Kuklenski Leads Schools Through the Turbulent 70s
The Board of Education chose someone close to home, someone they had worked with for a number of years, to become the new Superintendent of Schools.
He was Dr. J. E. (Joe) Kuklenski, a protege of Willard Graff who was serving as Deputy Superintendent when Graff announced his retirement.
Kuklenski had come up through the ranks, starting as a math teacher at the high school level. He had worked his way up through the administrative ranks, serving as a Dean of Boys, Principal, Director of Curriculum, and Deputy Superintendent.
Kuklenski's management style was completely different from that of Graff. A native Ozarker, he was more "laid back", more responsive to staff and parents. Since he had come up through the ranks, he was more sympathetic to teachers. Kuklenski sought change and improvement more through consensus building than through autocratic decision-making. Under his comparatively loose reigns, the district continued to prosper.
By 1970, the expanding enrollment that had required almost yearly additions to buildings the previous decade peaked and started to drop gradually each year. This allowed more attention to be directed toward improving the content of the educational program rather than expanding constantly to meet a growing population.
Capital growth didn't stop, of course. The district's fifth high school, Kickapoo, opened at the start of the decade. It posed a special problem to school administrators. Because of a construction strike, the completion of the new school was delayed. The solution was to hold two different schools at Glendale High School from which came many of the students who were to attend the new Kickapoo. It was Glendale in the morning and Kickapoo in the afternoon. Staff and students made the most of the situation for about a month. When they finally went to Kickapoo, students found one of the most modern high schools in the state. It was the first and only total school building in the district to date to be climate-controlled.
There were many additions at schools throughout the district during the decade. Those additions were at Hillcrest, Parkview and Glendale High Schools, Cherokee and Pleasant View Junior High Schools; Horace Mann, Williams, Disney and Cowden Elementary Schools. Many of these were funded with the proceeds from a $3,000,000 bond issue approved by voters in September of 1969.
Another $6,000,000 bond issue in June, 1978, funded Jeffries Elementary School. A number of other expansion projects continued through the first part of the 1980's.
The peak enrollment in the district's history of 26,139 occurred in 1969-70. It dropped gradually each year to approximately 24,132 in 1980. All grade levels but senior high had fewer students than in 1970.
Through natural growth, building additions and/or changes in attendance area boundaries, there were 14 schools that had more students in 1980 than they did in 1970. They included Cherokee, Disney, Fremont, Horace Mann, Pepperdine, Pershing, Pleasant View, Sherwood, Mark Twain, Westport, Wilder and Williams Elementary Schools; Cherokee Junior High School and Hillcrest High School. Kickapoo High School, which opened in 1971, also has a higher student enrollment.
The declining enrollment patterns allowed the development of more and varied opportunities for all students, particularly those with special needs, and the reduction of class sizes.
At the start of the decade, the pupil-teacher ratio in grades one through six was 27.4. In 1980 it was 25.1. Junior high median class size went from 27.51 to 22.82 and senior high median size from 28.55 to 25.58.
Any room resulting from reduced enrollments went to house the rapidly expanding special education program. In 1970, approximately 86 people were working with the special education program. By 1980, the figure was over 300 with several new programs added...behavior disorders, deaf, developmental speech...and others expanded. The programs had been growing, at the instigation of the district, but state and federal legislation in this area played a role as well.
Primary effect of that legislation felt by teachers during the decade was the emphasis on "mainstreaming" of youngsters. The district had long tried to place children back in regular classrooms when possible, but the government programs called for more emphasis on this. It meant special training for the regular classroom teacher who would be working with the special children.
Many other areas of the curriculum changed and expanded also. Most noticeable was the introduction of a number of specialized, semester courses on the high school level. These were introduced after expansion of the graduation requirements in 1973 from 17 to 20 hours.
In all, there were 19 semester courses in Language Arts; 11 in Social Studies and four in Mathematics added. Toward the end of the decade those concerned about decline in Scholastic Aptitude Test scores pointed to the semester courses as one of the factors. They said they lured students away from the basics. Local district officials felt that proper assistance in course selection should help prevent this.
Locally, the cry for going "back to the basics" was met with the contention that the district had never left the basics. The performance of Springfield students on both the SAT and on standardized testing seemed to bear this out.
