Tupelo School Board 02.11.14

Today’s Tupelo School Board meeting is about to begin. All five board members are present.

The meeting has been moved to the district’s central office because of the winter weather that caused the cancellation of school. It had originally been scheduled to be held at the Hancock Leadership Center.

Also the meeting scheduled to be held tonight at 5 p.m. at Lawhon has been cancelled. The recognitions set to be held tonight – including the announcement of the district’s Teacher of the Year – will be moved to the March meeting, March 11.

The change also means the board will vote on agenda items during this noon meeting.

12:15 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Kim Britton is making a presentation about the district’s training program for new teachers.

Makeup of new teachers includes:

24.6 percent advanced degrees

73.7 percent traditional certification

44.6 percent were fresh out of universities

They were trained before the year on several new district programs. All teachers new to the district were given mentors who have worked with them throughout the year.

New teachers were surveyed on how the district can retain new teachers. The top three responses were to increase pay, add more mentors and keep perks like the Wellness Center benefit.

Britton said the district needs to spend more time training its mentors. She said principals choose the mentors based on the experience they provide at that school – are they effective, good, quality teachers. It also could be based on grade level or the subject they teach.


12:17 p.m.

Tupelo High  Principal Jason Harris will make a report about the school’s efforts to improve student’s PSAT scores and have more National Merit Finalists.

PSAT is Preliminary Scholastic Apptitude Test. It is used for National Merit selection.

THS tests all freshman students and uses that to set baseline data. That gives students a score that can predict Advanced Placement potential.

Harris: It is one thing we can use to boost our rate of AP classes.

About a 200 to a 202 in Mississippi will determine if you are a NM Semifinalist, Harris said. THS uses those with a 150 and above to work with and boost their scores. With the block schedule, the school added a 9-week PSAT prep class led by April Friar. The 9-week class led to an average of a 45-point gain for students.

Trend data shows the school has improved in some areas and stayed the same in others. Harris said he hopes that as they continue the class and get more students to take it, they will see more gains.

Superintendent Gearl Loden said Tueplo is one of the few districts that pays for all ninth graders and some 10th graders to take the test. It will soon pay for the juniors to take it too.

“We believe we are a couple of years away from having a couple of National Merit Finalists.”

Harris said it looks like THS will have a NM Semifinalist next year and could have a couple of commended students, depending on where the cutline falls. Those who are selected are not announced until the fall.

This is the first year THS has offered a tutorial class for the PSAT, Harris said. They followed a model used by Madison Central.

It is a nine-week class, so students can couple it with another elective on the back end. It leads right into the October test.

Harris said he thinks the newness prevented a lot of students from taking it this year, but when the scores came back and they saw the score gains of those who took the tutorial class, others wished they had taken it. They will now work to spread the word of the average 45-point gain to convince others to take it next year.

Loden notes that being a NM Semifinalist can lead to $30,000 in scholarships.

Board member Eddie Prather asks if there is an opportunity for counselors to meet face-to-face with parents to convince them to put their children in the tutorial class. Harris said one counselor did that but that hopefully the success will make it easier to convince more next year.

12:30 p.m.

Board approves the consent agenda. Board approves the claims docket.

12: 33 p.m.

Finance director Linda Pannell will make a presentation about financial reports. Projected fund balance for all funds at the end of December was more than $12 million.

Board accepts the financial reports.

12:38 p.m.

Personnel director Jim Turner presents the personnel report. It includes the retirement of Dr. Derwood Tutor, the director of the Hancock Learning Center. It is the second retirement for Tutor, a former principal in the district. Tuner notes that Tutor has been working since his first retirement for longer than Turner has been in the district.

Board approves the report, including Tutor’s retirement.

12:42 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell is presenting policy changes. One is on student religious liberties. The policy reflects the language of Senate Bill 2633, which was passed in 2013.

Board attorney Otis Tims said he thinks it will be beneficial to the district to have a policy so specific and that the requirements by the law spell things out clearly. He said it addresses public forum expression and that the policy allows same expression of religious thoughts as it would of school spirit thoughts. He said it eliminates many questions of what might be appropriate and notes that it is an even-handed way to approach it.

