TPSD School Board 09.10.13

Tupelo School Board meeting has begun. Three of the five members are present: President Beth Stone, Vice President Rob Hudson and Joe Babb.

The board will meet again today at 5 p.m. at Thomas Street School and will vote on items at that time. It will also recognize several students then. At this meeting, board members will hear various reports and presentations.

The first report is about a proposed new Wellness benefit for TPSD employees. It is a partnership they have been working on with North Mississippi Medical Center.

It would allow TPSD staff to use a web portal to schedule doctor’s appointments, after hours, until midnight. It would also allow staff to have priority access to the center’s three urgent care clinics: Barnes Crossing, West Tupelo and Med Serve. Appointments are not available at those clinics, but it would allow staff members to call ahead for priority access. The final benefit would allow staff access to the patient portal, which will give them online access to some of their medical records. Patients can also use the portal to communicate some information with the clinics. They can request appointments and call in prescriptions.

The target date for starting would be Nov. 1 for TPSD staff and dependents. NMMC’s David Barber said the goal would be to provide greater convenience and access and help the district to have a healthier access.

Employees would have to be enrolled, potentially when they get flu shots.

Board member Joe Babb asks what advantage employees will get over someone off the street.

Barber said the patient portal has been rolled out but its penetration is low. The first two options would be exclusive to school district employees and their dependents.

Babb said he is appreciative of the community support for the district’s staff. “That is great and something we need to really publicize.”

Superintendent Gearl Loden said the district is currently giving employees six hours to go to doctor visits before they are docked and that the priority access will help.


Communications director Kay Bishop will now make a presentation about the district’s new website. It went live on Aug. 23. It is not yet the final design, which will be rolled in on Oct. 15.

The district has had training for district employees and for its 15 school webmasters. The athletic department will have its own website.

Bishop: “It is such an improvement, we think from the old website, but it is still currently under development.”

The web address is

The district also will have a mobile app for Android, iPhone, iPad.


Finance director Linda Pannell is making a report on ad valorem collections for the 2012-13 school year. The district collected 101 percent of its request for operations and 101 percent of its request for its debt.

Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon will now make a presentation about enrollment. The district has been logging its data on a weekly basis during August and has purged some of its data.

Overall, the district is now up 43 students from pre-K through high school. It also will open a new class at ECEC with a grant that will rise enrollment by about 20 students.

For projected enrollment, the district is within 15 students of its projected numbers for K-12.

The district had the largest class to ever graduate from Tupelo High last year, and enrollment at the school is still up by 91 students after losing that class, Dillon said.



Dyslexia coordinator Cepia Buchanan will provide an update on the district’s dyslexia efforts. It held a four-week camp during the summer using the Barton Reading program. Thirty one K-6 students attended the four-week camp, and 10 had perfect attendance.

Early identification is key, Buchanan said. The TPSD is using Dibels to screen students. Those who show dyslexic tendencies may immediately be placed in the Barton program, she said. Kindergarten students are screened in the fall and first graders in the spring.

On the screener for this year, 45 percent of first-grade students in the district were flagged. That number included 36 percent at Carver, 38 percent at Joyner, 55 percent at Parkway and 50 percent at Thomas Street.

Those are students who took the first-grade readiness assessment. They look at  specific skills, such as their ability to give target number of correct letter sounds, etc. These are not necessarily  non-readers, Buchanan said. More than half of the students highlighted on the test are reading, and some of them are advanced readers.

The district will take the students flagged on the test and work with them individually to see who needs extra help.

The number also includes students who are ELL or have individual education plans, she said.

“This is why early interventions are key,” Buchanan said.


Test coordinator Lea Johnson will make a presentation about the new state and federal accountability model.

She said she is excited about the new model because it will focus on growth.

Even though this is the model schools will be judged on for this year, it has not yet been officially approved, Johnson said. It may not even be approved until the State Board’s October meeting, she said. She said districts have been told they may not know their targets for this year until December.

The way growth will be measured has been totally changed, she said. Basically if students move up a level (from minimal to basic to proficient to advanced) or if they move from low to high within a level they will count toward growth.