Of course, the term "basics" had a slightly different definition at the close of the decade than at the start. Basics now meant...in addition to reading, writing and arithmetic...a number of other things to prepare a child for life. An indication of the new concerns was the two new high school courses required of all students: Health Education in ninth grade and Liberty and the Law in tenth.
Other courses added during the decade showed the changing needs of youngsters as identified by curriculum groups. They included: Advanced Composition, English Masterpieces, Junior High Developmental Reading, German I, Power Mechanics, Dramatics II, Individual Study Crafts, Introduction to Music Theory, Personal Culture, Spanish V, Applied Science and Conversational Spanish.
One of the most expanded programs was vocational-technical education. Courses were added in Food Management and Service, Merchandising and Sales Management, Plumbing, Agricultural Sales and Service, Conservation, Horticulture, Computer Programming, Major Appliance Repair, Commercial Art, and Diesel Mechanics. Forty thousand square feet of space was added to the Vo-Tech Building, which had been named for former Superintendent Willard J. Graff.
In addition, the facility expanded its adult offerings with one of the biggest steps being to develop, in cooperation with Drury College, Associate of Science degrees in a number of areas.
Other new courses indicated the trend toward equity between the sexes as pushed by Title IX legislation. They included Bachelor Living for boys, Home Maintenance and Repair for girls and Multi-Occupations for girls with special needs. At the close of the decade, sex distinctions in classes changed leaving few classes that were entirely for boys or girls.
Another indicator of that equity was the expansion of competitive sports activities for girls during the 70's. Girls had participated in tennis and golf, but, at the urging of an interested group of high school girls, competition was added in volleyball, basketball, swimming, and track. The trend worked its way down later to the junior high level with competitive opportunities for girls in basketball and track.
The entire sports program expanded with the addition of swimming for boys and cross-country.
Another kind of equality sprang to importance during the 1970's, here and across the country. Strained racial relations in the city surfaced at Central High School in 1970, resulting in a two-day walkout of black students. Stemming from the concern for this situation was the development of a system-wide curriculum on "Contributions of the Negro to the American Heritage." It proved beneficial to those teachers who wanted help in this area.
Another problem that intensified during the 1970's prompted the development of yet another system-wide set of curriculum guidelines. Concern grew about the growing use of drugs by students. This prompted the development of a comprehensive set of drug abuse guidelines for teachers. A number of workshops were held on the topic.
Both these specific problems reflected a general change in the area of discipline during the 1970's. The change was caused by several things. One was the increasing awareness on the part of young people of their rights...prompted in part by their citizenship training. Another, undoubtedly, was the court rulings relating to student rights and the use of discipline by school authorities.
The increasing concern for discipline prompted development of a set of guidelines for handling disturbances in the early 70's. New policies were also approved for discipline for the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Complete revision was made of Board policy explaining in more detail the rights of both students and teachers.
Figures for suspensions can be misleading because the increases can often be attributed to more awareness rather than more actual cases. The increasing problem is indicated, however, by total suspensions of 2647 in 1978-79 compared with 857 in 1970. This represented an increase of 216 percent although high school enrollment was essentially the same as it was in 1970.
Suspensions for drugs, again perhaps misleading because of increased awareness and reporting, jumped greatly.
Changing attitudes are also shown by the continued increase of vandalism. Total cost of vandalism, break ins and arson reported in 1969-70 was $5,179, compared to a total in 1979 of $40,774, or an increase of 687 percent. The trend is also indicated by continued expansion of the security staff. Concern mounted in the late 1970's to the point where special workshops were held for staff members and patrons to provide assistance in alleviating the problem. Still, as great as these figures may sound, the actual per pupil costs of vandalism, arson and break ins in Springfield remained only about one-third of the national average.
Career education was emphasized during the decade and there was changing emphasis on the college-bound and the work-bound. The numbers of graduates who reported they were enrolled full-time in a school or college one year after graduation decreased. They went from a high of 55.4 percent in 1970 to a low of 42.7 percent in 1975-76.
During the same time, enrollment in vocational-technical classes climbed by 67 percent; that in science and foreign languages decreased.
