Tupelo School Board 03.18.14

I will be live blogging from today’s Tupelo School Board meeting, which will begin shortly.

This is the annual “organizational” meeting at which the board will elect its officers, among other housekeeping items. There may be news about the new principal at Milam or the new special education director. The district was hoping to fill both positions at either this meeting or at its April one. Milam principal Travis Beard has announced his retirement and special education director Mary Ruth Wright announced she would be leaving the district for another job.

The board will discuss its agenda at this meeting and will meet again at 5 p.m. at Lawhon and will vote at that time. It also will name its Teacher of the Year at tonight’s meeting.

The meeting has begun and all five board members are present. They will vote shortly for new board officers. Given that they just re-elected board officers recently, following Board President Beth Stone’s resignation in October, I wouldn’t expect any changes. Normally, they rotate officers each year, but the current group has only been in its positions for a couple of months. Those are President Rob Hudson, Vice President Ken Wheeler and Secretary Joe Babb.

All of the district’s schools are now honoring the school board members for School Board Recognition Week. Normally that is held in February, but the district’s February meeting was held on a day when classes were cancelled because of winter weather. So the board recognitions were moved to this month.

Each school provided gifts to the board members. Principals, teachers and/or students are now reading remarks to the board.

Hudson said they have such an incredible team leading the district which makes what the board does enjoyable and rewarding.

12:25 p.m.

The meeting has now been called to order. Board member Eddie Prather takes the Oath of Office for his second five-year term.

The board will now take nominations for its officers. Wheeler nominates Hudson for president. Hudson is unanimously re-elected as president.

Now to vice president. Sherry Davis nominates Eddie Prather for vice president. Joe Babb nominated Kenneth Wheeler. Wheeler is elected vice president. Davis voted for Wheeler; I get the impression she meant to nominate him (keeping all officers the same). Wheeler was elected unanimously (except that he didn’t vote for himself but voted for Prather, so it was a 4-1 vote. He did that with a smile.).

Prather nominates Joe Babb for secretary. Babb is unanimously elected. All board officers will remain the same. (Again, the normally rotate officers each March, but the current group has only served in its positions since November, following the resignation of then-President Beth Stone, who stepped down in October to spend more time with her family. The group that was elected would have beenĀ  elected today on this normal rotational cycle had they not moved up earlier).

Board follows its organizational meeting agenda, appointing its legal counsel, person responsible for posting public notices, recording secretary, etc.

12:39 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell, THS Assistant Principal Art Dobbs and Pierce Street Assistant Principal Amy Barnett will speak about the district’s assistant principal academy.

It is designed to prepare them to one day be principals.

Dobbs talks about a meeting that prepared them for having difficult conversations with different stakeholders: principals, teachers, parents, students. Dobbs said he grew a lot as an administrator after that meeting and has applied much of it.

He also talks about an open floor discussion with issues faced by assistant principals. It includes their teacher evaulations.

Barnett said this fall all administrators in the district were able to participate in professional development led by former state superintendent Tom Burnham, now the interim director of Ole Miss’s principal corps program.

She said Burnham encouraged them to look at the personality traits in themselves that are working against them to not be the most effective leaders in their buildings and to consider how to work through that.

She said the training has been very beneficial.


Assessment director Lea Johnson will now talk about the state’s new accountability model. She said it now helps because they have answers from the state about how the model will look.

Every school that is an elementary or a middle school with science will have a model with 700 points. It will measure seven categories: reading, math or science proficiency, plus growth for all students in reading and math and growth of the lowest 25 percent in reading and math.

Loden said that the old model was ranked by Education Week as the 10th best in the nation. That model is gone now, he said. He said districts just got this model at the end of January. He said most schools are seeing their schools drop by about a level based on last year’s data, but the impact could be greater when districts begin taking Common Core tests. Those are expected to be more difficult and at least initially produce lower scores.

He and Johnson said the cut scores may be adjusted once test data is analyzed.

The high school model will have additional categories: proficiency in reading, math, science, US history, growth of all students in reading and math and growth of the lowest 25 percent in reading and math and graduation rate. That is nine categories. More categories will be added in the future.

The model has been approved by the state, Johnson said, but it must still be approved by the federal government before it goes into effect, she said.

Johnson said this model makes you look at every single kid. “Every single kid counts now in a way they didn’t under the old model,” she said.

She said overall she thinks the district will do really well on the model.

12:54 p.m.

Milam Assistant Principal Niki Peel will speak about the school’s Bring Your Own Device pilot.

Seventy five students are participating, she said, which is about 13 percent of the student body.

A variety of devices have been used. Most common has been iPhones.

The keys to success have been the Haiku Learning Management System, the computer carts in the classroom and Google Drive.

She said the carts help with the digital divide to make sure all students have access to machines. They also help with tech issues; if a student’s device is not working, they can use those chrome books and mac books that are in the classrooms.

Now she will show some videos with examples of the use in the classroom.

