Tupelo School Board 11.19.13

Today’s Tupelo School Board meeting will begin shortly. The board also will meet again at 5 today at Joyner Elementary. It will discuss the agenda during this noon meeting and will vote during the 5:00 meeting. It also will recognize several students and teachers during the evening meeting.

All four current board members are present. The fifth spot is vacant following Board President Beth Stone’s resignation last month. Tupelo Mayor Jason Shelton has not yet announced his nomination to fill Stone’s spot. That nomination would then need to be approved by the City Council.

Board Vice President Rob Hudson will preside over the start of the meeting. One of the first items on the agenda is to elect new board officers. That will be one of the few items that will receive a vote during the noon meeting, rather than the 5 p.m. one.

The board has been here since 9:30. They held a work session, which I’ve live blogged about in a separate post. At that meeting, they heard a presentation from TPSD Athletic Director Andy Schoggin about a proposal to add blue turf to the Tupelo High School football field. Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon and Facilities Director Julie Hinds also made a presentation about past, current and future construction projects.

12:34 p.m.

The meeting has begun. They now will elect officers.

Board attorney Otis Tims is addressing the board about the election in different circumstances, following Stone’s resignation. Board policy requires the election of officers each year in March and says each serves for a year or until a successor is elected. It allows for vacancies to be served by the board.

He said the board has a choice. It can allow Hudson to serve as presiding officer in his role as vice president. Or it can elect new officers.

Board member Eddie Prather said either way is fine. He said maybe they should wait until the March elections since there would be a full board then.

Tims said the only reason for having president is that there are several things that require the signature of the board president.

Hudson said it might make sense to vote now and then re-vote in March. Tims said there is some value to having someone hold title of president.

Board choses to elect new slate of officers. Tims now will conduct the election. Hudson has been elected board president. Ken Wheeler was elected vice president. Wheeler had been serving as secretary.

Joe Babb was elected as secretary. All three elections were unanimous.

The board is now making a presentation about its trip to the Mississippi School Board Association fall conference. All four board members attended.

Wheeler said he learned about using social media to communicate about the district. Board member Eddie Prather said it was beneficial to meet with legislators and also to talk with school board members from other top performing board members.

Babb said he learned about being an advocate. He said a board member is a bridge between the district and community and that there are a lot of opportunities to be an advocate. He said they need to defend public education and that 90 percent of American children are in public schools. He said it energized him on that point.

Superintendent Gearl Loden said it was helpful to have the entire board there.

Hudson said it allowed board members to meet outside of the meeting and to get to know each other better. He said it helps them to become better board members.


12:47 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell will now make a presentation about bully awareness. Loden notes that Ezell has recently completed her doctorate.

The distirct has a “Talk About It” software program in grades 7 through 12 where students can communicate with administrators. During the first 9 weeks, they have 39 communications between students and administrators. Those aren’t all bullying. It includes stress, bullying, discipline, smoking complaints and other communications.

Ezell said 39 communications are not very many. She said some students used it to communicate with THS Principal Jason Harris about a football game.

Ezell said last year one student was considering a suicide and the “Talk About It” program helped prevent that. The one incident was worth the investment in the program, she said.

They are going to re-do the website with a video produced by students she said.They also have posters to promote the program. There also is a number that people can text at football games with concerns, including bullying incidents. No one has used it to report bullying yet, Ezell said.

“With all of the attention that cyber bullying is getting, we wanted to give our students an avenue if they feel bullied,” Ezell said.

Hudson said he likes that it gives options to communicate for students who don’t want to go tell an adult. Ezell said they can communicate anonymously or can provide their name.

Ezell said bullying isn’t new but it has changed with cyber bullying.

12:53 p.m.

Ezell will now make a presentation about discipline incidents over three years. The last two years include the new required overnight required conferences.

Ezell said overnight conferences are required after so-many unexcused absences, a stream of tardy, a minor discipline issue they want to nip in the bud or anything unusual. They want to meet with the parents to address the issue, Ezell said.

The middle school is a little higher this year than last year in the number of required conferences, Ezell said, but that is because a new law required some conferences about immunization. If a student didn’t bring their immunization form, they needed to have an overnight conference.

Without the conferences, middle school had 278 incidents this year compared to 250 last year.

I don’t have the data for other schools. The district-wide number of overnight required conferences during the first quarter fell from 782 last year to 512 this year.

Ezell said parental attendance at the conferences has been good.


1:01 p.m.

Federal Programs Director Anna Guntharp is speaking about an $88,700 grant from Toyota that allowed the district to add a class to its Early Childhood Education Center. It was a class of 20 students.

The district has five students on its waiting list, Guntharp said.

Prather asks how the district gets in touch with parents of 4-year-old parents to let them know about the ECEC. Guntharp said it does that in the spring. Because it has a waiting list and more interested students than slots available, it doesn’t aggressively advertise.

1:04 p.m.

Community liaison Mary Ann Plasencia is making a presentation about the district’s efforts to expand eBooks. She said it is a digital replica of what is in print and the books look just like the print books do.

They will have different carts or buckets. One for K-2, another for 3-5, another for 6-8 and one more for 9-12.

In 9-12, most of them are required reading books that are required throughout the year and during the summer. During the year, they can use them on their laptops. During the summer (when students don’t have the district laptops) the student would need a device to access them.

Plasencia said this is a way to leverage more resources. She said once the district purchases the eBook, it would permanently own the rights to it. It is looking at purchasing 25 to 30 copies per grade-level grouping. The book also has several tools, she said, like allowing students to pick out the nouns or to highlight and take notes. It also contains a dictionary that would provide age-appropriate definitions of words students click upon.

Titles would be posted on the website and students will be able to click on a link for the book they want. There would be so many copies available.

Students could read the book on a tablet, in addition to a computer. She said there is a default check out time (maybe a week or two) where the copy of that book could be checked out by another student.

Plasencia said they are looking at maybe 150 books, maybe a little more. They will use some federal programing money to supplement the purchasing of these books.


Hudson is noting the items on the consent agenda. The board will vote on it tonight.


1:13 p.m.

Finance director Linda Pannell will now make a presentation on financial statements. About 19 percent has been received and about 20 percent spent, through September.

1:15 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon presented the discipline report. It includes expulsion of three students in the alternative school.

1:17 p.m.

Human Resources Director Jim Turner is making a presentation on personnel.

1:20 p.m.

Loden will make his superintendent’s report. He said the National School Board Association conference will be in New Orleans, which could allow the board to attend.

The district will host a luncheon for its retirees on December 3.

The district is looking to hire seven of its best substitutes to use full time as substitutes. This is in response to a new law that the district would have to offer full insurance to any substitutes who average working three days a week. This would be to prevent having to add insurance to a large number of substitutes.

1:21 p.m.

The district will play a new video that will be shown during the advertisements at the Malco Movie Theater. In it, many groups of students say “We are TPSD.” It will start running Dec. 13 and will replace the add currently being used.

Dec. 18 will be the last day for students before holidays and Dec. 19 will be the last day for staff.

Loden said in December, they will have a report on how the district’s performance compares to last year, based on its common assessments.

The board will discuss its calendar for next year. Hudson is discussing the board retreat. During the past two years, it has met at Pickwick Landing for a day and a half. Hudson asks whether the board needs the same model or wants to switch it to a one-day model.

Hudson said they can decide later, based on the agenda.

1:30 p.m.

They now will discuss future agenda topics. Wheeler asks Loden to look into the possibility of an ROTC program. Ezell said the district once had a program but it has been a while.

The board now will go into executive session.