RANDY SHAVER: Tupelo district sets goals and expands courses

As we look forward to what this school year has in store, it is important to reflect on what we have accomplished in order to further build on that success. During my first year as superintendent, the Board of Trustees set the goal that our district needed to undergo an extensive curriculum audit; thus, we participated in the industry-standard Phi Delta Kappa Curriculum Audit.
The audit clearly identified the district’s strengths and weaknesses and gave recommendations for improvements that will increase student achievement.
As a result, we aligned the recommendations with the district strategic plan and developed individual school improvement plans that are currently being implemented.
Another Board goal was to increase rigor by increasing the amount of Advanced Placement (AP) classes offered while also increasing student enrollment in these challenging courses to 500 students. Tupelo High School added five AP courses for a total of 18 class offerings and increased enrollment in these classes to over 500. The Board would like to expand on this goal next year by offering 24 AP classes and encouraging even more student participation.
We also achieved the goal of transforming our schools into 21st century learning environments. The 1:1 learning initiative has equipped each 6-12th grade student with a MacBook, providing each student equal access to technology in and outside the classroom. Using the Haiku learning management system has given our 6-12 teachers the option to go paperless, with the ability to have students turn in assignments and take tests online. Haiku also allows for online learning communities for teachers, while also allowing parents to monitor their child’s assignments. Other technologies such as interactive white boards are used regularly at every school, and the lower grades are using various Apple learning tools in unique ways to further engage students.
Additionally, the newly developed School Improvement Department continues to work on aligning the curriculum while also compiling best practice references and recommendations on how to infuse lessons with technology.
As we strive to be student-focused, the board has set the goal to increase our graduation rate to 78 percent and decrease our dropout rate to less than 15 percent. To meet this goal, three new programs have been implemented: High School Advancement Academy, School- Aged Mothers Program, and Ombudsman. Each of these programs is designed to increase the district’s graduation rate by offering eligible students an alternative to the traditional high school setting with individualized instruction geared to meet their specific needs.
Reading continues to be a strong focus for our district. By 2012 we plan to have 80 percent of our students on or above reading level within three years of attending our schools. We are using the Fountas and Pinnell Literacy Intervention System which is a small-group, supplementary intervention program designed to help teachers provide powerful, daily, small-group instruction for children in the early grades who need support to achieve grade-level competency. This program will also benefit our English language learners because it provides specific suggestions for overcoming their unique set of challenges. In addition, we are conducting reading screenings for all students three times a year to identify reading needs and provide early intervention.
Orchard is a computer-based program that accesses grade-level benchmarks in reading and assists the classroom teacher with differentiating instruction to meet individual needs. Another assessment tool used in the elementary schools is DIBELS, which assists the teacher in identifying student needs related to the five components of reading.
Additionally, research supports that students enrolled in a structured pre-Kindergarten program are better prepared for the school environment and more adept at learning how to read. Our community understands the importance of our early childhood education program and supports our efforts as evidenced by the Committee of 200 raising over $100,000 to restore a teacher unit, which was eliminated by federal funding cuts.
However, all our improvement efforts will be in vain without our dedicated, skilled teachers engaging our students in relevant learning experiences. In order for teaching and learning to take place, we need to have our teachers and students present in school. To increase student and teacher attendance at school, we are developing an attendance campaign to raise attendance to 95 percent.
We have high expectations for this school year, and everyone in the district is committed to moving closer to our goal of becoming a top school district in our state and nation.

Randy Shaver is superintendent of the Tupelo Public Schools. Contact him at mlmartin@tupeloschools.com.

Randy Shaver