Tupelo School Board 06.11.13

Tupelo’s school board meeting has just begun. All five board members are present. There is no evening meeting today, so the board will take action at this meeting.

City Council member Mike Bryan is also present in the audience.

After approving minutes of past meetings, the board will now recognize outgoing Tupelo Mayor Jack Reed Jr.

(In trying to keep up with all of the following remarks, my text is garbled. I will clean it up as soon as I can).

Board president Beth Stone: “Four of the members here appreciate the opportunity you have given us (Reed appointed Stone, Rob Hudson, Kenneth Wheeler and Joe Babb)….We are certainly appreciative of the opportunity you have given us and more appreciative of your support of our school district, not only during your time as mayor, but also previously. When I heard you weren’t going to run, I sent you a message that said, we are so sad to lose our George Bailey….That is an appropriate term for someone who is so caring about our school district.”

Board Vice President Rob Hudson: “I want to thank you for your leadership. I’ve heard you say so often that leadership matters. You’ve said it so often but I’ve seen you demonstrate that while you were mayor and before you were mayor….The term you used was ‘servant leaders,’ and you consistently demonstrated the servant leader. To have that role model in the community means so much and to have someone like you show us the path means a lot….Your willingness to shine a light o  the good, bad and ugly started us on this path to have a little bit of pain but lead to this re-birth of our school system. (paraphrase: Had you not had that courage, we wouldn’t have had the rebirth and may not have hired Gearl Loden as our leader). I think about the time you’ve dedicated to our school system. You’ve provided vision and you’ve energized. That’s what we’ve needed in leadership, and I can’t thank you enough.

TPSD Community liaison Mary Ann Plasencia: Listing the things Reed has provided during his tenure: “One hundred thousand dollars worth of books to our children, helping us to open playgrounds to our neighborhoods, over $500,000 (not sure if I heard the right amount) of sidewalks to help our neighborhoods to be safer, helping us teach thousands of children to be safer in the water. You leave a tremendous legacy to us and to our community and to our 7,400 children because I know that means the most to you.

You presence in our schools at least once a week. You have left a tremendous legacy to model.


Superintendent Gearl Loden: Before you were mayor, you were an advocate to the schools. I know that after you are mayor you will continue to be and advocate for schools. You presented us with a key to the city. Here is a bell to ring.

(Loden gives Reed a hand bell, similar to the one they give retiring teachers)

Reed: Y’all know how I feel about the school system and the city. Each of these four appointments, and Eddie Prather, we’re delighted to have you on the board already. I’ve said the most important appointment a mayor makes is to the school board. Y’all have borne that out and made me look prescient and smart and wise….In your hiring decisions and in your administrative decisions, the board and all of the professionals in front of me and behind me…I think there was a whole community pause there for a while when we were wondering, is the strength of the city of Tupelo and that integrated partnership with the school system, is that past, was that just a great day that isn’t going to be around any more, I think that is a legitimate question. Some of that was unmerited and some of that was serious concern. I don’t know how many school districts in the South or even in the country that have walked up to that precipice and looked over an not felt the weight of that momentum just carry them over. I am an optimist. I really seriously believe our community has taken a look at that and I think there is enough core community members who want to say we are not going to go that route. We plugged that hole in the dike up and we can be and we are a great school system and a great city and those go hand in hand and we want to be a great school system in this century, not just the lat century. And y’all are making that happen and there are enough people in Tupelo who want to join you. There is a lot of work still to do. Everything I can do as a citizen servant I will continue to do…We need to let these parents and citizens see us at our best, and at our best there is no one better, and I couldn’t be prouder of playing a small part in helping us get to this point in our history….Each of the trustees and the administrators, you have my absolute respect and admiration. This means a lot to me and I accept with humility and pride.”

Reed also notes that his communication director, Anna Wyatt, will be joining the school district at the end of his term.

The board also recognizes Federal Programs Director Dale Warriner, who will retire at the end of the month. This is Warriner’s final board meeting.

Finance director Linda Pannell is making a presentation about tax collections. The district had collected 97 percent of its request as of the end of May. “We are looking at being able to collect all that we requested this year and this will be good for our fund-balance moving forward.”

Executive director of curriculum Leigh Mobley is speaking about the Summer Curriculum Writing Team Project.

50 teachers at Church Street are working on summer curriculum.

Goals for this week are to create or revise pacing guides in English language arts and math in grades K-2 that are 100 percent Common Core based (they will not have MCT skills in them).

The second goal is to develop vocabulary lists and consider appropriate strengths to support more rigorous vocabulary instruction across all content areas in line with Common Core State Standards.

Third goal is to identify and create bell ringers aligned to Common Core State Standards and test items, beginning with the first nine weeks of instruction.

Rob Hudson: “As a board member and as a parent, I’m trying to get a sense of how different things would be. Maybe at retreat, I’d be interested to see what a bell ringer used to look like and what it will look like now.”