During the ten-year period, a policy was established of granting limited curriculum diplomas to students working up to their ability, even though limited. This allowed 1031 students to stay in school and get a diploma who otherwise might have left.
The number of students dropping out of school during the ten-year period fluctuated little. Shown as a percentage of students of cumulative enrollment, it was in 1980 less than one percent below what it was in the early 1970's. But the figure, 6.90 percent, was still not as high as those nationwide.
Springfield students compared exceptionally well during the decade with their colleagues across the country in school attendance. This must indicate something about the quality of the program. In no year during the 1970's was attendance for the year below 94 percent and in seven of the ten years, it was above 95 percent.
Actual tested ability of students is a little hard to trace since some tests have been changed or updated during the years. Without taking these changes into account, there are only six areas in over 40 given during standardized testing each year where students in 1979 scored below the 1970 level. They were arithmetic in grades two and four and reading, math, social studies and science in grade 10.
Even more tests were added during the decade as the State Department of Education, spurred on by new Commissioner of Education Arthur Mallory, promoted statewide educational objectives and assessment. A state program of voluntary testing started in 1973. As a response to the concern about the lack of emphasis on the basics being expressed across the country, the Basic Essentials Skills Test (BEST) was made mandatory for all eighth graders in 1979. Springfield students did well in relation to the state sample.
Other changes in the curriculum occurred during the period to improve student performance as expressed by student scores and teacher evaluation.
In elementary grades new materials were adopted for reading, spelling, handwriting, math and social studies. New emphasis was placed on health education in the lower grades and the entire curriculum in lower elementary physical education was changed after several years of a pilot program in movement education.
New programs instigated over the years were far-reaching. They included the following: learn-to-swim instruction for all fourth graders in the district pool, special programs for the Vietnamese refugees which came to the city following the conclusion of the conflict in their country; added emphasis on preservation of the environment; use of KOZK, the city's new educational television station which went on the air in 1975; addition of health screening programs for heart defects and orthopedic problems; and the start and expansion of the program for the academically gifted.
Although students decreased during the decade, the number of personnel increased. This was partially because of the expansion of the special education program and partially because of the addition of special teachers in a number of other basic instructional areas. This included more special teachers of physical education and music, more elementary art consultants, and more elementary counselors. And there was the addition of part-time clerical help in the elementary schools.
The number of certificated staff increased during the 10-year period from 1168 to 1386, an increase of 18.67 percent. This occurred at the same time total enrollment was declining 7.68 percent.
Soon after the Board selected Dr. Kuklenski as Superintendent, a major change developed in the governing body of the district, the Board of Education. Mrs. Mildred Henry, only the fourth woman ever to serve on the Board of Education, became the first in 40 years to be elected president of the group. By the end of the decade, the number of men and women on the Board was balanced.
A CITIZENS COMMITTEE IS FORMED
A major change in relationships between the Board members, administration and staff developed over the period of a decade. Board members slowly became more involved in the day-to-day operation of the schools. They indicated more interest in listening to and working with all groups involved in the schools: parents, students and staff members.
A major example of this concern was shown in 1977 when the Board appointed citizens' committees to help it develop, from concerns of staff and community, a list of goals and priorities. That project prompted numerous changes.
Some that might be enumerated include:
&emdash;Start of a pilot project in education for the gifted that was later expanded to all levels.
&emdash;Start of a pilot project in movement education that lead to the development of a new physical education program for lower elementary grades.
&emdash;Expansion of the elementary counseling program.
&emdash;Development of elementary libraries.
&emdash;Complete revision of Board policies.
&emdash;Establishment of a scheduled Parent-Teacher Conference Day.
&emdash;Establishment of two in-service training days for staff.
&emdash;Appointment of a Communications Task Force to study internal communications.
&emdash;Posting in all schools of job openings.
&emdash;Establishment of a cross-country program and start of efforts to develop a soccer program.
&emdash;Increased planning time for elementary teachers.
The new relationship between the Board and employees was very much affected by a major change in teacher organizations that occurred in 1973. The long-established Missouri State Teachers' Association broke with its national parent group, the National Education Association. The MSTA affiliate here, the Springfield Education Association, chose to remain affiliated with the MSTA group. Because of the disaffiliation of the state association from the national, NEA began to form its own organizations in the state and the Springfield-National Education Association was formed. The relationship between the two organizations and between them and the Board was a major change in the 1970's.
