Whitney ISD Board holds September meeting, approves retention stipend

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

September 22, 2021

The Whitney Independent School District Board of Trustees met in a regular session Monday, September 13. At the meeting, trustees approved a retention stipend for employees, presented a display honoring the military, heard administrator reports and considered multiple agenda items.

The board voted to spend part of the district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II Fund on a one-time retention stipend of $750 for all Whitney ISD employees. Superintendent John McCullough said although the district can’t issue more than one stipend this year, it may consider a stipend next year.

Board member Jason Sneed presented a “wall of honor” display that the board has commissioned, which will be presented to the high school. The wall of honor will be a tribute to Whitney students who go on to serve our country in the military. Each shelf on the display will hold a professional photograph that the student receives upon entering service. The photo will be accompanied by details such as the individual’s name, year of graduation and type of military service.

“I think it’s important that we honor them and show them our appreciation,” Sneed said.

An informational item to discuss on the board’s agenda was an issue the high school is having with ordering textbooks for dual-credit students. According to Whitney High School Principal Amy Leech, in years past, students who were enrolled in dual-credit courses through Hill College were responsible for paying for their own tuition, and the district ordered and covered the expense for their required textbooks. However, as of this year, Hill College has outsourced its bookstore. When the district attempted to purchase books the way it normally does, administrators found that they couldn’t make bulk purchases through Hill College. Now, only one book purchase can be made in the same person’s name. This made for a slow ordering process, and some students didn’t have access to books until two weeks after classes began.

At the October meeting, the board plans to consider a transition from the district covering the cost of textbooks to the district covering the cost of tuition for dual-credit students.

In other news related to higher education, the board approved a memorandum of understanding with Tarleton State University regarding the Distinguished High School Partnership Program. Under this MOU, any student who graduates within the top 25% of their class will be automatically accepted at Tarleton, regardless of SAT or ACT scores. Students may also be eligible to receive additional financial support from the university under this MOU. The senior class of 2022 will be eligible for this opportunity.

Administrators for each Whitney campus reported that the year is off to a good start, with attendance rates being one of the few common concerns expressed.

“Normally the first six weeks is our highest for enrollment and attendance, but obviously with COVID and quarantines and things like that, the past two weeks have been running anywhere from about 85 to 88 percent,” Superintendent McCullough said. He continued, “We may have 200 kids out, but we still have 1,200 kids here at school.”

The superintendent said that as long as the schools have enough staff on campus to support the students, he plans to do whatever he can to keep Whitney schools open for in-person learning. Although some staff members have been absent, he said the principals of the schools are doing a great job of making sure someone is overseeing each classroom.

“For us to close, it would have to be because of lack of staff because I just feel like it’s important for our kids to be here. We found out last year that it’s most important for kids to be here on campus with their teachers, so we’re doing everything we can to keep our doors open,” McCullough said.

During the administrator reports, one of the things Principal Leech said she is excited about is the high school’s fishing team and the donations the team has received this year. Russell Gauer, principal of Whitney Intermediate School, said the intermediate school educators are appreciative of the good job the elementary school staff has been doing for the last few years. He said the elementary school teachers’ hard work is evident in the reading levels the incoming third graders are starting out with. Kendra Hensley, new principal of Whitney Middle School, reported that the middle school is kicking off a Parent Teacher Organization, and the first PTO meeting was held Tuesday, September 12.

Renewing its annual agreement, the board approved an adjunct faculty request and the resolution for extra curricular state request with 4H.

The board accepted two property bids. The first property, a lakeside property that was struck off to the district in 2005, was accepted at the minimum bid of $530 with an additional $30 for the Hill County Clerk. The second property, White Bluff 36 lot 46 was accepted at the minimum bid of $4,964.54.

The board also approved a proposed budget amendment. Part one of the amendment was to withdraw $20,000 out of the fund for plant maintenance and operation and allocate it to data processing services, in order to purchase tech supplies that the district needs. Part two of the amendment is to take $600 out of the data processing services and put it toward debt service expenses.

According to technology personnel, the district recently ordered devices using the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. When the devices come in, third graders and older will have access to laptops, and only the younger elementary school students will be using iPads regularly rather than laptops. In other developments, the district recently added a feature to its website called the Wildcat Window. This is a portal that allows students and parents to access all of the online programs needed for classwork through a single log in instead of logging in to multiple separate applications.

Selected for Whitney’s staff member of the month for September was Jennifer Ryan, Whitney Elementary School physical education teacher. Part of the reason Ryan stood out to administrators was because when a Hill County Shared Services Arrangement member visited her classroom to evaluate her teaching abilities, the SSA member had only positive things to report.

Superintendent McCullough read from the email that a SSA staff member wrote, “I just wanted to let you both know how impressed I was with your PE teacher. While observing a couple of students in her PE class, I had the pleasure of watching her work. She used hula hoops to address a variety of functional skills, personal space, appropriate imaginative play, prepositions in front of and behind, directions, right, left, to name a few. She kept it simple, fun, short and transitioned her class between activities seamlessly. All the children actively engaged in her instructions. She provided clear, simple direction to her students. She modeled behaviors that she expected of them, and offered specific, goal praise as students did as she asked.”

For the accountability summaries that the district receives each year, schools were not given a rating this year due to the “declared state of disaster.” Notable in Whitney’s 2021 report was the 99% participation rate in all standardized tests. College, Career and Military Readiness was the section of the report that is reportedly the biggest area of concern for the district.

The details of the report will be discussed further at the board’s next meeting, which is set for Monday, October 18. All meetings are open to the public.

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