Today's Tupelo School Board meeting has just begun. All five board members are present.
TPSD Community Liasion Mary Ann Plasencia and Sally Gray, a parent coach for Parents For Public Schools, are making a presenation about the Council of Excellence the district will have at Tupelo High School.
Gray said it will serve as a vehicle to improve communication between the community and the school. "I think it is a great opportunity to support our students," Gray said. "That is the ultimate goal of these councils of excellence."
Parents for Public Schools will help facilitate these councils, Gray said. She said her immediate boss has lots of experience with similar projects and is "the perfect fit" for this.
They want to develop a climate of harmony and cooperation among all stakeholers. They are looking to develop, through application process, a council with 14 to 16 representatives. They want representation from the school community and the community at large, including people from faith-based community, city government, etc.
"We want people to be excited about serving on this council," Gray said.
They expect regular attendance. They plan to start with staggered terms. PPS will develop bylaws to guide the organization.
The council will be serving in an advisory capacity. They won't make any binding decisions or make any funding decisions, but the goal is to open lines of communication. The hope is that the community sees council members as go-to individuals when there are concerns.
"We also want to see that the council is able to gather information from the high school on how our students are doing," Gray said. "We want this to be a well-informed group that can answer questions as they come up."
The principal of THS will be designated as the chairman of the council. PPS has submitted a proposal to faciliate the council so they can get off to the right start.
The minutes will be available on the school's website. They will also submit regular reports to the board and Superintendent Gearl Loden.
Names and contact information of council members should be made available on THS website.
"We see this as a real positive for our high school, and we hope down the road this is something that will be broadened," Gray said.
The plan is to have applications available next month with a deadline of Oct. 19 to submit. Council members will be named 10 days to two weeks later. Plan would be to have one meeting before the end of this calendar year and to meet four times each year.
Ultimate goals are to help kids and to improve communication with community.
Plasencia said PPS's proposal was for a year's-worth of work for $16,320.
Board member Kenneth Wheeler: "I am looking forward to the feedback, especially the communication with the public."
Rob Hudson: Can you describe the role of PPS in this?
Gray: With that first meeting, getting that group off the ground and covering everything from bylaws to how meetings will run, to what role will be. People serving on this council are making a big commitment that they will be regular in attention and that they will respect confidentiality – there may be some matters that are a little more sensitive. Reporting matters and governing how meetings run, because we want them to be productive meetings.
I think keeping those meetings running and on-track so members don't get too sidetracked. And we can serve to better network these members with the community so they get more information.
Board member Beth Stone asks about other schools.
Gray said the request was to start with the high school. She said that makes sense becuase it is the biggest school and is the one that feeds the community with workers most quickly.
"I'd love to see this unrolled at other schools in the district, but this is where we will start it," Gray said.
Board President Eddie Prather asks if the council will make regular reports.
Gray said yes. She said the council will meet a minimum of four times each year and that it wants to provide updates after each meeting.
Testing coordinator Lea Johnson will now make a report about Tupelo's ACT scores. She said it measures how well you have gathered the curriculum into your brain, while the SAT measures how well you think.
ACT stands for American College Test. Scores go from 1, lowest, to 36. It is a more prominent test in the South.
The test is not part of the distirct's accountability model, but it provides interesting trend data, Johnson said.
Johnson said it can be somewhat tough to track the students who took the test because the data doesn't automatically go back to the high school. The student has to note the high school on their test.
Data reveals that Tupelo had started to slide the previous three years, but the score moved up this year to 20. The state average was 18.7. Tupelo was above the state average for every year.
There is not an ACT requirement to go to ICC, but to go to ICC and not take remedial classes, you need an 18, Johnson said. A 4-year college requires an 18 to not take remdial classes, Johnson said. 26-29 begins to bring scholarship money.
Another chart looks at student's college readiness, as measured by ACT. Tupelo is higher than the state on all four tetsts (English, algebra, social studies and biology). Twenty percent of Tupelo's students were deemed college ready on all four tests, compared to 11 percent statewide.
Loden said these ACT scores only reflect seniors. Nationally, SAT is more popular in the North. Tupelo students who take SATs will be college prep students.
If a student takes it as a sophomore or a junior and doesn't take it again, that score will be captured during the student's senior year.
Tupelo offers an ACT prep class, and students can use a website, www.actstudent.org. Also, during T period, students can work with USA Test Prep online software.
Johnson said the fee for taking the test is $65. She said that free- and reduced-lunch students can get that fee waived once. Students in the GEAR-UP program (11th-graders this year) can also get that fee waived once if they are not free and reduced lunch).
The district also gives the PLAN test to its 10th-graders. That test resembles the ACT for younger students.
Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon is now presenting about Tupelo's scores on the U.S. history Subject Area Test that high school juniors took last spring. Because it was a new test, those scores were not released with the other scores two weeks ago. Also, it will not count toward district's rankings.
Dillon said there was a shift on the test with more political cartoons and students having to infer information from two-line quotes. "It really was a difficult test," he said.
448 studnets took the test, he said, including 426 at Tupelo High School. The others were in alternative programs. District wide, 76 percent of students passed, compared to 72 percent for the state.
106 students failed the test. Dillon said that is an area of concern.
He said the test is tough and that the dynamics have changed. He said it is very comparable to the English II test, which he said is very difficult and is an endurance test. "The rigor of the test has jumped up a degree," Dillon said. "It is tough."
He said the district needs to look at what it is doing and it needs to gauge where students are before the test.
He said with the block schedule, attendance is more important. The flow of curriculum with the block is also important. He said that English III plays an important role with U.S. history. With the block schedule, you can have longer gaps between taking history classes.
