Tupelo School Board 05.14.2013

Today’s Tupelo School Board meeting is about to begin. Four of the five board members are present. Rob Hudson is not currently here.

Today’s agenda is three pages long, so it may be a lengthier meeting. I don’t expect it to pass last year’s record of three hours, though. The board will not be voting during this meeting, but will merely hear presentations and reports. They will meet again at 5 p.m. today at Rankin Elementary School. At that meeting, they will have several public recognitions and will vote on today’s agenda.

Board President Beth Stone has called the meeting to order.

Stone welcomes Thomas Street Elementary teacher Hannah Kimbrough, who is the recommendation for Tupelo’s new girls soccer coach. The board will vote on Kimbrough at tonight’s meeting.

12:45 p.m.

RTI Coordinator Amy Ferguson is making a presentation about the district’s efforts to prepare for the new Common Core standards. Those include intensive reading blocks at Milam and Tupelo Middle School.

Students will read more non-fiction texts. They will look at where they can fit in more non-fiction texts.

12:15 p.m.

Sally Gray, parent coach for Parents for Public Schools, is making a presentation about the Tupelo High School Council of Excellence. This was the first year of the council. It included 23 community members who met four times to discuss issues involving Tupelo High School. District and school administrators and students were also on the council.

Gray: “We wanted this group to serve in the community as a conduit as information to other people and to be advocates for students and be a supportive arm for Tupelo High School.”

Gray: “We tackled some things and had some fruitful discussions.” Said district and school administrators were helpful in getting them information.

The group is hopeful the school board will approve them to continue next year. Gray said, in future meetings, they want to focus on one topic and go in-depth instead of trying to cover multiple topics.

Gray: One of the challenges will be a better way to push out information to the community. They publish minutes, but minutes don’t always tell the full story.

Council member Robin Haire will speak.

Haire said student comments and insight were very helpful. He said one challenge was some members spent too much energy in the beginning beating down the past and past administrations. He said it would be more helpful to focus on today.

Haire said it also would be helpful to have a social mixer with other council members. At the last meeting, they defined objectives, if they were fortunate to continue next year.

Those are: reduce dropout rate, increase graduate rate and percentage of students passing state testing, identify and visit the top five schools in the Southeast, increasing National Merit Finalists and exploring a modified block schedule (Monday-Wednesday-Friday, Tuesday-Thursday)

Council member Gloria Holiday is speaking now. She said being involved with the council was a good experience.

Board member Eddie Prather asked if there were any common threads from the discussion. Gray said decreasing the dropout rate and increasing the graduate rate were big topics, getting more students to the finish line. She said many of the topics were about what would best help students.

Stone thanks the council members and said they have an important role, not only to get information to the community but also to see where they can do better.

12:30 p.m.

Board will now watch a portion of the latest video segment created by Tupelo broadcast students for the district’s TPSD “At A Glance” show that airs on WTVA.


12:45 p.m.

RTI Coordinator Amy Ferguson is making a presentation about the district’s efforts to prepare for the new Common Core State Standards. Those include intensive reading blocks at Milam and Tupelo Middle School. The district will also use flexible grouping in grades 3-5 for students to work with grade-level peers of similar academic performance levels.

Students will be reading more non-fiction books.

In math, the district is adopting a new textbook. Students will need to know why and how they get their answers, Ferguson said.

“Math will be an interesting undertaking because it is changing so dramatically how they teach it,” Ferguson said, noting it is an emphasis on quality over quantity.

Ferguson said the district has a team that will work this summer to pace the curriculum to the common core. They’re also looking carefully for assessments that will give it an accurate picture of whether students are learning the things they need.

Ferguson said they will develop professional learning communities next year. There will be 12 teams throughout the district that will meet during the year with members of the curriculum department. They will discuss their efforts in small increments.

“It is an exciting time to be in education. It is a big undertaking and it changes a lot of the way we do things, but it is an exciting time,” Ferguson said.

Stone: What a gift we can devote all of our time next year to the Common Core instead of having to split our time between that and the Common Core.

12:56 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell will make a presentation about the new accountability model.As the state transitions to Common Core, it will freeze accountability rankings for the next three years she said. That means the ranking schools and districts get this year will be used for the next three years, unless they improve when they take next year’s tests.

Students will take the MCT2 next year, Ezell said, but they will not be held accountable for it, unless their score is higher next year.

1:04 p.m.

Linda Pannell is making a presentation about ad valorem tax collections. The district has collected about 95 percent of the amount it requested, she said.

1:06 p.m.

Personnel director Jim Turner will make an update on the district’s plan to provide a Wellness Center membership for its teachers.

The program began in November and has seen steady increases in participation, Turner said. In April, 28 percent of the district’s staff participated. Turner said every time he has been there, he has seen Tupelo staff members there. He said he knows of one Tupelo High School employee who lost more than 100 pounds.

