Tupelo School Board 12.10.13

Today’s Tupelo School Board meeting has begun. New Board member Sherry Davis was just sworn in. She was joined by her husband, Johnny Davis, during while reciting the oath of office.

Four of the five board members are now present. Vice President Kenneth Wheeler is not here yet, but is on his way, Board President Rob Hudson said.

Several guests were present for Davis’s swearing in.

Anita Buchanan, the lead teacher of the Early Childhood Education Center, is providing an update on the ECEC, the district’s school for 4-year-olds. It now has 265 students, she said. This year, it is approximarely 63 percent free- and reduced-price lunch. That is an indicator of low-income students.

The district is using an OWL screener: Opening the World of Learning. She said the school has had success with its blending and sounds. It needs to work to improve writing, she said.

She said the number of children in minimal in math has improved. Math goes on throughout the day, she said.

Board member Kenneth Wheeler has arrived.

The ECEC is up to 96 percent parent participation, Buchanan said. That includes getting parents in to talk about their children and what they can do to increase the children’s abilities, she said.

The Early Beginnings Resource Center has had more than 90 visitors since July. The center provides take-home educational resources for young children.

Last year’s students from the ECEC are scoring better as kindergartners than those kindergartners who did not attended the ECEC. That is according to common assessments taken after the first quarter, Buchanan said.

Buchanan is now showing the results of this year’s students on the OWL screener. Their scores have improved during the year in literacy and math.

Hudson notes that having the screener can allow teachers to make adjustments on the fly. He said it can really help the teachers with developing their lesson plan.

Hudson: “It is great to have a program and have a system of monitoring that is far from anecdotal. The data is telling us that ECEC is on the right track.”

Buchanan is showing a photo of a day in which a large number of dads visited the school to work with their children.


12:24 p.m.

Amy Ferguson will now provide an update on the district’s Response to Intervention program. Ferguson is the district’s RTI administrator.

The program is based on No Child Left Behind and IDEA of 2004, she said. The district is really focusing on the state’s new third-gate literacy law and making sure students get reading interventions early-on so they are prepared for it. They are really focused on the students in kindergarten to second-grade, she said.

She said the initiative focused on really looking at data and using it to guide instruction. RTI is used to make sure they meet the instructional needs of all students, she said. It also is used to determine eligibility for special education.

Tier 1 is where all students start. 80 to 85 percent of students fall into that category. Tier 2 is for students who need a little extra help. They get regular intervention. It includes 10 to 15 percent of students. Tier 3 is for those who need extra, intensive help. They get additional intervention. It is for 5-10 percent of students. Currently, Tupelo has 84 percent in tier 1, 9 percent in tier 2 and 8 percent in tier 3, Ferguson said.

The district’s goal is to be systematic district wide so students will see consistency in interventions as they move from one school to another.

In tier 1, students are screened three times using Classworks: in the beginning of the year, middle and during the spring.

Tier 2 is blended learning at the lower grades, she said. They use Classworks, but interventionists can stop the program and continue to teach more on the subject. Language interventionists work with the Barton program. They meet for 15 minutes three times a week with a review at weeks 5 and 10. If it is not predicted they will meet grade level, they can be bumped to the next tier.

Tier 3 is intensive intervention. The screener will diagnose weaknesses and give them a path to work on. They meet for 30 minutes every day. They parent is invited in to be a part of the program. If the student is still struggling with the intervention, they look to see whether they are eligible for special education.

Davis asks if the district has enough interventionists. Ferguson said they do not at all grade levels. They do at the lower levels, but at the upper grades they also use the Classworks program and make sure the teachers are closely monitoring the students’ use of the program.

The district has 7,305 students, Ferguson said. Tier 2 is 637 students and Tier 3 is 507 students. That goes all the way up the high school, including students who need extra tutoring for passing state tests.

The interventionists have quarterly meetings as a district team. Ferguson meets with those in each building weekly. And monthly they will look at progress of each student.

As the year progresses, more students need interventions, Ferguson said. They begin the next year where they left off.

Hudson: how do we know our program is successful or improving over time.

Ferguson: We look at the number of students who receive special education services. Some students only need a little intervention and return to tier 1. Others come back and need more intervention.

