Missouri State Representative Mike Lair, along with Missouri State Board of Education Vice President Peter F. Herschend and Chief Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Council Mark Van Zandt, gathered for a 90-minute question-and-answer session at the Jerry Litton Ag Campus on Friday afternoon (Nov. 30), to discuss the state of Missouri education with local citizens.

Herschend did a majority of the speaking during the event. He introduced the crowd to DESE's "Top 10 by 20" plan.

"By the year 2020, we want to see Missouri marked in the Top 10 in the United States in the four core areas," he said. Missouri currently sits near the middle of the pack nation-wide in areas such as math, communication arts, and science. With 75 percent of students taking the ACT, Missouri's composite score is 21.6, which ranks 26th. The number 10 state on the list, via the latest rankings, was averaging a 22.8.

Per Herschend, there are three areas that the state needs to focus on to reach this goal: higher standards for teachers and students, focus upon increased numbers of college- and career-ready graduates coming out of the state's school districts, and a higher emphasis upon early childhood education.

Herschend also spoke briefly on the state's accreditation system, including information on the ASAP Bill currently seeking congressional approval, which would allow the state board to immediately offer assistance to school districts that have become unaccredited, instead of having to wait the now-mandatory two years to let the district work themselves back up to accreditation.

"In all my years, I have never seen that actually happen," Herschend said, who supports the bill's passage.

A second bill discussed by Herschend was for early childhood education funding, through inclusion in average daily attendance calculations. This way of funding would mean that when the foundation formula is fully funded, all moneys above that line will go to early childhood programs, in the hope of better preparing the young persons within our state for the educational process to come.

Herschend, Van Zandt, and Lair answered questions from the crowd pertaining to whether school size was taken into account in district unaccreditation and the measuring of students individually vs. school districts and classrooms during the Q&A session.

Several student members of the local FFA and FCCLA chapters were present at the event, along with R-2 district Superintendent Dr. Roger Barnes and County Commissioner Eva Danner Horton, among others.