Grandview Animal Hospital veterinarians. At the ARC, he also receives acupuncture and laser therapies. He’s undergoing therapy to ensure equal weight distribution on the corrected legs.

“When he first came to us, he was not wanting to put any weight on his back legs at all,” said Dr. Jill Clark, of Grandview Animal Hospital. “He is doing significantly better from where he was. We move at the pace of the dog, and each rehabilitation schedule is tailored to the individual.”

Before the corrective procedures, Stanley worked with what he had. He ate, with the help of his brother, and he got around in whatever way he could manage. During his recent surgeries, it was discovered that Stanley also has a curve in his spine, and he’s working on different methods to compensate for that disability, as well.

“That’s how children are, they work with what they have,” said Pack. “So, when they find out they have a friend who actually knows what they go through, it can help encourage them. It’s important for children to understand they’re not alone.”

Armed with a Santa hat, Stanley feels confident to get through his different therapies put before him during each visit to the ARC.

“The hat encourages him, in a way,” said Pack.

Whether it’s a hat, food, or another type of motivation, Stanley is encouraging to watch. Working three times each day at home, his family is pushing him to reach the goal of walking by Christmas.
The Animal Rehabilitation Center provides care in weight loss, family walks, playing fetch, post-operative exercise or making the most out of the time families have with their pets. Located at 1012 Main Street, Suite B, in Grandview, they can be reached by calling 816-492-6061.

“It’s a very unique thing they do here (at ARC) and we were very blessed to find them,” said Pack. “He’s worked really hard, and we think he can be an inspiration to others. While he’s not to that point yet, he’s trying.”

Like most two-year-olds, after his therapy sessions, Stanley has half of a McDonald’s cheeseburger. According to Dr. Clark, Stanley is not the only ARC patient that leaves and goes to get a cheeseburger. He also enjoys seeing Christmas lights, and when it’s nicer out, he likes watching boats and birds. You can follow Stanley’s story on Facebook, and cheer him on along his journey to walking by Christmas, under Stanley The English Bulldog Puppy fan-page. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Plumber's pipe dream made reality in Haiti

by Mary Wilson,

Timing is everything. In life, we make time to do the things we love, when we can. For Jeff Morgan, taking the trip of his dreams just took a little patience, and time. Earlier this year, Morgan stepped away from his successful plumbing business and entered into retirement. But, he’s not the kind of guy to just sit around waste away the minutes, days or weeks he’s been afforded.

Morgan believes that if you have a dream, and you say it out loud, you can make it happen. That’s exactly what he did. A few years ago, Morgan voiced his desire to travel to a third-world country to make what little bit of difference he could in a different part of the world. Being a social-media guru (he has been to “Facebookland,” as he calls it, and worked with their small business professionals), he saw a post from the Plumbers Without Borders organization.

“They shared a Build Health International (BHI) post about what they were doing in Haiti,” said Morgan. “I thought, ‘well, that would be really neat.’ So, I got on BHI’s website, filled out some paperwork, but I didn’t turn it in. It was all filled out; I just had to push one more button.”

While Morgan felt compelled to do it, he said he also felt a little scared. In February of this year, as he was leaving the office for the last time, a coworker told him he should go ahead and volunteer.

“He said, ‘why don’t you just go ahead and go to Haiti and do that work like you talked about,’” said Morgan. “So, after he left the office and I was boxing away the rest of my stuff, I pushed the button.”

Morgan put the thought in the back of his mind. It wasn’t until 6-8 weeks after he sent in his paperwork that he received an email. He then went through an interview-type process, where he spoke with folks from every spectrum of the BHI organization. The executive director of the organization owned a mechanical company, sold it, and took the proceeds to start BHI.

“Our stories were so similar,” said Morgan. “We had something in common.”

Having not worked with his hands in over a decade, and not worked any new construction for quite some time, Morgan was a little surprised to discover BHI thought he was a good match for their organization.

