Whitney ISD board opts to fund dual-credit tuition

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

October 27, 2021

The Whitney ISD Board of Trustees met Monday, October 18, in a regular session to hear five presentations, hear administrator reports and consider multiple agenda items.

In the September school board meeting, board members discussed the difficulties administrators were facing with ordering college textbooks for dual-credit students due to Hill College eliminating its bookstore. The board was considering a transition from the district covering the cost of textbooks to the district covering the cost of tuition for dual-credit students, but board members needed data explaining how the action would affect the district financially in order to make an informed decision.

In the 2019-2020 school year, the district spent $21,026 on students’ college textbooks, and last year it spent $18,855 on college textbooks. Covering the cost of tuition means the district paying a flat rate of $307 per semester per student, regardless of how many classes each student takes.

The number of students who enrolled in dual-credit classes at WHS was 38 this year and 58 last year. Therefore, if the same number of students who are taking dual credit courses this year take college courses next year, the district will pay $23,332, and if the same number of students who took dual credit courses last year take college courses next year, the district will pay $35,612.

Whitney ISD Superintendent John McCullough said, “It would be a little bit more than what we’ve been paying for textbooks if the [enrollment] numbers go above where we are now, but I think it’s a good opportunity for our students because they can take as many classes as they would like to for that amount.”

After reviewing the financial impact, the board voted to approve the motion to pay for dual-credit students’ college tuition rather than their textbooks.

During administrator reports, all campus administrators said that attendance rates for this time of year are low. According to Superintendent McCullough, attendance for the district is down by about 5% compared to previous years. Principal of Whitney Intermediate School Russell Gauer said due to students missing school to quarantine or to recover from sickness, teachers are beginning to provide additional tutorials. Preparation for academic UIL is also underway at the intermediate school as well as at the elementary school.

Middle School Principal Kendra Hensley reported that extracurricular activities are going strong, with volleyball and football about to wrap up, band and choir both having upcoming concerts soon, UIL teams kicking off, and one-act play holding auditions.

Whitney High School Principal Amy Leech said students were going to take ACT tests and ASVAB tests that week. She also announced that the band qualified for the area competition and was set to compete Saturday morning at Robinson.

Leech then expressed excitement about the community bonfire and pep rally held Wednesday, October 20, at Cedar Creek Baptist Church, in support of the Wildcats in their football game against Grandview.

“I think it’s really neat to have churches, community organizations and everybody come together,” Leech said.

She said the event was a joint effort, but it was the students who brought the idea to the town’s attention. She was impressed with the involvement from all campuses and the involvement from the town.

School board member Bobby Cryns said, “We’re all wrapped together­—school, community, everybody—if we do it right.”

Leech said she hopes events and extracurricular activities help raise school spirit and bring attendance rates up.

Amber Seely, Principal of Whitney Elementary School, gave a presentation on the academic levels and behavioral skills of kindergartners, first graders and second graders. Because Seely and other leaders recognize that behavioral issues can disrupt learning, the school has an intervention program to monitor young students’ progress in behavior improvement. Based on a test and forms that educators filled out at the beginning of the year, administrators determined that 55% of kindergartners, 52% of first graders and 42% of second graders needed intervention for behavioral and social skills. That is 49% of the entire campus, for a total of 151 students who needed intervention.

Seely said there could be a number of causes that factor into why nearly half of the campus needed redirection on their behavior. Some of those causes could be virtual learning during the pandemic, new students to the district, overturn of staff, experience of staff and changes in curriculum.

Seely said, “We’re looking at all the angles to see how we can improve those numbers.”

An interventionist is pulling students out of class once or twice a week to target the students’ areas of improvement, which can be anything from following directions to respecting authority and other people’s space. Academically, Seely’s biggest area of concern is the reading level of incoming kindergarten students because she has seen a decrease in the number of kindergartners who were able to read basic Level-A books.
Laura Hunt, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, presented Wildcat Window, a portal that allows educators, students and parents to access all of their school-related online programs through a single log in instead of logging in to multiple separate applications. Users must log in using their Whitney ISD Google account. Most log in with a username and password, but the elementary students have an option to log in with a printed QR code so that they don’t have to remember passwords.

Hunt also gave a presentation on English as a Second Language (ESL) learners. She defined a bilingual program as a grade level that encompasses 20 or more students speaking the same language that is not English. Whitney does not have a bilingual program because the highest number of students the district has in one grade level whose second language is English is 12, and that is in fourth grade.

Hunt then distinguished content-based ESL programs from pull-out ESL programs. In content-based ESL programs, students receive all their lessons from an ESL certified teacher, whereas in pull-out programs, only their English language arts and reading teachers must have ESL certification. The elementary school has content-based programs, and all other campuses have pull-out programs.

According to Melissa Marbut, Director of Assessment and Accountability, Senate Bill 1365 established an alternative evaluation option for the A-F rating system of schools.

In 2019, the elementary and intermediate schools received a D rating. Under Senate Bill 1365, if campuses apply and receive acceptable scores in the categories of participation rate, student achievement and relative performance, unacceptable ratings can be removed from their record, which allows them to have a clean slate if they have received unacceptable ratings for multiple years.

The elementary school does not meet the requirements for the alternative evaluation option because the students are too young to take standardized tests, but when paired with the eligible campus of Whitney Intermediate School, both the intermediate school and the elementary school can receive an acceptable rating in February of 2022.

“That’s great news for them because it gives them the opportunity to start fresh, and clearly they did well enough last year in those areas to get that opportunity,” Marbut said.

Selected as staff member of the month for October was Michelle Kaase. Kendra Hensley, principal of Whitney Middle School, wrote Kaase’s nomination statement and included multiple positive peer comments with her statement.

Superintendent McCullough read the statement: “I would like to nominate Whitney Middle School Art Teacher Mrs.Michelle Kaase for October staff member of the month. She has a heart for our students and staff and always goes above and beyond to make sure their needs are met. In addition to preparing exciting lessons for her art and digital art classes, Mrs. Kaase is the campus UIL coordinator and UIL one-act play director. Every Monday you can find goodies in the workroom that she has baked for staff. She gives each staff member a little surprise on their birthday. We are blessed to have her.”

Learn more about Michelle Kaase in next week’s “Know Your Neighbor” section of The Lakelander. October is principal’s appreciation month, so the principals of each Whitney campus were recognized for their hard work.

The board will meet for next month’s regular session Monday, November 8.

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