Tupelo School Board Meeting 1.17.2012

Meeting just began. Board will discuss its agenda at this meeting but will not vote. It will vote at tonight’s meeting at Thomas Street Elementary at 5 p.m.

School board vice president Eddie Prather just spoke about the superintendent search. He said that Mike Waldrop of the Mississippi School Board Association will make a presentation to the school board during a specially-called meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 10:30 a.m. The MSBA is the firm conducting the search and the report will outline all of the candidates who have applied. Prather said the report will be lenghthy, which is why Waldrop asked present it during a specially-called meeting when he would be the only item on the agenda.

Prather said that the board would begin conducting interviews after Waldrop’s presentation.

The board is discussing two options for next year’s school calendar. A link to both options is available on the agenda: https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicAgenda.aspx?ak=1000114&mk=50043021

Board members Rob Hudson and Beth Stone said that the disadvantage of option A is that students would have to take thrid-quarter exams immediately after spring break. Interim superintendent David Meadows said that the staff would review that.

Parents can give feedback on next year’s schedule by taking this survey on the district’s web site.

Testing coordinator Lea Johnson is presenting a new program this year in which nine retired teachers are tutoring Tupelo High School students who have failed the state test. The students who have worked with the retired-teacher tutors have passed the state test at a 30% rate, while those who have previously failed the test and weren’t tutored passed at a 10% rate. Johnson said that the district is also saving money by using these retired teachers instead of the outside experts the district used in the past to help these students.

One algebra student went to seven sessions and raised her score from basic to advanced. Another tutor saw every student that she worked with on the writing test pass that test.

TPSD testing coordinator Talina Knight said that three students who had previously graduated as completers have come back this fall, passed their state test and received a diploma.

Knight said that as the group of students who have failed the state test gets smaller, they will try to use these tutors to help students who have not previously taken the test but need extra help.

Johnson is speaking about analysis the district did on its achievement gap from its common assessment that it gave to its students during the fall.

Meadows said he appreciated the attention that has been called to the district’s achievement gap.

“I appreciate calling attention in our community to a real problem our principals and teachers are working to address,” Meadows said. “Sometimes we forget the main thing.”

Meadows said that on the common assessment the district has begun to see a slight decrease in the size of the gap. He notes the work teachers did over the summer to rewrite the curriculum and create guides to pace teachers as they teach that material.

Meadows: “There are areas we don’t need to be proud of such as our fifth-grade science test. What I am happy about is this shows we have started that focus. We are in recognition of that achievement gap that exists among subgoruos of our studnets.” Further we are in recognition that we must strive for excellence that will help all of our children achieve at high levels. (That last sentence may be a slight paraphase. I didn’t get it precisely).

Meadows said that he believes the district will rise from its level of acadmeic watch.

Johnson said that the average gap in the district is 29 percent. She said some teachers didn’t have a significant gap and the district can learn from what they are doing. The data showed a gap in science and the district needs to look at that, she said. “It is what are we doing as a whole group and what are the weaknesses that we can all work on,” she said.

Johnson said it is important to have this in front of the district to cause them to focus on it.

This achievement gap data looks at the economically disadvanted subgroup. Meadows said he believes it important to focus on this subgroup because these students often have less access to vocabulary words and educational resources.

Johnson notes efforts two schools have done in addressing their gap. At Pierce Street, they have a program called “Gap time.” At Rankin, they have assessment tests to measure students every week.

Rob Hudson said that he feels the board should set the achievement gap as one of its goals because it would be a good marker of student achivement. Stone said at the same time, it must look that it is not just closing the gap but that it is also moving up students on the top. Hudson said he’d like to see achievement gap data with each common assessment. He also asked about science experts that can be brought into the district to help improve its numbers.

Johnson said that the scince teachers felt the way they structured the test each semester may have played a role in why those scores were lower. In other words, most of the science objectives on this test were the ones that are the harder objectives they will encounter throughout the year, more of the inquiry-based objectives.

Hudson said the district is using data differently than it has in the past, not just looking at it but using it as a guide in making decisions. He cited how Rankin principal Paul Moton has used it with teachers.

Meadows: “I can’t say enough about what teachers are principals are doing in using data and translating it into teachable information…The Tupelo Public School Distirct is moving forward thanks to the teachers and principals working to get us there.”

Prather said he wants the district to communicate what it is doing to close the achievement gap. Meadows said part of that will be continuing to bring reprots. He wil also ask principals to make connections with what they see in high-performing and star districts.

Assistant Superintendent Fred Hill is talking about changes to the graduation policy. Changes would be to allow students in the district’s alternative programs to follow state graduation guidelines rather than district guidelines. The district requires 26 credits. The state requires 24 credits and also allows parents to choose an opt-out clause that allows them to graduate with 21 credits. The alternative programs are for student mothers and for those who have fallen two academic years behind their age peers.

Board will vote on the policy tonight.

Hill is also asking the board to approve to out of state field trips. One is for the band to compete in a competition in San Antonio. Another is for the THS cheerleaders to compete in a national competition in Orlando. Board will vote on them tonight.

Board goes into executive session at 1:57 p.m. to discuss personnel matter.

The board will meet again tonight at 5 at Thomas Street Elementary.