How this superintendent is driving the local economy to help his district thrive

"I have made it my personal mission to maximize our district resources and seek to grow our tax base for the future," Jason Snodgrass says.

Superintendent Jason Snodgrass prioritizes local economic development because a school district can only thrive when the community also prospers. Snodgrass, leader of the Fort Osage R-1 School District in Missouri and former chairman of the Independence Economic Development Council, helped clear the way for the development of the largest industrial project in local history.

That manufacturing and warehouse facility will generate $32 million in tax revenue for the Kansas City-area school district over the next 20 years. Snodgrass adds that he has also sought to hold businesses accountable for “not paying their fair share”—including 14 privately owned businesses housed within a federal complex that are now paying property taxes.

“Fort Osage faces significant economic challenges,” says Snodgrass, who has led Fort Osage since 2015 and is Missouri’s 2023 Superintendent of the Year. “I have made it my personal mission to maximize our district resources and seek to grow our tax base for the future.”

Economic development essentials

Another component of economic development is ensuring the district is spending within its means. Fort Osage’s budget has been balanced for the past six years, and the balance itself has grown. Snodgrass explains that he and his teams have also maintained class sizes while expanding programs because, in part, they have “maximized every district dollar through conservation efforts.”

Those efforts include installing LED lighting and solar panels across the district and using the savings to replace the roofs of three schools. The district has also saved $75,000 by maximizing the efficiency of its transportation routes and systems. Finally, the district partnered with an area mental health provider to house six therapists throughout its schools, “allowing us to effectively meet student mental health needs without an added expense,” Snodgrass explains.

“In an ever-changing world, student engagement and mental health supports continue to be at the forefront of everything we do,” he adds.

The district also has an economic development responsibility to provide qualified workers for the local economy, adds Snodgrass, who served as Fort Osage High School’s principal for six years prior to becoming superintendent. Under his watch, the district joined the Kansas City Area’s Real World Learning initiative to bolster college and career readiness training by giving students more opportunities to earn market value assets, or MVAs.

These MVAs include college credit courses, career programs leading to a marketable credential, workplace internships, and opportunities to partner with community organizations to complete meaningful projects. The percentage of Fort Osage students graduating with at least one MVA has risen from 29% in 2020 to 75% in 2022. “In tight budget times, we have added and re-allocated staff to work with students in these new programs, and to provide support in post-secondary planning,” Snodgrass points out.

Superintendent Jason Snodgrass and his team regularly survey students about how to improve learning environments.
Superintendent Jason Snodgrass and his team regularly survey students about how to improve learning environments.

One example of the MVA push is the opening of Campus Grounds, a student-run coffee shop that serves the entire community and is a partnership between marketing and culinary arts students and district food service staff. The district’s Career and Technology Center, meanwhile, has also added HVAC and physical therapy programs to align student training with community workforce needs. And the Fort Osage Education Foundation has recently provided 130 students with scholarships to earn college credit while still in high school.

Fort Osage’s 5 core values

These ambitious goals for student growth rely on the recruitment and retention of staff, which means it is essential for Fort Osage to offer teacher salaries that are competitive with more affluent Kansas City-area districts. Fort Osage regularly studies regional salaries while fostering a “Fort Family” atmosphere so that staff members feel welcome and supported by:

  • Recognizing staff for their work throughout the year at both the building and district levels.
  • Conducting an annual survey of staff to seek their input and ideas on how Fort Osage can grow as a workplace.
  • Providing staff wellness initiatives.
  • Offering grow-your-own initiatives that include leadership and growth opportunities for continued professional development.

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Snodgrass and his team are also working to connect all students to their schools by expanding the number of before- and after-school clubs and surveying students about how educators can improve learning environments. The district also works to pair each student with a trusted adult and regularly audits the curriculum to ensure instruction is diverse and inclusive.

“As a district, we have five core values: integrity, belonging, collaboration, achievement and accountability,” Snodgrass concludes. “It is up to all of us to assure those values are being met, and as the superintendent, I need to make sure we stay focused to meet the needs of all of our young people.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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