One talks about a writing assignment that linked Milam and high school students. The Milam students wrote their piece on the computer and uploaded it to Google Drive. The high school students then edited for them and made comments. The teacher said it make the students excited to write and to see what feedback they would get. Students interviewed on the video are talking about how they learned to write better, the importance of punctuation, the need to write shorter sentences, etc.

Peel said this is the tip of the iceberg on what can happen with Google Drive.

Sherry Davis asks about security. If it is not a school computer and it is an individual’s computer, is there a way of ensuring security (in case one is missing). Assistant Superintendent Kim Britton said they are responsible for their own computers. She said the district is able to track who is using the computer by the ID they input into the network.

Peel said the students who bring their own device are keeping up with it and taking care of their devices. She said they haven’t had many issues with that.

Prather asks if there have been any problems with the system crashing. Peel said a few but at Milam they haven’t had real issues, maybe if there is testing district wide.

Babb asks how they keep students from going to apps or places that aren’t school related. Britton said the district has a good filter. And when the student does an inappropriate search it registers and that device can be taken away.

Peel said teachers are very aware of what the students are doing and they do a good job of monitoring.

Britton said for testing, the district would prefer to use its own devices.

Britton said the district will open BYOD for grades 7 to 12 starting next year and students will be able to bring their own device. But they also will continue a one-to-one initaitve in those grades and will provide laptops for students. She said she expects more students to begin brining their own devices.

Babb asks if there is a disadvantage if students don’t bring their own device. Britton said no becuase they have ChromeBooks and MacBooks in the classroom. Peel said this allows students to personalize what they do and if they can’t afford a comptuer or don’t ahve one there, there is one available for them.



Assistant Superintendent Matthrew Dillon and secondary school principals will present about a curriculum update for next year.

Dillon said with Common Core there has been a change in course offerings from the state. Dillon said there will still be an advanced track, but some of the terminology has changed.

Milam Principal Travis Beard said the change at his school will be small. They will move World History down from seventh grade to sixth grade. The choices for courses will be the same, but they will teach a different social studies class. They will get the textbooks from the seventh graders

Milam will continue to have an advanced English Langauge Arts and math.

Middle School PRincipal Kristy Luse said they will continue traditional and advanced courses. They can now earn up to five high school credits, instead of the current three. Seventh grade students will take American history up to 1877. Eighth grade students will get math credit for 8th grade, spanish, ICT 2, Mississippi studies, geogprahy, advanced math plus.

There is a general track, an advanced track and an advanced-plus track that can allow them to get up to five high school credits before they are in 9th grade.

THS Principal Jason Harris will now speak. Algebra 1 will now be an all-year course, even on the block. They will take Quantified Studies in Algebra in the fall and algebra 1 in the spring. So they would get the equivalent of two years of math before taking the state test in the spring.

He noted something about science, but I didn’t catch it.

The school is working to increase its AP course offerings and dual enrollment course offerings. Courses such as comp 1, they will be able to teach in English 3 AP class becasue those two curriculums align.

He said the accelerated or pre-AP courses will no longer be taught if an AP course is offered. But they will be offered in 9th and 10th grade.

Harris said Mississippi studies and world geography will move down to 8th grade. That will allow them to work in some more economics and government courses and a few more options to prepare students before the US history test as juniors.

1:13 p.m.

Athletic Director Andy Schoggin and assistant AD Trent Hammond will nnow make a presentation.

Schoggin said they came late in teh fall to discuss ognoing upgrades and renovations. One is the upgrade to a synthetic playing surface. Since that time, the process has moved swiftly he said.

He said the process is moving on well as far as community support. A couple of things have been reinforced, he said. He and Hammond have learned they are not salesmen, but given the opportunity to talk about students and student atheltes and why they deserve best facilites, that has been the strogner message. He said they have had great community support and continue to hear from more organizations interested in participating.

Schoggin said they still have a little ways to go in fundraising but he feels confident they will reach the goal they set in the fall for financial contributions to make it happen.

Babb asks about the feedback on teh color, particularly among people willing to support financially.

Schoggin said it has been very positive. He said for one car dealer, the blue color was athe reason it wanted to be invovled. He said they haven’t heard negative feedback but most say this is what Tupelo needs and deserves where others wouldnt do as well with teh blue.

Hammond said the kids really want the blue, 8.5 out of 10 wanted the blue. He asked them why and they said it was to be different. He didnt understand that at first. He said when they went to Lafayette’s new turf, the kids had seen that green playing surface before and its wasn’t as exciting. He said there is a degree of excitement about the blue.

Prather asks how the sponsors would be recognized. Schoggin said they would have panels on the field advertising their business. There will be other things to market and promote them, maybe when they broadcast the games online. He said they are considering them legacy panels because you are leaving a legacy with your business.

Babb asks about the life of the turf. Schoggin said they ahve gotten waranties of 8 to 11 years. As much as they would use it, they would probably get about 12 years becasue they would have someone on it all the time.