“I couldn’t even tell you how long it’s been since I’ve done that stuff,” said Morgan. “But, I can direct, and lead, and teach. So, that’s what I thought they would have me do.”

He scheduled an appointment to get current on all of his shots, and once those were complete, BHI started throwing some dates out to him.

“The very week that I was supposed to go, the hurricane came,” said Morgan. “I didn’t know how soon they would reschedule me, or how that even worked. But just before Halloween, they wrote me back and said they were ready.”

The timing worked for Morgan, and he flew to Miami where he met a representative from BHI whom he would travel with to Haiti.

“I was, literally, the last person on the plane to Haiti,” said Morgan. “I was charging my phone until the last possible minute. I wanted to make sure I was at 100%; I didn’t know what it was going to be like when I got there, you know?”

Once they landed in Haiti, Morgan was instructed to “do what I do” from his guide.
“It was absolutely berserk,” said Morgan. “There were animals everywhere. It was like nothing I had ever seen before.”

Hearing people speaking in Creole, Morgan said he definitely felt as though he was in a foreign land. With barbed-wire surrounding the first jobsite (a security measure), Morgan was escorted through and saw a security guard with a sawed-off shotgun.

“I respected him right away,” said Morgan. “That’s when it got a little bit scary. Not of getting shot or anything like that, I was scared because I knew that I couldn’t turn the channel.”

He then felt this new strength and armored himself with a shell to somewhat compartmentalize what he had stepped into.

“Something just came over me,” said Morgan. “You’re here; you have to get through this. That’s what I kept telling myself. Enjoy it. Do what you’re supposed to do; be what you’re supposed to be.”

Some equipment came to take back with them. Throwing the tailgate down on a truck, Morgan immediately started hauling the tools onto the bed. It was then that he said the others could tell he was there to work.

“And, man, they tested that,” said Morgan. “I dug a ditch. I did gas piping. I had to get all the equipment myself, having to go find it and work with whatever I found.”

While in Haiti, he felt a sense of overwhelming pride and humility. Many towns don’t have electricity, and some only have it during certain times. With no running water, the Haitians get their water from wells. Orphans earn their keep as indentured servants.

Morgan got back to his plumbing roots while he was in Haiti. The first week, he did a job that took up most of a day (which, he said he would expect his guys back home to finish before lunchtime). The second week, armed with a pick and a shovel, two apprentices and Morgan dug a ditch for a water line.

“This kid dug this ditch, 85 feet long, 2 feet deep, all day long, with flip flops on,” said Morgan. “I was just in admiration of the kid.”

He bonded with the boys. Later that week, the one in flip flops had gotten a pair of tennis shoes. At the end of the week, right before his return home, Morgan knew the bigger of the two would fit into his boots.

“I gave him my boots. I gave him my pants and a couple shirts,” said Morgan. “The other one wouldn’t have fit into any of my stuff; he was kind of little. The company, Morgan Miller Plumbing, had given me a care package. It was all wrapped a bandana. That thing was my savior while I was there, it was the best tool I had. So, on the last day, I gave the smaller of the two boys my bandana.”

On his way out of Haiti, Morgan’s transportation returned to the jobsite for gas and oil. He noticed that all the young men were lined up waiting for their job assignments for the day. Rolling down his window, Morgan looked to see if he could spot the two boys, thinking they’d be in line and he’d see his bandana.

“There he was. He’s got my freaking bandana on his head,” said Morgan. He raised his fist out the window. The boy spotted him, and raised his fist in the air as the car drove out of sight. “It was awesome. I didn’t know if I’d ever see him again.”

Coming home after his two-week adventure, Morgan knew he was forever changed.

“All I could think about the whole way home was, ‘who am I going to be?’ I can’t complain about anything ever again,” said Morgan. “I don’t know what to do with this knowledge. I’m still, a month later, walking around in a daze. I’m not the same, I’m just not. And it’s a magical feeling.”