For elementary and middle school grades, schools will be judged in seven categories:

* The percentage of students proficient and above in reading, math and science
* The growth of all students in reading and math
* The growth of the lowest 25 percent of students in reading and math
(Growth will not be counted for science)
Loden: “This model will force us to focus on every child.”
The proposed level would reward an A for 518 points.
B: 455 points
c: 400 points
D: 325 points
F: Less than 325
Also, schools must test at least 95 percent of their students or they will drop a level.
For High schools,they will be judged by 11 categories:
proficiency for reading, math, science and U.S. history test.
Growth for all students in reading and math
Growth of the bottom 25 students in reading and math
The 4-year graduation rate of all students
Acceleration participation/proficiency (number of students who take and are proficiency on AP, IB or dual enrollment tests/classes)
ACT score
ACT has not yet been included because the legislature would need to pass a law requiring it. Johnson said the hope is that it would also provide funding, if it requires it.
Johnson: “All of this will be going out for public comment.” She would like to see people lobby for that funding for the ACT
Tupelo will give the ACT to all of its juniors in March and will also provide the test to all of its seniors or 10th graders.
The cut scores, based on the full 11 points are:
A: 762 points
B: 687 points
C: 595 points
D: 461 points
F: Less than 461 points
Also schools would have to test at least 95 percent of their students or they would drop a level.
Johnson said running the rough data in the new model, THS would have been on the border between and A and a B.
She said the elementary model seems pretty firm, but the high school model is still flexible.
Another change, Johnson said, is that students will now count toward the district where they were enrolled for 75 percent of the days from Sept. 1 until the first day of testing. That will make it much simpler to determine where to count students who move during the year, Johnson said.
This model would be used for MCT2 and Subject Area Tests for this year and for the new Common Core tests next year.
Loden said all schools will be guaranteed their 2013 ratings in 2014, but they can improve their ratings if they do better.
Loden said scores will likely drop during the transition to Common Core.
Babb asks where Tupelo has an advantage on this model. Johnson said the AP classes will help. She said the tutoring the school is doing during its T-period will also help it see growth with the bottom 25-percent of students.
Loden said the district has been working for two years now on a plan to improve its ACT scores. He said he likes the new model.
“This is about being well-rounded. You can have good test scores, but you also have to do well in AP and dual enrollment and ACT scores. You can’t just focus on one area,” he said.
1:06 p.m.
The board will reviews the consent agenda and superintendent’s report.
Pannell presents the first financial statement for the new school year. It is for the month ending in July.
At July 31, the district had received about 3 percent of its budget and it had spent a little over 2 percent.
Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell will present a proposed amendment to the district’s attendance policy. It reflects the new state law that a student needs to be present for 63 percent of the day to count as present. 4-H and FFA activities will now be counted as excused absences, and principals will be able to grant excused absences for educational trips.
Now Ezell is presenting a first-reading of new policies based on the new state literacy act and on speech-language screening. The policy reflects the new third-grade literacy gate. The other policy allows screening for first-graders for speech language disorders.
Personnel director Jim Turner is now presenting the personnel report.
1:13 p.m.
Loden will now make a report. HE said that accountability rankings will be released on Friday and that the district has signs prepared to go up. There will be other good things going on in buildings, he said.
On Saturday, the city and CVB are hosting a TPSD Staff Appreciation picnic at Fairpark between 11 and 2. “We are really excited about the day, and we have a special banner that will be unveiled.”
The district will soon implement Blue and Gold Fridays, he said.
Next month, athletic director Andy Schoggin will make a presentation about the athletic department.
He said the district is working with attorney Kelly Stimpson on some new discipline policies.
Before the Nov. 19 board, meeting, the board will have a work session to discuss the building and grounds plan and will discuss the Hancock Learning Foundation.
Hudson said he is excited to see the community and school district coming together and that Saturday’s event will be a good opportunity to celebrate the work of each.
1:18 p.m.
Community liason Mary Ann Plasencia presents an updated list of the district’s goals, which will be voted on tonight.
It reflects two changes from last month’s draft.
Changes Goal 1-J: district will meet or exceed growth.
Goal 1-L: Included different levels of National Merit including Semifinalist, commended student and National Achievement Scholar
Hudson talks about goal 2, improving discipline. HE talks about referrals as one measure and said feedback from surveys will be helpful. He said if referrals decrease, it could be a good indicator or a bad indicator, depending on the other side of it. He would like to see a way to look at that objectively and evaluate how the district is doing against itself, whether parents, teachers and students feel good about the school environment. Whether referrals are going up or down, that indicator (feedback) can provide a better indication.