Prather asks about installation. Schoggin said there are different ways to do it, but his preference would be a company from top to bottom that would oversee the whole process.

Schoggin said it would not be a contract with the sponsors but would be a pledge agreement.

Schoggin said normal maintenance of a grass field is about $40,000 a year. This field would cost about $4,000 a year to maintain. Would go over it with a machine to ensure its consistency.

Hudson asks about safety to the athlete on the two surfaces. Hammond said at first, turf was a concrete pad with carpet on top of it. Turf has come a long way. It is now a padded system, a rubber filled infil, he said.

When turf first came out, you saw a lot of knee injuries. Companies found the more fibers they had the more injuries they had the fibers were catching on shoes. Now they’ve remvoved some of those fibers so the athlete impacts the rubber now. He said there is no research on how much more likely you are on turf or grass to get a knee injury but that injuries seem to ahve gone down on the newer turf.

Schoggin said they have more control over the turf than they would over the natural grass field. He said they could provide the safest surface with turf.

PRather asks how other schools feel about their turf. Schoggin said they have been pleased. It maximizes time on field for activities, band, soccer. Number one, you want to provide time on it to get better and improve. He said no one who has installed one has gone back to a natural grass field. It gives consistency with lower maintenance and the ability to play on it longer.

Schoggin said a lot of various activities would benefit from the turf. For instance, he said baseball could have used the turf to practice last week when the field was soggy. South Panola could do that, he said.

Davis asks about how the MHSAA would feel about it. Schoggin said they have asked him with excitement about when they would get their turf field. It said it wouldn’t be a hinderance. Dillon said it would be an advantage to potentially host championship events.

Superintendent Gearl Loden said the football, track and (I believe) soccer boosters are pooling together to buy a sponsorship panel on the field.

1:30 p.m.

Finance director Linda Pannell will speak about the ad valorem report.

For February, the district was at 74.61 percent of their total request, which is higher than they normally are in February.

Pannell also said the audit is back. She will be contacting the committee for the exit interview and then will present to the board.

1:33 p.m.

Hudson is going over the consent agenda. Board will vote on it tonight. It includes permission to advertise for bids for the THS football field and track. Also contractual agreements, donations, permission to submit grants, student transfer report, readmission of student, field trip requests, etc.

1:35 p.m.

Pannell is speaking about the financial reports.

1:39 p.m.

Human resources director Jim Turner will now present the personnel report. A summary of this year’s hires shows 79 non-minority and 15 minority hires.

Superintendent Gearl Loden announced that Rankin Elementary Principal Paul Moton will become Milam Elementary’s Principal next year, replacing Travis Beard who will retire at the end of the school year. Tupelo High Assistant Principal Genevieve McAlpin will become the district’s special education director, replacing Mary Ruth Wright, who is leaving the district to take another job. Both moves must be approved by the school board tonight.

1:50 p.m.

Dillon is speaking about work the district is doing to refine the district’s discipline policy. They are looking a non-negotiable issues and how steps should be considered. They are looking at what their next step will be.

Once they make decisions and decide where they will go, they will have to communicate the changes, he said. That will be a critical part of the process.

When the district determines its non-negotiables, Dillon said, it must be bold about communicating them and saying Tupelo will not tolerate these things on its campuses.

Wheeler said they would like for it to be common knowledge that these are the things the district won’t accept and here are the consequences. He said there should be a clear plan for communicating that.

1:55 p.m.

Communication director Kay Bishop will now speak about the district’s marketing plan. It includes the new video that will be shown at the Malco. She said it is also available on the district’s YouTube channel, Official TPSD.

She said the video is fast-paced to give the best bang for their buck.


Loden: Ms. Ezell, let’s go back to the calendar for like the fifth board meeting in a row.

Ezell said she’s back with another calendar. She said that they are responding to the state House passing the Senate bill that would repeal the law preventing districts from beginning before the third Monday in August. They are monitoring to see if the governor signs that repeal.

Ezell said the new calendar would move everything up two weeks. The start date would move up from the 18th to the 4th. The holidays would be the same, spring break would be the same. Thanksgiving break and Christmas break would be the same. Students would finish before Memorial Day.

Loden said they would like to approve this contingent if the governor signs for the early start date. If not, they will leave it as it is. Board attorney Otis Tims said they can do that. Loden said that way they can get the new schedule out to parents more quickly. He said if the law is repealed, Tupelo would be at a disadvantage to start later than everyone else.


Bishop and Annabeth Wyatt show the district’s new marketing video. It features of montage of quick scenes involving students. Loden said he hopes it helps parents moving to the area to know more about the district.

2:01 p.m.

Loden said several board members will attend the National School Board Association conference in New Orleans.

Next month, the board will have a work session beginning at 9:30. The primary focus will be more curriculum updates and things they are seeing related to Common Core. They also will have building and grounds updates, plus handbook and discipline changes.

The district will honor its parent of the year next month.

The district will now enter executive session. They will reconvene at 5 p.m. at Lawhon for tonight’s meeting.

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