The impact the trip made on Morgan’s life is profound. He’s unsure of what the future holds, though it seems as though the inherent need he has to lend a hand may lead him to other parts of the world and other people who are struggling.

“Facebook does this; it takes you all around the world and leads you to all kinds of paths that you would have never gone down otherwise,” said Morgan. “I’ve got the time. I’ve got the energy. Why not help where I can and when I can? That’s what it’s all about.”

Friday, December 2, 2016

Grandview’s only provisionally-accredited school feels sense of urgency

by Mary Wilson, Editor

As part of the Missouri School Improvement Program (MSIP), the Grandview C-4 School District is required to develop an ongoing, written Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP), which directs the overall improvement of its education programs and services. The CSIP includes goals and strategies that direct the improvement efforts of the district for at least a five-year period.

One of the focus areas in the district’s CSIP is student achievement, including processes to develop and enhance quality educational/instructional programs to improve performance and enable students to meet their personal academic and career goals.  In accordance with this focus area, one of the action items states that each school site will utilize the School Improvement Process during teacher collaboration to identify goals, focus on adult learning to improve instruction, and monitor student achievement progress to inform instruction.

These plans have been developed by the school leadership teams and have incorporated feedback from site-based stakeholder groups.  On Thursday, November 17, Grandview Middle School presented their School Improvement Plan to the Board of Education. With the final Annual Performance Reports released last month, the district learned that GMS fell below the fully-accredited range (70% or higher), garnering 63.6% of possible points. In 2014, the school was considered accredited with distinction, with 94.3% of possible points earned.

“We are sticking out like a sore thumb as a provisionally-accredited school,” said Grandview Middle School Principal Jacqueline Spencer. “That is not who we want to be and we do have a sense of urgency with where we are right now.”

This year, GMS is focusing on culture, professional learning community processes, and reading and writing in all content areas.

“The numbers that we are seeing just do not reflect our students,” said Spencer. “Nor do they reflect our staff. We have a lot of work to do. It’s not our story, but these are the numbers that we have.”

The first goal is to increase achievement in English Language Arts (ELA) for all GMS students. An emphasis will be put on various writing types as well as increasing reading comprehension through close reading strategies and the implementation of a building incentive program.

“Our target this year is to have 50% of our students proficient (in ELA),” said Spencer. “That will mean moving approximately 22 additional students to the proficiency level. We think that we will be able to do that.”

The second goal is to increase GMS student achievement in math. This will include teaching multi-step problem solving, algebraic expression and fractions at the middle school level. Each area will be assessed through the district’s benchmarking process. While the school did see an increase in algebra scores, it does not reflect on GMS’s overall points because algebra is scored at the high school level.

“We have to help at least 65 more eighth-grade students become proficient math students,” said Spencer. “With two math classes, that is 32 students per teacher, or seven students per class. Drilling it down that far shows the teachers that we can do this, this is feasible.”

Spencer and her team have also broken down student achievement levels in math for seventh and sixth grade students. In seventh grade, at least 40 additional students will need to score proficient.
The third goal is to increase student achievement in science, emphasizing earth and space, physical, life, engineering, technology and application of science. GMS plans to increase the number of students scoring proficient and advanced by 5% or more and decrease the number of students scoring basic and below basic by 5% or more.  

“Our target goal for this year is 50% of our students scoring proficient in science,” said Spencer. “With 28% proficient last year, this would mean that we need to increase by 45 students.”

A focus will be on the number of students in remediation, or those students who simply don’t understand the concepts, as well as the number of students who are in mastery-level on testing.

“Once we have that picture, we can then drill-down on what the students need individually,” said Spencer. “We will now focus on how we get our instructional strategies so aligned to either accelerate our students or enrich our students. For those students that are in remediation, we’ll have to fill in the gaps.”

Reading, writing and vocabulary continue to remain at the forefront of instruction. Spencer and her administrative team will also work to increase attendance and decrease the number of discipline referrals by creating a positive school culture and climate and provide a safe learning environment where respect and responsibility are hallmarks of character.