One of the major concerns of both organizations was salaries and Boards of Education during the 1970's attempted to keep them competitive. Comparison of raw figures without simultaneous consideration of the many other economic factors can be misleading. However, budget figures show that, overall, certificated salaries increased by 77.5 percent from 1969-70 to 1979-80.
It needs to be pointed out, however, that during the period, there were two years when there were no salary increases at all. One of those occurred in 1971, when the government instigated a wage freeze. The other happened in 1976-77 when the Board felt income was such that increases could not be considered.
A number of improvements in employee benefits were made over the years. School people were covered by workmen's (later changed to worker's) compensation and unemployment compensation for the first time. The retirement age rose from 65 to 70 years of age. Several areas of the leave policy changed during the period and a completely new leave policy approved at decade's end. Study started on a fringe benefit insurance package.
Perhaps the most far-reaching new program relating to teachers was the Teacher Tenure Law passed by the state in 1970. It put new teachers on probation for five years before they went on tenure. After going on tenure, a teacher could only be released for very specific reasons. Coupled with this was the instigation of a district-developed staff development program to help teachers evaluate the job they were doing.
FINANCIAL CONCERNS SURFACE
Overseeing the budget for operation of the schools has been one of the biggest jobs of the Boards of Education during the decade. During that ten-year period the total expenditures for the district went from $18,641,021 to $43,337,726, an increase of 132 percent.
As expenditures increased and enrollment decreased, that meant a 163 percent increase in the expenditure behind each student; from $756 to $1,215.
Even though, through the decade, the State of Missouri increased its total amount of dollars for support of local schools, that figure as a percentage of total income did not change significantly. It was 31.97 percent in 1970; it was 35.50 percent in 1980. A major change in the area was the revision of the School Foundation Program toward the end of the decade.
Much of the burden of operating the schools continued on the local property tax levy. Despite all the additions and improvements in the educational program, that levy was only 15 cents more in 1980 than it was in 1970. That reflects a 48 cent increase approved by voters in 1976, coupled with decreases (in debt service) amounting to 33 cents. A rapidly growing community and economy produced more income from the same levy. The assessed property valuation in the district more than doubled. The levy in 1980, however, was at that level where it could no longer be increased with just a simple majority approval but would require a two-thirds majority.
Reassessment of property throughout the state for equity, often discussed during the 70's, got its first foot in the door with legislation passed in 1979. It would continue to be a topic for discussion during the 1980's.
For the first time during the late 1970's, budgets proposed were out of balance, anticipating more expenditures than revenue in a given year. Although these estimates did not always come true, the operating reserves represented as a percentage of reserve to the same year's budget needs dropped from 17.62 to 10.8 percent.
Continued voter support for the schools was a very important part of the 1970's, a trend that was not apparent elsewhere in the country. Besides the 48 cent levy increase, voters approved a $6,000,000 bond issue for future improvements in June of 1978.
While overall enrollment started down in the 1970's, there were several areas of the city, in the south and southwest that continued rapid growth. Housing in these areas became a problem.
Efforts to alleviate those problems started with construction work early in the decade. Additions were added at Horace Mann, Cowden, Disney and Cherokee Schools and Kickapoo High School opened.
The 1978 bond issue provided funds for further improvements in south Springfield including the new Jeffries School. Included also were additions at Kickapoo and Cherokee in that area as well as location of a site for another school there.
As alternatives, the Board had to wrestle with the often troublesome procedure of changing attendance area boundaries on a regular basis to provide relief for crowded schools. There were several elementary boundary changes each year since 1970.
Another thorny problem for the Board during the decade was transportation. As the district grew through annexation, its bus system grew in a "hodgepodge" way. When the Board started to straighten the system out in 1976, it experienced the opposition it had anticipated.
There followed setting of the first rigid mileage standards for bus rider eligibility. A special election issue to allow transportation for all students living at least one-half mile from school was defeated. A district-prompted Attorney General's ruling stated that exceptions to limits could not be considered because of traffic conditions. A new state law was finally approved allowing transportation for non-eligible students at parents' expense.