Turner said it is a recruiting tool used by the district.He said when he tells prospective employees of the benefit they are surprised. He knows of only one other school that offers a similar benefit, and it followed Tupelo, he said.

1:14 p.m.

Turner will now make a presentation about recruiting. He has a slide, but the numbers are too small for me to read now.

He just read one line: In October/November 2012, interviewed 13 students at Delta State, one was a minority, 10 percent of budget went to recruiting and total cost of trip was $457.

The district also visited several historically black colleges and universities, Turner said. For the year, the district has spoken with 210 applicants and 71 were minorities, he said. The total budget spent was $4,539.38.

1:18 p.m.

Board members will present about their trip to the National School Board Association’s national conference.

Board member Eddie Prather attended sessions on gender equity and on measuring and sustaining school improvement. He also said the district should strengthen and highlight its successes that community takes for granted.

Another session was about Bring Your Own Device. He heard from a district in Maryland that had the program. It did surveys because it had a high percentage of Free and Reduced Lunch students, but every student ended up bringing devices, from a $100 phone to a $1,500 tablet. This year, they will update policies for the devices, Prather said. The curriculum person said not to forget the main focus is to drive instruction and that teachers should have control over when to use the devices.

Board member Kenneth Wheeler said there were a lot of people and that it was good to see a lot of people he knew from previous meetings in Mississippi and the southeastern region. He attended a lot of school safety meetings. A lot of school districts were implementing programs, Wheeler said, adding that he still believes Tupelo’s programs are headed in the right direction.

Stone said she went to a few meetings. One was about marketing a public school to be competitive in enrollment challenges. She found that Tupelo was already doing several of those things. The tips were know challenges and assets, think of three things you do really well and focus on those and know community and history. She said banners on schools provide good, free advertising. The district sends out postcards to provide information about the district, maybe profile a graduating senior and where they are going to college.

She also attended a meeting on professional development and she found that Tupelo was doing so much more than many of those other districts. They also mentioned professional development for school board members she said.

Ezell made a presentation about new policies and policy changes.


Executive Director of Curriculum Leigh Mobley made a presentation about a 2013 Barton (dyslexia) Reading Program.

This summer, they would have all students who are receiving dyslexia services and those who have recently screened for those services to attend 16 Barton sessions with two of our certified Barton trainings. They would hold those sessions at Church Street School, four days a week for four weeks.

They will hold those for any Tupelo student who needs Barton intervention. They will be able to have those Barton services for free.


1:42 p.m.

Turner said he will ask the district to improve new pay supplements for district employees to help the district to remain competitive. They have surveyed many other districts to determine the numbers.

Turner has also presented the board with the salary schedule for teachers and assistant teachers. There are no changes, he said, but added the board will not be voting on it tonight.

1:44 p.m.

Superintendent Gearl Loden will make a report to the board. He said at the next board meeting, there will be a presentation about changes in the law for measuring average daily attendance. Students must be at school 63 percent of the day to be considered present of the day.

The district has 450 students eligible to walk at graduation and 21 who are not, Loden said. Last year, the district had 14 not eligible, but this year’s class is larger he said (I did not catch the size of last year’s class).

Loden: “With a larger class and with a senior class that is the first group to take U.S. history and biology tests, I feel like we are ahead of where we have been.”

Last year was a record trend, Mr. Meadows said we typically had about 40 students not to graduate. Last year was a number to celebrate and we feel this year is a number to celebrate.

Loden said they will stop the graduation this year to escort out people who shout during it. “We will have an orderly graduation,” he said.

The End of Year celebration for teachers is May 23.

1:48 p.m.

Facilities director Julie Hinds is going through bids for Carver and the baseball field. She is recommending bids for new windows at Carver. The bid was for $219,000 to replace all windows at the school. The recommended bid for reflooring at Carver is $119,000. She is recommending the board to reject bids on the baseball field because they were out of budget. They will try to re-bid that work.

1:50 p.m.

Finance director Linda Pannell is asking the board to issue the bonds for the Qualified School Construction Bond. The low-interest bonds as part of the federal stimulus package will replace other debt that rolls off this year, Pannell.

The winning bid was to Trustmark Bank and it came at the credit rate, which means there will be no interest to the district, she said.

1:53 p.m.

Ezell is making a presentation about the district’s handbook. There were some changes, with personnel changes and policy changes, she said. They are as current as the district can make them right now, she said.

The district will just put the handbooks online but will print hard copies if someone requests them.

Loden said with administrator contracts being 238 days, there are two days for which administrators are not paid. He said with July 4 being a Thursday, he requests the district take July 3-5 as a holiday.

1:56 p.m.

The board will go into executive session for a student discipline hearing and an update on litigation.