Tupelo School Board 01.20.15

I am live blogging from today’s Tupelo School Board meeting. Four of the five Board members are present and the meeting has begun. Board member Ken Wheeler is not here.

The meeting began with a presentation of the district’s Teachers of the Year for each individual school. Tupelo High English teacher April Friar was named the district’s Teacher of the Year. Milam Elementary Principal Paul Moton was named Administrator of the Year.

Assistant Superintendent Kim Britton is making a presentation about accountability and curriculum. Because I was interviewing Friar, I did not catch her entire presentation. She has talked about training the district has done and its emphasis on writing. She also spoke about the fact that as they move forward, the state accountability model is still being developed. It is like flying an airplane while it is still being built, Britton said. The model likely will still have a large emphasis on graduation, she said. She notes that a large percentage (I didn’t catch the number) of the district’s dropouts are students who did not spend their entire career in the district. She talks about student mobility, saying the district needs to be aware of that and the impact it has on student achievement. A large number of students come from rental properties, she said.

Superintendent Gearl Loden said that with Mississippi pulling out of PARCC, they are waiting to see what test will be used next year. Also, there is the possibility that the state and federal accountability models will be separated. They’re waiting to learn more about that.

Loden said the district had a graduation rate above 80 percent for the Class of 2014 and he believes they will have about 85 percent for the Class of 2015. Ezell said the large paperwork requirements are a reason for that.

12:50 p.m.

Athletic Director Andy Schoggin will make a presentation about athletics’ GPA and scholar athletes.

Schoggin: At the beginning of the year, athletics talks about winning on the field, in the community and in the classroom. Said the best dropout prevention program is a strong athletic, extracurricular and academic program that is well linked.

Last year, all varsity athletic teams met the criteria for scholar athlete teams. This year he thinks they will meet that again, although he doesn’t have information from track yet.

Schoggin notes funds coming from community sponsors to pay for the blue turf. They are going to initiate the process of using those funds, now in a CREATE account, to repay the low-interest bond the district got to buy the turf – so the field will be funded by community money, not district funds. Sponsors have agreed to make regular payments to the fund and Schoggin said they will soon initiate transferring the money.

12:56 p.m.

Finance director Rachel Murphree will make a presentation about ad valorem tax collection. Said it is in line with past years.

12:58 p.m.

Board will discuss consent agenda. It includes contractual agreements, donations, permission to accept grants, deletion of assets, student transfer report and an overnight field trip request. Board accepts the consent agenda.

Board had a question about the retirement of several old Macbook computers. Britton said when they take those computers out of circulation, they reuse any parts that can be reused. Britton said they just bought a handful of  new MacBooks for the high school and middle school.

1:02 p.m.

Board approves claims docket.

Murphree makes a presentation about bank reconciliation, statement of revenue and expenditures, cash flow statement, consolidated fund and November financial report.

Board approves the various finance reports.

1:09 p.m.

Personnel director Jim Turner is presenting the personnel report. Board approves.

1:11 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Diana Ezell will now make a presentation about revisions to existing school board policies. She has 18 revisions to be reviewed and approved. They are regular updates, and the changes are small, mostly updating to reflect new state laws or current staffing. One of the policies limits the number of exchange students at Tupelo High School to five students. Ezell cites the large paperwork requirements for such students as a reason for the change.

Board approves policy updates.

Next Ezell will discuss healthy school policies for each school. District is required to update those policies annually, Ezell said. Each school has a school wellness committee that meets three times each year and developed these policies, she said.

Board approves.

1:20 p.m.

Assistant superintendent Eddie Peasant will now bring four student discipline cases. Board approves administration’s recommendations.

1:24 p.m.

Executive director of facilities Andy Cantrell has a presentation. He has a change order that lowers the price for the flooring work that was done at Carver Elementary, as well as a certificate of substantial completion on that project. The Board approves each.

1:26 p.m.

Assistant Superintendent Eddie Peasant will speak about a comparison between average daily attendance this year and last year. He notes the 63-percent rule began last school year.

Months two and three – Octover and November – are the months used to determine funding. District’s ADA for the fall was about 94.8 percent, Peasant said. Looks like this year was slightly lower than last year.

Tupelo High had the largest dip from last year to this year. Board member Rob Hudson asks if there is a reason for that. Peasant said district makes decision to keep students who do not show up on the role because they want to continue to try to reach those students and get them graduated, but until they return they count against ADA. In December, there was a low ADA at the high school, Peasant said. Some of that is because of exam exemptions and there also was a lot of flu, he said. But December doesn’t count for the funding mechanism.