One of the biggest changes in the system came in 1978 when all bus routing was switched to a computer. This tended to equalize routes and make them more efficient.
FEDERAL AND STATE INTERVENTION OCCURS
The Board of Education over the decade found ever more of its local control slipping away because of state and federal legislation, rules and regulations and court decisions.
Major federal legislation that played a role in operation of the schools included the following: Public Law 94-142, Education for All Handicapped Children; Title IX on sex discrimination; the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1975 and assorted rules and regulations relating to energy use during several crises during the period.
Court cases relating to civil rights, student suspensions, corporal punishment and other areas had an effect in day-to-day operation of the schools. The decision of one federal judge prompted the Office of Civil Rights to investigate the district as one of several hundred that supposedly had racial imbalance in some schools. A check here, however, found the district was in compliance with federal laws and court decisions.
The State of Missouri played an ever-increasing role in the operation of the schools as well, particularly in relation to the local use of federal funds that go through the state level.
At one point, the district was directed to share textbooks with parochial schools. A court later ruled this unconstitutional. The same was the case with use of Title I funds for remediation work. The later decision prompted a complete federal bypass of the state to get funds to parochial schools.
An Attorney General's ruling in 1972 said the district could not charge fees in the public schools for textbooks or other materials. It resulted in a significant loss of income and caused cutbacks of the summer school program that had been on a fee basis.
A number of actions of the Missouri General Assembly during the 1970's also played an important part in the operation of the schools. Included were revisions of the School Foundation Program, passage of the Teacher Tenure Law, and reassessment of property in the state.
There was much study and concern about the status and future of education in the state during the 1970's. Two major studies promoted changes in various aspects of education in the state that since have been instigated to some extent.
A Public School Finance Study Committee in 1972 made major recommendations in the area of school finance, organization and classification. The Governor's Conference on Education held in December of 1976 came up with specific recommendations in many of the areas. Many of the recommendations from that assembly were included in new state legislation.
MORE COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT ENCOURAGED
The decade of the 70's was one that saw continued citizen involvement in their schools and more cooperation between all community agencies in getting certain jobs done. Most visual was the work accomplished by school officials, city officials and representatives of the Parent-Teacher Association in improving safety for children. They developed a safe route project to identify the best ways for youngsters to get to school and then set about trying to improve those routes. The result was the approval of a city bond issue that provided funds for a massive expansion of sidewalks around schools and the construction of three pedestrian overpasses around busy schools.
The Board also worked closely with the City Zoning and Planning Commission and the Springfield Park Board in planning for future facilities.
The district's contribution to community involvement included expansion of the adult programs through the Graff Area Vocational Technical Center. That facility was also instrumental in helping another large new industry, R. T. French, train employees during the 70's. It had done the same for Zenith Radio and Litton Advanced Circuits and others during the 60's.
The 1970's was a decade of opportunities...many welcomed, some taken advantage of, some discarded and others still in progress. It should be remembered as a very progressive decade. It was one in which the district continued to build and grow while still keeping many of the excellent qualities that made it unique over the years. It ended the decade still financially solvent, without empty classrooms, without having to layoff staff and without the extensive problems with discipline experienced almost everywhere else.
What about the 1980's? Here's Superintendent J. E. Kuklenski's response to that:
"During the 1980's we know that the school district will open one new elementary school and possibly two, based upon changing enrollment patterns in the area. There will also be a number of other physical improvements, already provided for in a 1978 bond issue. Although total enrollment will undoubtedly decline, it's our hope that it will be a slow, steady decline, one that will not require any drastic changes in staff or facilities. Such a decline will permit, in many cases, smaller class sizes and/or additional space for educational services. It's our hope that continued public support, a stable economy and wise financial management will allow the district to continue expanding and improving programs for youngsters on all ability levels, with the final result that they will be trained for the changing needs of society. Overall, it will not be a period of rapid and drastic change, as we have seen the past several decades, but one that will provide stabilization for the program."
Dr. Kuklenski was to affect little of the change coming in the decade ahead. He announced in 1980 that he would retire.
The search process for a Superintendent began again. This time, the School Board would go outside the local community to look.
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