By Kathleen Swift

If you’ve driven down Neosho Boulevard in Neosho, Missouri, you can’t help but see the changes taking place in the Neosho School District with the construction of the performing arts center at the high school. Superintendent Jim Cummins explained the building is scheduled to be completed in April 2023. 

“The lower part of the building you see on the north end will be the new band room,” said Cummins. “The auditorium will be renovated into a new choir practice room. The current band and choir rooms will be converted to theater class and two locker rooms for physical education. The current locker rooms under the gym will be renovated. Those have remained the same since the building was built over 60 years ago.”

The project will complete the renovations approved by voters in 2020 and will create space for learning in the 21st century. Other great things are also happening in the Neosho R-5 School District.

“Our graduation rate has risen over 10% in the last three years,” said Cummins. “Teachers and administrators at the high school have done a tremendous amount of work to help more students graduate. Part of the success has come from their efforts to connect with all of the students. In the last two years, we’ve implemented a freshman mentoring program where upperclassmen connect with our freshmen and help create a sense of belonging. They help the freshmen find school activities to be a part of. Not only are we encouraging good academic work, but we want students to have healthy social-emotional growth and engage with school.  

“Our New Caps program helps students explore career paths in the areas of education, health care and business/entrepreneurship. It explores a variety of career paths within each field. We’ve also added Advanced Placement classes for those who are pursuing college.

“All of these efforts have helped increase our graduation rate, and we are working toward reaching a higher, greater graduation rate,” said Cummins.

In 2023, the new STEAM-centered (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) school for students K-4 will open. The school will be self-contained and will operate as a lab for the STEAM program, which implements hands-on, authentic instruction using project-based learning. Students will apply for admission and will be chosen by lottery that reflects the demographics of the district. 

Cummins said the district achieved the highest growth of any iReady school in the state of Missouri in 2021. “iReady is an Apple assessment program we use as an interim assessment and evaluation tool. It lets teachers and students know where deficiencies are in learning so those can be addressed. Teachers can teach to each student’s need with more intentionality, and students can see their own progress.”

This year holds a new opportunity for Cummins personally. “One of the things I’ve wanted to do was coach with my daughter,” said Cummins. “The school board has allowed me to coach softball with her this year. Being around student-athletes again and the joy of competition has rejuvenated me. It’s been a pleasant fall after two years of constant uncertainty caused by COVID. Coaching with my daughter and getting in touch with students again has been a great experience. It makes for some long days, but I’m privileged to work as superintendent and as a coach.”

See more photos in the November 2022 print edition