Story by Heather Feeler | Feb 28, 2017
Photography by Keith Borgmeyer

Father Stephen Jones and Dr. Larry Linthacum believe Jeff City’s future is brighter when schools work across public–private lines.

Although vastly different in many regards, Father Stephen Jones and Dr. Larry Linthacum share an easy camaraderie and the jovial spirit of old friends. It’s a working relationship built on trust and time together, but it’s also boosted by a bigger purpose: investing in education. It’s a shared vision taking shape right before our eyes.

Jones, as president of Helias Catholic High School, started the new year off with a bang by opening the new addition to Helias’ main building, which includes a new main entrance, six science labs, a chapel, and choir and dance rooms. The old administration area is now a student success center, complete with a student lounge, computer lab, counselors, and campus ministers. Progress also continues down the hill on the new football and soccer fields, tennis courts, and locker room buildings, which they hope to have completed by late summer to be ready for the fall sports schedule.

“Our goal is to provide the best experience for students who come here, both academically and spiritually,” says Jones. “We want to build a sense of pride and even get kids in elementary school excited about coming to Helias one day.” 

Linthacum is the Jefferson City Public Schools superintendent. Providing the best experience for students is also a top priority for JCPS, including more space and smaller class sizes at the high school level. JCPS has been working hard in community education about the upcoming bond and levy issue on the April ballot, which will fund construction on a second high school and completely modernize the current high school. It’s an investment today that the district hopes will pay dividends in the future.

Rendering of proposed remodel to JCHS

Rendering of proposed 2nd Jefferson City high school

“The future of our community is about making a commitment to our educational system. This is a breakthrough opportunity for Jefferson City,” Linthacum says. “This will give our students an opportunity to reach their full potential. What better investment can we make? The return will be limitless.”

With similar goals on the horizon, both Helias and JCPS understand the importance of strong collaboration with the community and with each other.

“We have an understanding that we are in this together,” Jones says. “We may be two different school systems, but we are one town and one community. When the tide goes up, all the boats float to the top. When Helias goes up, JCPS goes up too, and when JCPS goes up, so does Helias. We both need each other.”

The collaboration between the two schools goes beyond sharing a football field over the years; it also extends into academics. Students at Helias take classes, including career education and technical programs, at Nichols Career Center, but the classroom space at the center has shouldered the heavy overflow from Jefferson City High School in recent years. Linthacum says the addition of the second high school would allow JCPS to open up more space at the career center and provide additional learning opportunities for Helias and other schools in the surrounding communities.

JCPS also provides resources for those kids in our community, including Helias students, who require special services like an individualized education plan, or IEP, for learning issues or other special needs. It’s an invaluable community resource.

“We don’t have all the resources for kids with special needs, so to have the public schools assist us is a big help,” Jones notes. “Catholic school is for everybody, including those struggling academically. We’ve reached out in the last few years to families to let them know you don’t have to be a perfect student to find success here.”

Finding success for kids in our community is both a passion and a calling for Jones and for Linthacum — it’s the foundation of the work they do every day.

“We try to give every student hope for a better tomorrow. It’s why we exist,” Linthacum says. “Being a difference-maker in the lives of our kids is why this progress is so important. It’s an investment, but it’s such an important one.”

“A community is only as strong as its young people,” Jones concurs. “As a culture, we’ve devalued the process of forming young people, and we often push it off on someone else. It is everyone’s job. We have to be about that business for the greater good.”