"There are things we need to look at when we build students' schedules to ensure we give them a good opportunity to pass the first time they take the test," Dillon said.
With foreign language and math classes, it is also important not to have long gaps between classes, Dillon said.
Stone notes that because students don't take the test until their junior year, they have fewer opportunities to retake it before graduation.
Stone asks about things the district can do to prepare them for analyzing political cartoons and other similiar skills. Dillon said the district is doing some things to work on that, such as using bellringers at the beginning of class.
Dillon said there are several things the district is doing to improve its scores. During a T-period tutorial, history teachers work with students to help them.
The district is also working with someone to provide in-house tutorials. The 106 students who failed will be getting tutoring before the re-test dates. The district just got the scores back so it is hustling to get students prepared for the Sept. 20 test. It will keep working with those students to prepare them for the Dec. 13 retest. It will begin that preparation before scores come back in so that it will have more time.
Some students will audit a U.S. history class to have more time to prepare for the test.
Executive Director of Curriculum Leigh Mobley will now present about professional development.
PD360 is an online professional development tool being used to help teachers with teaching strategies.
One thing she has heard from teachers is the need to help students with basic reading skills. They can do it through PD360.
The program is online. Teachers can log into the website for "a wealth of information."
When teachers log in, they come to a home page that shows all of the videos they have watched and other educators who have connected to them.
Principals have asked teachers to reserve the third Wednesday of every month to talk about the videos that the curriculum department has assigned for the month. This month, the department has assigned six videos for teachers to choose. Topics include reading strategies, principles of effective teaching, common core, etc.
Mobley said this is an effective way to reach teacehers without interrupting instructional time. There are 1,500 videos, and teachers can use them to get CEU credit. Teachers can watch them on their own time.
It also allows Tupelo teachers to talk to those all over the country with questions and ideas, Mobley said.
Mobley siad hte PD360 program also fits well with the new teacher evaluation module that the state will use soon.
Principals using an iPad while obersving a teacher will be able to immediately send comments to a teacher through PD360. They can also send videos for the teachers to watch to help with those tips.
"There is a wealth of information that teachers can watch at any time," Mobley said.
Topics are arranged by elementary and secondary. Some topics include common assessments, classroom management or data-based decisions, Mobley said.
There is also a component that works teachers through the Common Core Curriculum. It helps teachers see what students are learning in other grades in the curriculum.
The program allows teachers to create professional learning communities, she said. You can become a "colleague" of other educators and share information with them.
There is also a "Oberservation 360 component." She said the district worked with teachers during the summer to help them implement this. It can be done on a laptop or iPad.
It keeps track of how long the observation lasts and automatically sends an email to the person who was observed once the observation is done. Principals can also send videos that demonstrate the components they note on the observation.
The district has trained the teachers and principals on the program.
The district can get reports on how many observations a principal has done. Administrators can also see which videos the teachers have watched.
At a faculty meeting, teachers can share the content of what videos they have watched. That can allow teachers to get information on more than the videos they have seen.
"It is my goal to make sure teachers don't have to go anywhere to get CEUs but that we can provide all of it right here," Mobley said.
Curriculum specialist Kenneth Griswald said the program is good for say a music teacher because that teacher can watch videos specific to his or her own needs. Because there are so few music teachers, it may be difficult for the district to provide professional development specific to a music teacher. With this program, the teacher can more easily specialize their professional development.
Rob Hudson: Prior to this, what have we had in the district for the superintendent to follow up on principals observing in the district?
Mobley said the district had an ELS program that could be used on computers or iPads, but it did not send immediate emails and it did not allow you to send videos.
Board approves consent agenda.
Board approves docket of claims.
Human resources director Jim Turner is making the personnel report. There is one resignation on licensed staff. Classified staff have four new hires and four resignations, among others.
The district has two regular licensed positions that need to be filled, but it is very close to filling all of its positions, Turner said.
The board approves the personnel report.
Assistant superintendent Kim Britton will make a presentation about free- and reduced-lunch students.
The lower elementary schools show a gradual increase. The increase is greater in the K-2 schools than others. There is a small increase in 3-5 schools and Milam. Middle school has a small increase and THS has a small decrease.
Overall, the district has increased about 2 percent. She thinks some of that is due to reporting with FRL forms online.
"Many parents feel more comfortable filling out the forms online rather than having stigma of filling out reports by hand," Britton said.
It may also indicate a change in the situation for some families, Britton said.
The district has had 502 online applications to date, she said.
"When you look at the data, it may suggest an increase, but it may be an increase in reporting, not necessarily the number of students who are in poverty," Britton said.
Loden said every month the district will provide a report on ADA and on FRL students. If there is a trend, they will present about it.
Teacher of Distincition banquet will be held at the Summit on Sept. 21. IE-Day will be held on Oct. 31. On Oct. 30, educator William Daggett will hold a presentation for the general community. Daggett is a well-known educator.
Assistant Superintedent Diana Ezell will now discuss a change to the school calendar. Ezell said the 60 percent days were intended to provide extra professional development. Adding programs like PD360 allows for greater flexibility of professional development. Teachers are also having meetings after school on Wednesday afternoons.
"Since we went to a block schedule, having the 60 percent day has really disrupted instructional time," Ezell said.
She said the district will eliminate all remaining 60-percent days except Parent-Teacher Conferences in September and AEE day in October. It will also have early dismissal on the last day of each semester. All other days will become full school days.
That is something the state department will require next year, Ezell said. It will only allow districts to have those two days – the last day of each semester.
Board approves the calendar change.
Board is considering a work session in October.
The board is now entering executive session at 1:36 p.m.