Springfield Public Schools extends contract of Supt. Lathan

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 9:22 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2023 at 7:52 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (Edited News Release/KY3) - The Springfield Public Schools Board of Education unanimously approved a one-year contract extension for Dr. Grenita Lathan, the second of her SPS tenure, through the end of the 2025-2026 school year.

“I’m extremely excited and thankful to the Board of Education for their vote of confidence in my leadership abilities,” Lathan told KY3 in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “But I must say that there were 3,300 people who helped me achieve my goals. I couldn’t have done it without our teachers, principals, custodians, bus drivers and all the members of the district and community.”

“The Board of Education is confident that Dr. Lathan is the best leader for this district at the right time in our journey, and we are extremely fortunate to benefit from her leadership,” said Dr. Denise Fredrick, president. “During her tenure, Dr. Lathan has worked with SPS staff, the board, and our community to guide our district through challenging times. This includes efforts to emerge from a pandemic and keep students and staff as safe and healthy as possible while remaining continually focused on outstanding academic opportunities for every child.”

The Board of Education noted the following strengths and achievements during the evaluation period:

  • Updating the district’s Strategic Plan.
  • Exhibiting knowledge and an ability to ensure the success of all students by acting with integrity and in an ethical manner.
  • Providing effective, consistent communication structures/protocols for internal and external stakeholders.
  • Restructuring district leadership and departments to improve personnel and human resource allocation, including assignments to support school leaders and their teams.

“Dr. Lathan maintains an open door policy, listens to many voices, and draws upon her vast educational background and experience before bringing forward recommendations,” continued Dr. Frederick. “The Board of Education will work with Dr. Lathan over the coming weeks to develop new goals aligned with our district’s strategic plan. We look forward to our continued partnership, which is key to the success of our district.”

Lathan came to Springfield from Houston, Texas in 2021 during the pandemic and had to deal with the political and social aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak including former Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s threat to sue the district if it renewed a district-wide masking requirement. The Board of Education voted not to renew the directive.

“We’ve had a number of tough things to deal with but navigating the issues and concerns that came with the pandemic was extremely hard,” Lathan said. “However, I’m very thankful that we had a school community and a Springfield community that really worked well together to insure that our students learned in a healthy environment.”

During Lathan’s tenure 39 construction projects approved by voters in 2019 are in the process of being completed from renovations to building new schools. And there’s another $220 million bond issue for voters to consider in April.

“It’s important that we make sure people understand the benefits of Proposition S,” Lathan explained. “A new Pipkin Middle School, a new Reed Performing Arts Academy. Safety and security for all of our buildings. Adding six storm shelters to our elementary schools. Not only does that protect our staff and students but also the community in the event of a tornado.”

One of Lathan’s biggest initiatives was starting SPS University, a way for parents to get resources and information to help their children. One of the three yearly meetings is coming up Thursday (January 26) at Hillcrest from 5:30-8 p.m.

“It’s one of the projects I started last year upon my arrival and it’s important because we need to connect with parents and community members,” Lathan pointed out. “It allows us to share with them what’s happening with SPS and to provide parents with the strategies that they need to support our children. It’s important to have communication. Breaking down those barriers of people thinking we’re not an open and inclusive district continues to be a challenge.”

And another challenge that extends all across the country is hiring and retaining teachers.

“I started teaching over 30 years ago and we didn’t have to deal with the pressures of social media,” Lathan said. “You didn’t have to deal with such a large number of students who need additional support whether it’s mental health or academic support. There’s always been challenges but now the challenges are different. Students are growing up faster and they’re being exposed to things at an earlier age so teachers have to deal with those challenges as well. It is a tough time for educators just as it is a tough time for our young people.”

Education administrators are also facing tougher challenges from more pressure to ban certain books to disputes over what should be taught in schools.

Right now Senate Bill 42 in the Missouri legislature would ban schools from teaching “divisive concepts” which is a reference to critical race theory. The bill also calls for specific curriculum requirements for teaching U.S. history and would allow teachers to not have to talk about current events or social issues.

“We focus on Missouri learning standards,” Lathan said. “Those standards lay out what needs to be taught at every grade level. If a bill is passed that says we’re prevented from doing something we will follow the law. But we are going to follow the Missouri learning standards which govern how we educate children in Springfield and all across Missouri.”

SPS is still dealing with other lawsuits including one from the former Attorney General alleging the district did not turn over records related to critical race theory.

“Anytime we are faced with potential litigation we must communicate what we’re doing and we must defend ourselves,” Lathan said. “It’s not to be disrespectful but it’s to tell our story. Our theme this year is ‘Your story is our story’. And our story is we want every child in our care to receive a quality education.”

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