THS Principal Jason Harris said it doesn’t change much the way Tupelo has handled its graduation speakers in the past.

Tims notes the new policy is required by law. This is just a first reading, meaning the board must have a second reading of the policy before it is approved.

12:48 p.m.

Ezell now asks the board to rescind a policy on student disciplinary hearings because its language has already been included in another policy. Board approves.

12:49 p.m.

Loden said that the district has a calendar it would like to submit for the board for approval. It has been vetted by multiple people he said. They would change it if the Mississippi House and Senate rescinds the school start date law. Right now, the law mandates schools can not start until the third Monday in August. It starts this year. If that law is repealed, Loden said, the district may come back and ask to move its start date back to its normal start date, in the beginning of August.

The calendar version being recommended will have the traditional spring break. The district had at one time considered combining its spring break with Easter break, but this version will keep those holidays separate. Loden said that is what other local school districts seem to be leaning toward doing. Also the traditional spring break will keep the district aligned with community colleges and universities. He said community members also favored

Board member Joe Babb asks Harris about the impact of pushing first semester exams after Christmas break. Because of the later start date, the district will not be able to fit those exams before Christmas.

Harris said when he was in Virginia they started school after Labor Day so they were used to that. He said he is not a proponent of having the tests after Christmas, but they will make due.

“We’ll be fine,” Loden said. “It will just take a year or two to adjust to it.”

The board approves the presented calendar, which will start on Aug. 18 and include the traditional spring break.

Board member Ken Wheeler notes that the district is working toward pushing kids to college and that he watches his son in college and he is needing to study during Christmas break.

Superintendent Gearl Loden will make a report.

He notes the State of the City speech was moved to Feb. 24. He notes the upcoming Mississippi School Board Association conference and the National School Board Association conference in New Orleans.

Loden said Assistant Superintendent Matthew Dillon has been working hard with principals to review discipline approaches in the district. He will make a presentation in March.

969 families attended the district’s Open Houses, Britton said. About 500 of those were Tupelo Middle and High School and the rest were Pre-K, elementary school and Milam.

Harris: “To have a thousand families says a lot about the commitment of our families reaching out to us…Some of the nights were cold and nasty and still they attended.”

Loden is speaking about the new accountability model. He said the district is seeing about half-level band drops in school grades. But the Common Core assessments could lead to even bigger drops. Districts will be able to retain their current rating for two years, but Loden said it will take the new accountability results seriously to compare to other schools in the state and see where it can make improvements.

Loden said the district will look at making changes to algebra so that students have two hours with the same teacher for algebra.

“We believe with what we’re planning, our eighth-graders will be second to none and will have a good foundation for calculus,” Loden said.

Loden said only a handful of students are taking AP tests so the district wants to look at ways to get more students to take them. Scores are not what the district wants now, but it is hard to get a true indication since so many students aren’t taking the test, he said.

Loden notes that several high school teachers in the district will go to national conferences this year and more teachers will get trained for AP.

Loden notes that THS teacher Jeramy Turner was on national TV yesterday talking about his weight loss aided by the district’s wellness benefit. Loden said it was neat to see him on TV and hear him talking about the district.

Loden notes the House bill that would change school board members from appointed to elected.

Prather asks about budgeting to pay for students to take AP tests.

Harris said they are trying to grow two things at one time, dual enrollment and AP. So it is trying to nail down those numbers. Right now the school has 838 seats right now in AP students. It offers 20 AP classes. It offers students a path to earn an AP International Diploma but to get those, students need to take those assessments.

Loden said it would cost $50,000 to $60,000 to pay for those tests. I didn’t understand if that was for all students or for those who are Free and Reduced Lunch.

Board member Sherry Davis and Loden are talking about the way high school science classes are organized, noting that it might make more sense to offer them in a different order – rather than alphabetical order.

Next month, there will be a new board member Oath of Office and the board will vote on officers. The board will recognize its Teacher of the Year and its Parent of the Year at its next meeting in March. Loden said there will be 198 recognitions at that meeting.

As for the new board member, Prather’s term expires at the end of this month. Mayor Jason Shelton has announced he will re-appoint Prather, but he still must get approval of the City Council.

The board votes to enter executive session.