He said it is not as objective as a test score and he is struggling to find the best measurement. Just like one score on one test isn’t the best measure for the complete picture of how the district is doing academically.
He said anecdotal, it feels like the district is doing better with discipline, but he wishes he had a broader view of that and an objective measure.
Plasencia said the district has explored the PRIDE survey, which seems to be a good tool and is one the state of Alabama has used. She said that may be a good tool to get a pulse and is one the district can use every year.
Hudson said if we feel good about the environment and if teachers then said yes, I feel support from my administration, he would feel better.
Loden: He has used the PRIDE survey before and it is well-rounded. It has been a few years since he has used it and he would want to review it. There may be a better tool. “If we can find a nationally-recognized survey that is reliable, I would like to use it.”
The district has some of its own surveys it uses, but it would like a more formalized survey.
Hudson said the district can evaluate itself over time, but it needs to make sure it asks the right questions.
Plasencia said it may cost money but it might be a good investment.
Babb said for some members of the community, school environment is as important as test scores and that the district really should make it a measurable indicator. “I really see that as important, and I would like to see something in there before we finalize this document.”
Hudson said to have it in front and have it something we focus on and look at over a certain period of time is important. He said he really appreciates looking at trends. He said Dr. Loden and his team have really focused on this and the upside would be to be rewarded for the good work.
Plasencia said the district also doens’t want to be reactionary with its goals but wants to remain out in front on these issues.
Hudson said he doesnt want to hold up the goals but they may need to do some research on the right indicator.
Babb said maybe they can approve as is while looking to put something else in place to finalize that part of the equation. Hudson said he agrees with that.
Loden said the district can look at the PRIDE survey and if it is not the best tool, it will then look for something else.
Hudson said he will be most interested in where the results go over time. The first round, you don’t know what you can get, but it can be used by administrators to develop a plan.
The PRIDE survey is aligned for parents, students and teachers, Plasencia said. It takes about 45 minutes to administer, she said. She said it is definitely a tool worth looking at.
1:33 p.m.
Pannell will make a presentation about investment counsel and management.
“As we look at our school funds and we are getting very little interest with them sitting in the bank,” we are looking at what we can do to get more when we have money in the bank. She said law now gives districts more flexibility for investing. She said this possibility was recommended at several state conferences.
Firm is Smith Shellnut Wilson. Alan Leach is making a presentation. He is their sales manager.
They do work for the Mississippi School Board Association, he said. They did a presentation at the MSBA conference about confidently investing school funds.
They will build a customized portfolio for the district that would allow it to be as aggressive or conservative as it likes. It will present a template but allow the district to differ from it.
He said the company makes no broker fee on an investment. The only money it makes it based on the fee the district agrees to pay it at the beginning for managing its money.
He said this is not about education, but it is about management of the district. Core fee is 1/8 of 1 percent of the value of the portfolio being managed, with a minimum of $1,000 a month. District would never be co-mingled with any other district.
He said the company offers: Independent, fee-based expertise.
He said they work with several school districts. Several of them are listed as references.
Babb asks about investment risks of taxpayer money and what if there is a down turn. He asks what he Leach sees on the horizon.
Leach said that what school districts can invest in is specifically set out in state law. He said districts can be as aggressive or conservative as they like. He said right now the market is problematic because rates are going up so the value of securities are going down (I think I worded that right; he was talking quickly).
He said they will not buy any security with the intention to sell it. They would hold until maturity so the district will get its full amount and interest. The goal would be to never sell back on the general market. They would have some liquidity available and the interest could be drawn down.
“At this point in time, the markets are real dangerous” which is more reason to have a professional involved, he said.
Districts they manage are earning between 1.25 or 1.5 percent, he said. The tradeoff is they have to manage the market volatility. So they would buy to hold until maturity so they wouldn’t be in position of having to sell something at an inopportune time on the market.
Loden would like to have Babb and Hudson, with their financial background, review investments before the district would proceed with it.
1:53 p.m.
Board will go into executive session.