INDEPENDENCE/MONMOUTH — Central School District Superintendent Jennifer Kubista has stacks of poster boards in her office with feedback, in English and Spanish, from the chats she’s hosted the last couple of months.
“Nothing surprised me,” Kubista said. “I think there are a few (areas) that we know we have work to do. When I look at our top 10 in strengths, there were things that were higher than I thought they would be.”
According to the feedback she’s received, the community thinks the district has good parent involvement and community engagement.
Diversity and inclusion also were noted as strengths, she said.
Internal and external communication need to improve.
“We’re always trying to find better ways to communicate,” Kubista said.
Class size and mental health are top concerns, as well.
“We have some mental health supports in the elementaries, but we only have a part time person in both the secondary levels,” Kubista said.
That’s for 1,800 middle and high school students.
“What I’m thankful for is the health center,” she said. “They are also an avenue (for mental health support). I’d really like to move to having a full time or more at the secondary level.”
On her wish list, if funding were not an obstacle – “I would love to be able to have two mental health supports in each building.”
There is a continued conversation about curriculum development and instructional methods, she said, as well as expanding elective class options at the middle and high schools.
Enrollment also came up.
In January the school district closed enrollment for certain grades in the elementary schools.
“A couple of people are starting to ask about a new elementary school or when are we going to go for a bond,” Kubista said.
The district, last year hired a consultant to help plan for the future of CSD.
“We are starting to have that conversation about what does the next 10 years look like for enrollment,” Kubista said. “If you look at that 10-year, and if we are that large, we are going to need another facility.”
Independence Elementary School is the smallest, with fewer than 400 students, she said.
The other two elementary schools have more than 500.
“Obviously, the board and I are going to start to put a facility committee together,” Kubista said. “We did have a facility committee before but there may be other new voices that want to be part of that committee. That could be from the people that we met with in the community chats. We’ll start to reach out as we look at dates.”
Bilingual approaches was another topic that was brought up during the chats, she said.
“I think that’s anything from how do we continue to diversify our staff as well as opportunities – do we start looking at bilingual programming as an example,” she said. “I come from an environment where we built schools within schools to say, ‘Hey what would this look like if we started to do that?’ Again I think there’s an opportunity for us to have lots of good conversations of how do we want to build programming within the schools.”
Kubista said she is trying to learn Spanish.
“I’ll tell you, it gives me a much greater respect for our kids who are learning English as a second language. It’s hard,” she said. “Vocabulary I’m getting better at, but having a conversation, I’m doing better at writing than the speaking part. But I keep trying.”
Kubista said having community discussions is not going to be a one-time thing for her, though in the future they may take a different form than this round of community chats.
“Everyone’s voice is important and we have to prioritize how this going to benefit students and our staff,” she said. “We want everyone to be happy healthy and learning. Not always is this work easy but it’s some of the most rewarding work.”