Mobley said it is very different. The items will be more open-ended and thought provoking. She said students will have to be able to think and apply knowledge and not just memorize.

RTI Coordinator Amy Ferguson will make a presentation about the Literacy Based Promotion Act (the so-called third-grade reading gate)

It will use reading screeners and the end of year state test. Students who are at the lowest level will be flagged and will have to take an alternate test to show that they are reading at a level to allow them to move to fourth-grade.

Everyone will be screened in K through third-grade three times a year to determine who will receive intensive instruction.

Ferguson said they want to catch the kids as soon as a deficit occurs, not to wait until the end of third grade. Whenever a deficit is found, parents would be notified and warned that if students are not on the appropriate level by the end of third grade, they will not be promoted.

The MDE will establish a six-member reading panel and will recommend appropriate alternate assessments. (The alternate assessment will give a second chance to students who fail the state test).

Retention will begin during the 2014-15 school year. There are good-cause exemptions for students with limited English Proficiency without two years in an English Language Learner program and also for some special educational students with an IEP that says the state test is not appropriate.

Beginning in 2014-15, previously retained students must get at least 90 minutes of scientifically-based instruction in reading.

School districts must publish a report by grade the number and percentage of all students performing at each competency level on the state test and on the alternate assessment.

Tupelo is currently using universal screening three times a year. It is providing literacy instruction training for all K-6 teachers. They are using the Reading Street program. The district will continue to early identify and provide intervention fro struggling readers.

Loden said Tupelo is well equipped since it has already done interventions and already has screeners. Tupelo will have an advantage. “This should not really effect us,” he said. “…I don’t think we will have a lot of children retained, based on this.”

Ferguson said the key will be looking at students early and catching deficits in kindergarten and first grade and not socially-promoting students in the early grades.

Stone asks if there are interventions in fourth-grade for students who are promoted with a good-cause exemption. Ferguson said there are interventions with Reading Street all the way to sixth grade.

Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon will make an executive summary about a report on at-risk seniors.

In 2011-12, there were 14 seniors at the end of the year who did not receive a high school diploma due to not passing a subject area test.

This year, at the beginning of the year, there were 121 students at risk out of the gate. Principal Jason Harris and the administrative team had a mentor group for those students.

The number declined during the year: 52 in March, 36 in May and down to 15 at the end of the year. That should decrease more at the end of June when they get more testing data back from the state.

“One is too many but we are doing what we can every day to decrease those numbers”….

Said work is done during the school day, after school, on weekends, in tutorial sessions.

Dillon said one of the biggest hurdles has been U.S. history. School districts that usually have one or two failures have a lot more because of US history test and the changing of that test.

The district has already identified its at-risk students for the 2013-14 school year. “They already have a game plan prepared for these students. They will be linked to administrators or faculty members.”

They will be assigned a mentor. They will have access to a GEAR-up tutorial (This is the group that the GEAR-UP grant was focused on.)

They will start on the first day of school because the first testing date will be in mid-September.

There will be some Saturday boot camps. They will take advantage of anything the Mississippi Department of Education offers for seniors.

Stone: “I’m so impressed with the plan you put in place for this year and the one you have for next year. It makes all the difference in the world in these students’ lives. You have gone above and beyond in your efforts.”

Dillon: “We are very excited with the numbers. We are going to take it day by day, have a great game plan and hopefully those numbers will continue to decrease.”

Mentors look at attendance, behavior and grades, Dillon said. Some of them are also making personal telephone calls to the students when they are absent, saying you are on my team here, what is the deal?


12:56 p.m.

Dillon will now make a presentation about AP testing.

We hear ab lot of about dual enrollment. It will not replace AP. AP will actually grow.

Has current data and historic data.

2010, 11, 12 and 13….

Number of students taking the class, includes those who take multiple classes.

The numbers are increasing.

318 in 10, 513 in 111, 649 in 12 and 842 in 13.

However, the number (percentage) taking the exam has gone down.

The number (percentage) of students passing the test has stayed about the same.

In the new accountability model, they have been told that participation in AP will give you points and the number passing the test will also give districts points. Dillon said Tupelo needs to look to increase the number of students who take the AP test at the end of the year.

Tupelo is offering more classes now. The district is increasing its AP course offerings. They will offer 20 courses, which is more than they offered in the past They are sending teachers to trainings this summer in order to be certified to teach AP offerings in the fall. Classes need 20 students to make.

Already at 870 students for next year, but those numbers can fluctuate leading up to the start of school.

They try to back load schedule with more AP courses in the spring than the fall since

$89 a test. We want to look at the going forward on the number of students taking the test because it will be critical on the new accountability model.

Prather asks if cost is the reason people don’t take the test.

Dillon said they are looking at that. Some students say they know they can be successful in the class but are not as confident about the test. They added tutorials and will ramp that up. They are still looking at those reasons.