Each time a universal screener comes through, they see how many students. They need to watch and see how many students are repeated and which ones just get a little help and return to tier 1. The district is a little higher in tier 2 and tier 3 by about 3 percent, she said. She thinks that is because of Common Core coming in and the district is being more proactive with literacy skills in younger grades.

Superintendent Gearl Loden said assistant superintendent Kim Britton performed an internal audit of its RTI program to look for ways to improve. He said across the district every building is strong but they’ve also identified ways from improvement.

12:41 p.m.

The Tupelo High School Madrigals have just entered the board room to sing Christmas songs of the middle ages. I believe this is the second or third year they have done this during the December board meeting. They all are dressed in clothing of the middle ages. I counted 24 students. They sang three songs and then another as they departed.

Director Suzy Williams said this is the group’s busy time of the year. By Dec. 20, they will have performed 25 times (i think she said 25).


12;49 p.m.

Personnel director Jim Turner will now do a presentation about the district’s participation in the Wellness Center benefit. It provides free membership at the Wellness Center for all TPSD employees.

1,029 staff are eligible to participate, Turner said. They now have 385 people participating, about 33 percent of those who are eligible.

Turner said the participation of the staff is increasing and the health is also increasing. The bottom line is to keep the teacher in the classroom on a more regular basis because more learning occurs when the same teacher is in front of students every day.

Turner said THS teacher Jeramy Turner had 28 visits during the month of May.

Turner is now addressing the board. He shows a picture of himself when he weighed 375 pounds in May 2012. Last week, he weighed himself at 173, last Monday morning. He lost 202 pounds.

“When y’all approved us to go to the gym, that was the turning point there were no more excuses.”

His son is 7 and goes to Parkway, he said. Turner went on a diet right before he was born, lost 87 pounds. First-time dad, life went crazy, gained it all back and then some. When his daughter was born, 2 or 3 years ago, tried it again but didn’t.

Last year, he bet students he would lose 80 pounds by graduation. He lost 110 pounds. He needed to buy a new sports coat for graduation.

In April, he started a couch to 5K…In July he ran his first 5K in about 26 minutes…it placed him in the 60s of 300 something runners…he was glad to finish is July in Mississippi….in September he ran his second 5K and was first in his age division…The Huffington Post did an article on his weight loss…He said weight watchers worked but he needed something else to get him through it and the gym was that.

Turner said he lives in Guntown and he is able to use the gym in two places, the one in Tupelo but also the one in Baldwyn.

He went from 33 percent of body fat to 7 percent. He lost 55 percent of his weight, so he is less than half of the man he once was, he said.

He said he did a live webcast on Huffington Post.

“You can see how much of an impact this has made on my life, my kids, my wife.”

He now has more energy. Less lower back pain. He used to have to miss a week of school every year because of his back issues and he doesn’t have to do that any more.

He said the benefit is a reminder to him that he is working where he needs to be, that he is in the right district.

Board member Eddie Prather asks how the district lets teachers know about the benefit. Turner said they sent several emails in the beginning but that they need to continue to “beat the drum.”

Loden is recommending the district extend the benefit for another three years for $95,445 annually. He said the district’s workman’s compensation costs have decreased by $200,000 during the past year.

The board approved the consent agenda, including the extension of the wellness benefit.

1:12 p.m.

The district approved its financial statements and claims docket. Now Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell is presenting about some board policy changes. Most of them involve language tweaks. They are related to the board’s switch to begin using the Mississippi School Board Association’s system.

On policy clarifies changes in student suspension procedure. The student has access to an informal hearing before a suspension of 10 days or fewer. For a longer suspension, they students have access to a due process hearing. That hearing can be appealed to the Board.

Board attorney Otis Tims said it is the rephrasing of language to put into policy what has been practice for a long period of time. Tims said he has gone through all of these changes and has discussed them with Dr. Ezell.

Board approves the policy with the changes.

Another policy outlines that discipline process. It goes from an informal hearing to a due process hearing. There used to be an initial informal conference then an initial informal hearing. Ezell said they combined those two steps because it basically was the same thing. She said they are streamlining and trying to better clarify the process. The informal hearing is the meeting between the student, parents and the principal.