Board member Eddie Prather asks if that was common across the state. Peasant said it is and that a lot of schools are discussing that and whether they should get rid of their exemption policies. Peasant said Tupelo decided to keep it – even though it hurts ADA – because it rewards students for working hard.

1:34 p.m.

Assistant superintendent Diana Ezell will present the discipline report. The district is down 6 percent in minor infractions. Given they changed the bus discipline ladder and elementary ladder, that is really good because they expected that to lead to an increase, she said.

Major infractions are down 68 percent. Ezell: I think that has to do with the good job the high school and Dr. Peasant did with the non-negotiables, training students on them and the videos done by the marketing department.

1:35 p.m.

Ezell will now present a second draft of the calendar.

Instructional staff would report July 28, instead of July 27 and students would report on Aug. 4 instead of Aug. 3. This draft would include the Labor Day holiday. The Friday before Christmas was a holiday but would now be a school day, as would President’s Day. Good Monday is now a holiday again.

Graduation moved from May 13 to May 20. Did that for two reasons. With snow days built into calendar, it would help meet accreditation standard and AP exams are that last week.

Calendar is just for review. Board expected to vote on it in February.

1:39 p.m.

Informational reports:

Communication Director Kay Bishop: This semester had 4,033 students make either A- or A- and B-honor roll. That is 56 percent…1,457 students will receive letters from Dr. Loden for all-A academic achievement. Increased by 566 students this 9-weeks.

1:40 p.m.

Board attorney Otis Tims will make a presentation about naming of school facilities. Said board created policy 14 years ago. Originally, nearly all schools were named for geographic areas. Exceptions: Milam was named for former superintendent (led when former building was destroyed by tornado and fire), Carver and King were named for African American leaders (they both served African American students before integration) and Lawhon (was named before it came into the district, named for prominent family in East Tupelo…The school used to be part of East Tupelo).

In 2001, board made a policy that allows it to name any school or portion of any building for any deceased person or a former educator.

District has received a request to name the Civic Auditorium at Tupelo Middle School. TMS Principal Kristy Luse has asked the board to appoint a committee to give its input and recommendation, as the policy advises. The request would name the building after Bill Rieves, who spent 38 years in education in Mississippi, including 34 in Tupelo. He was a principal, assistant superintendent and acting superintendent.

The policy calls for the board to name a committee to study the issue.

Board member Sherry Davis notes that building naming issues are very sensitive.

Tims notes there are not very many such cases in Tupelo. The auditorium at the PAC is named, as well as the auditorium at Church Street School. Davis said that if they change the name here, they feature the names of those auditoriums as prominently, out of respect.

The board will table to recommendation until its February meeting to take more time to review and work through the policy.

Prather asks if there is a timeline. Tims said there is not.

1:48 p.m.

Tims will make a presentation about possible long-term construction planning. He notes board policy FC. There is a question of how that policy affects planning and renovations.

The district has a large number of feet of roofing that needs to be considered for renovation, Tims said.

FC was adopted in 2001, two years after a then record-setting $29-million bond issue. It is exceedingly vague, Tims said. He doesn’t think it has any application to most of the current discussions about long range planning for facilities and discussion because it was written in another time when standards were different, he said. It is a very vague policy. He would recommend that the district appoint a committee to review the policy and consider it it wants to maintain it.

Superintendent Gearl Loden asks if Tims feels comfortable rewritting the policy and Tims said yes. He said he needs to determine the intent of that policy. It calls for a committee to give input about the facility’s use.

Board member Eddie Prather said he recalls some of the discussions from that time and said he can talk to Tims about that. Hudson asks if the board would be comfortable if he, Prather and Tims worked on the policy and the board agreed.

1:54 p.m.

Hudson said the board discussed Loden’s evaluation last month. He had a follow-up conversation with Loden about the direction of the district. He said it was a good discussion and he appreciates the new process the board has developed for the evaluation, with guidance from the Mississippi School Board Association.

Hudson said they discussed a one-year extension to Loden’s contract. Board approves the one-year extension to Loden’s contract. Hudson said it is a vote of confidence.

Loden said at the next meeting they will have Parent of the Year, among other topics.

Prather asks for an update on graduation coaches at a future meeting.

1:58 p.m.

Board will go into executive session.