Loden said the percentage of Tupelo students who pass the test when they take it is higher than the national average. Dillon said about 40 percent of students who take the test fail it, nationally. Prather notes that data is skewed because in some districts, all students who take the class take the test and districts pay for it.

Stone notes that it is very difficult to get a 4 or 5 on the test and that students don’t always get college credit even with those scores.

Loden: We do realize with the model we need to have a budget set up to make the test free or affordable and we need to have carrots set up to get students to take the test.

Dillon notes students have the incentive to take the AP course because they get extra weight on their GPA for the course.

Stone: They are incredible courses and they very well prepare you for what you will see in college.

Hudson notes there is an incentive to take the course but the incentive to take the test doesn’t exist yet.

Prather notes that the district added a pre-AP program starting in sixth grade a few years ago.

Loden said that the district calls it a pre-AP program but it isn’t actually an AP curriculum. It doesn’t have the same level of rigor.

Loden: We learned in this process that we were only missing a foreign language and music course to being able to offer an international AP diploma. Tupelo has added a Spanish class and a music theory class and Tupelo High may become the first school in the state to offer an international AP diploma. “That is very exciting.”

1:10 p.m.

Now Dillon will make a presentation about historical data of average daily attendance. Data look at the last there years

“This is very important because if students aren’t in class they aren’t able to learn and of course your funding is based on our ADA as well.”

Dillon said the most important months are month 2 and month 3….You can look at those two months to get a gauge of what the state will look at.

The district and schools are hovering around the 95 percent mark. Next year, the law will change saying that students have to be there 63 percent of their school day to count for ADA. In the past, if you were in four first period class for 30 minutes to an hour and your mom checked you out for a doctors appointment and you didn’t come back and you counted for being there all day.

Dillon said the district is looking for a way to communicate this information. In particular, in month 2 and month 3, it is important to schedule doctor appointments and other biannual appointments around that.

Dillon: “We need to let parents and guardians understand those two months are very critical and if we can schedule appointments around those dates, that will help the entire school district.”

“We want to make sure students understand the importance of being at school each and every day and that parents understand that as well.”

Dillon said the district will look at ways of communicating that and in particular the importance of being there in September and October.

Loden: “This does give us a unique opportunity. The state’s pile of money is the same. The people who have high-demand communities (And can increase their ADA) those districts will have more money than others….It we can do that, we should be able to enhance our ADA which means we will have more resources than other districts.

Dillon said individual schools share ideas about incentives they use to encourage students to be at school every day.

Board member Joe Babb: Do we know where we stand compared to other districts?

Loden said they don’t’ have that information from the state yet. He said they keep you one year behind and next year will be based on the 11-12 ADA.

1:20 p.m.

The board is looking at the consent agenda. Loden said the district is revamping its webpage and that the new site will be ready by the beginning of the school year.

The board approves the consent agenda.

Board approves the claims docket.

1:22 p.m.

Pannell will present the financial statements for the month ending April 30. At end of April, they had collected 77 percent of general budget and spent about 60 percent.

Board approves the statements.

1:27 p.m.

Assistant superintendent Diana Ezell is bringing a couple of board policies. One is the salary scale, there are no changes to the scale, but the board must approve it.

Another is to allow the superintendent to make some changes to district school lines. The superintendent will not be able to make any changes more that effect more than 3 percent of a school’s population without bringing it to the board.

Loden said he’s seen that past superintendents have made tweaks but he did not see anything in board policy that allowed that, so he wanted to have that in the policy.

Board approves the certified and classified salary scales. The board approves the policy allowing superintendent to tweak school attendance areas.


Now the board will vote on the second reading of the dual enrollment credit policy.

Prather asks about enrollment in those courses. Dillon said right now, it looks like 96 for algebra 1, 36 for anatomy and physiology and 18 in biology. There are some other classes that may not make. He said that number will change with registration and orientation and more students will take advantage of it.

Board approves that policy and the Bring Your Own Device policy. Both are second readings.

Ezell presents a first-read of a dropout prevention policy. State law now requires districts to have such policies. Ezell said the district had a plan, just not a policy.

1:34 p.m.

Personnel director Jim Turner is now presenting the personnel report. He also notes a report on the number of minority and non-minority hires. For next school year, the district has hired 20 non-minorities and five minorities, Turner said.

Loden is noting some upcoming dates. Next school board meeting is July 16. The district will also have a budget hearing on that day.

Loden said this is the time of year when people are going to the movies. Starting on June 28, Tupelo Schools will have a commercial that will play during the previews at the Malco movie theater.

The school board retreat will be June 19-20. The board will establish their goals for next year during that retreat to be held at Pickwick lake.

1:43 p.m.

Facilities director Julie Hinds and Dillon are presenting about three bids to award:

Fencing that will go around the perimeter of Carver. Low bid $88,050. Columbus Fence

Re-roof of Rankin…Graham roofing, $108K

Cafeteria equipment at Tupelo High School….54,989 to Hotel and Restaurant supply

Board approves all three.

Board adjourns at 1:46 p.m.