The board is asking a few questions for clarification. Hudson asks when Loden becomes involved in the process. Loden said assistant superintendent Kim Britton is his designee who handles it. Assistant superintendent Matthew Dillon helps sometimes.

Hudson notes that the new policy shrinks the window of time parents have to appeal from five days to two. He said he wants to discuss with the board members whether that is a good move and still gives the parents enough time. He said he thinks it could be good to streamline. Britton said Pam Traylor, who handles discipline hearings, does a good job of guiding the parents through the process. Hudson said it is important to communicate the reason for shrinking the window is so the district can make a decision more quickly and not leave the child hanging out there.

Babb said he wouldn’t want the board to the reason for a delay. Ezell said they can include that as a procedure, having a special called meeting to have a hearing. Loden said that usually happens about once a year, when that is required, maybe by the holidays.

Loden said Dillon helps the different schools know what each other is doing, so penalties at the middle school are consistent with those at the high school, for example.

Tims said the discipline process works at the building level. It goes above that only when it is needed to determine whether it was fairly and consistently applied. The discipline process should stop at the building level, he said, unless someone thinks it is unfair. That is what the policy reflects, he said.

Board approves the policy changes.

A new policy is reduction in force policy. Ezell said she and district attorney Kelly Stimpson were surprised to discover that one wasn’t already in place. She said in the past the district has been able to avoid the need to do this, using attrition to cut spots when needed. She said this policy was written to do what is fair for teachers, as well as what is fair for students.

Hopefully we won’t ever need it, Ezell said, but we will something in place before it happens, rather than after the fact.

This is the first reading of the policy. The board must approve it a second time at its next meeting. Ezell said it would be reviewed by principals and the teacher advisory committee before the second approval. The board approves the first reading of the policy.

Loden jokes that discipline, dress code and calendar are the three big topics. The only one missing today is dress code. The board will discuss the calendar for next year shortly.

1:41 p.m.

Personnel director Jim Turner will now present the personnel report. The board approves it.

1:42 p.m.

Loden is now presenting the new calendar. It represents the new law that moves the start of school to the third Monday in August. Next year, it would be Aug. 18.

He said they are asking for parents and teachers to give feedback on whether they would prefer to have Labor Day or Columbus Day as a holiday. Because of the new start date, Labor Day would only be a couple of weeks into the start of school.

They will keep a week off for Thanksgiving because a lot of people travel to see family, maybe both sides of the family. Also, that is a time a lot of people use to go hunting, Loden said.

With the new calendar, they would have to have exams after Christmas break, right after students return. They would have off Martin Luther King Day, Good Friday, Good Monday, spring break and Memorial Day. Students’ final day would be May 29 and teachers would return on Monday, June 2. They are getting feedback on whether teachers would rather end on a Friday instead of a Monday. That would mean giving up the good Monday holiday.

Babb asks if there is any way to take exams before Christmas break.

Loden said they met with principals. They can do it at the elementary and middle school, but not at the high school because of Carnegie units. They only way they can do it is to have no holidays but Thanksgiving day. Some districts will do that, he said, but the local input he has gotten is that having a week at Thanksgiving is important.

Loden: As far as tourism on the Coast, the big holidays are Memorial Day, Labor Day and July 4th. You are really taking away Memorial Day as far as being an option and in some places you are taking off Labor Day.

The board will not act on the calendar now. Loden said he just wanted to present a draft to have it out there. They will take it back up in January or maybe in February.

Loden said he would like to have more local control on the calendar.


Now Loden will present a superintendent’s update. He said the district made a second round in its pre-K grant application. It should hear something before Christmas, he said. Loden said the district also learned it did not receive the federal Race to the Top grant. It is a very large grant, he said, and few receive it. Only one district in Mississippi has received it, he said. The district will try to improve its application for next year.


Board approves the purchase of four new school buses. Finance director Linda Panel said the district has money available from a past note. That money needed to be spend by March. The four buses will replace existing buses, she said.

“It will help our fleet considerably.”

1:54 p.m.

The board will enter executive session.