SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – Thousands of teachers and other employees are now back at work at Springfield Public Schools.

It’s all to prepare for students to return next week.

Tuesday, the district held a welcoming pep rally for employees at the Great Southern Bank Arena.

Leaders were there to outline the top priorities for the new year.

“I’m excited that we’re all back together face-to-face,” said Springfield Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan.

Lathan said while things are improving in some aspects, extra messaging on other topics needs to increase.

Goals include revising the strategic plan, increasing student performance and enhancing communication.

Security measures for the buildings, Lathan said, are also a big priority.

“Ensuring that all of our staff in the district understands that we don’t prop open doors, that all doors are to remain closed and locked,” said Lathan.

She said new programs are starting to better serve students.

“In our elementary schools, we’re implementing a program called RISE, in partnership with Burrell,” said Lathan. “This will be a classroom where students that need additional supports, either behaviorally or emotionally, will have the opportunity to learn in one of our schools, but in a different setting. Then we will move them back to their regular classroom.”

As districts across the state struggle with school employee shortages, Lathan said the district is also working through that.

“We are working to fill the last few vacancies that we have,” said Lathan. “I’m really excited to start the school year not with a high number of teaching vacancies, but also to start the school year with almost all the bus drivers we need. We’re still about 10 to 15 bus drivers short, but I’m excited we’re in a better place than we were a year ago.”

Students head back to the classroom at SPS on Aug. 22.