WISD board reviews district, campus improvement plans

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

November 17, 2021

The Whitney ISD Board of Trustees met Monday, November 8, in a regular session to hear district and campus improvement plans and consider multiple other agenda items.

Melissa Marbut, Director of Assessment and Accountability, presented the District Improvement Plan in which she explained six areas of focus for how to improve WISD going forward.

First, the district would like to see an increase in instructional strategies designed for special education, so teachers will attend trainings throughout this semester and one next semester to ensure that they are aware of how to cover topics in a way that can be beneficial to all students.

The second way the district wants to improve is by increasing the number of students whose reading level is at or above their grade level. The district has a Leveled Literacy Intervention System in place, which is a program that allows teachers to work closely with struggling students and help them achieve more than one year’s worth of growth so that they can reach the same level as their peers quickly.

Third, to improve the area of College, Career and Military Readiness, the high school is offering the ACT in addition to the SAT and the TSI. The high school also intends to raise the number of students who have completed a program of study and received certifications for those programs by encouraging students to get certified in floral design or welding.

The fourth area of focus for the district is mental health improvement, which each principal discussed further in their campus improvement plans. The district is welcoming an additional professional from Klaras Center For Families with the Heart of Texas Region MHMR in Waco. Whereas before, the middle school and the high school shared one caseworker, now there will be two, one for both the middle school and the high school.

Fifth, the district is working on strengthening the professional learning community in the classroom. Marbut explained the meaning of building a professional learning community. “We are all in a district working for a goal, and everything we do is driven by what is the best for those kids,” she said.

The last area of focus for the district is making decisions based on data. This requires collecting data throughout the year and using that data to improve student achievement rather than basing teaching styles and methods solely on STAAR test results. Marbut said, “We can’t wait until the STAAR test results come out… We need to have the data all along. That shouldn’t be when we have those ‘aha’ moments.”

The presentation of the District Improvement Plan was followed by the principals presenting their campus improvement plans. One focus area for all four Whitney campuses is improving the social-emotional health of students. According to Amy Leech, principal of Whitney High School, the number of high school students facing mental health issues is “extremely high.” These issues can take the form of depression, increased self harm, suicidal tendencies and emotional depressive outbursts. The school hasn’t had a professional from Klaras Center For Families onsite this year, but one is set to be in place soon. The worker has 15 students on her caseload now, and the high school has a waiting list of families who have reached out in effort to receive care from her. Leech said the high school has hired a few additional staff members to assist with the more severe cases.

At the middle school, counselors and the assistant principal have also put together a program called ‘Cats of Character,’ which is a mentoring program that builds on a program students start in intermediate school. The middle school teachers are striving to encourage students to notice when their peers do something kind that deserves a shoutout. To encourage students, WMS has also been making positive phone calls with parents about their children.

Russell Gauer, principal of Whitney Intermediate School, said, “Our counselors check in with 10 to 15 students every day when we start the school day. Even our little guys, because of going through that unstable environment throughout the pandemic and having that anxiety and some of those fears that come with it, they are apprehensive about ‘what is school really about now?’ We haven’t had that normal school year that they’re used to.”

The intermediate school gives a ‘Three R award’ each six weeks for students who are respectful, responsible and reliable. This helps teachers point out the little acts of kindness that students do, whether it is helping a peer open a milk carton or helping a friend on their homework. The students engage in a kindness challenge every week, and the winners get their picture taken in front of the KIND bulletin board display. The display spells out the word kind without the letter I so that the winners of the challenge can pose as the letter I. Then, children’s photos are placed on the other letters in the display. The letter K is already filled with photos, and the plan is to fill all the letters.

“Our kids are stepping up and doing a good job, considering what they’ve gone through. We’re seeing a lot of good things as far as them helping each other out,” Gauer said.

Social-emotional needs as well as behavioral issues were also a focus area for the elementary school. One of the campus goals is to reduce the number of students in need of behavior intervention because the paraprofessional who works with students intervenes with 43 children for behavioral issues. The elementary school staff is completing a book study that Whitney Elementary School Principal Amber Seely hopes will benefit the social-emotional health of both the teachers and the students.

Another part of the campus improvement plan for the high school, WHS aims to help special education students perform better on state assessments. The school now has an inclusion program for English, and math classes now have both inclusion and resource classes. About the performance level of special education students, Leech said, “It’s going to take a few years to see huge increases, but I think we’ve made some good strides.”

Like many schools in the state, WHS has been working to recruit teachers in special education, English, math and Career and Technical Education classes. Leech said she was fortunate that the high school did not have turnover last year; she worried that it would be difficult to find teachers if there was turnover. To increase attendance, Leech said the school makes an effort to reach out to families when students aren’t in school.

The high school also hopes to boost End of Course exam scores by increasing rigor in the classroom and the number of students participating in tutorials. Board members and attendees discussed implementing a tutoring program with community members to supplement the teachers’ lessons and tutorials.

Bobby Cryns, board member, said that the community and the school district should be unified. The two should be intertwined, whether it is for a bonfire to support the football players or a program to help with academic needs. Cryns said, “Somebody might come in and have a different way of presenting the topic. Then it may take because they have already gotten the information from their teachers.” Attendees agreed that having a strong community leader work with struggling students may help motivate them and get them back on track.

Community involvement is also a focus area in the middle school’s campus improvement plan. The school tries to update parents and residents as much as possible through Facebook and through a program that allows administrators to meet with parents, discuss concerns and enjoy a sweet treat donated by a local business.

The theme for the middle school’s improvement plan is level up, meaning the students and staff are always looking to be the best versions of themselves. Principal of Whitney Middle School Kendra Hensley said, “No matter where you are, you have room to grow.” The middle school is working on using data to inform instruction year round instead of waiting for benchmark results. Throughout the year, the school is collecting data on students from rigorous assessments that have difficulty levels that are similar to STAAR tests.

Principal Gauer of the intermediate school said teachers are working with all students to ensure that the students who were passing during benchmark time don’t regress because their teachers were so focused on helping the students they knew were struggling. The intermediate school implemented resource classes in math and reading. The campus has a special education teacher in two of the three grade levels and a paraprofessional in each grade level. Gauer said this system has helped struggling students be more successful.

Principal Seely of the elementary school said unlike the high school, the elementary school has a large amount of turnover. She said there are now seven tests that must be passed to become an elementary school teacher. The school works to help its teachers with training and online tools, since there are many first-year teachers at the elementary school. Seely expressed that it can be challenging for elementary school teachers to plan quality lessons for all six subjects that they teach, so she encourages them to work together and share ideas.

The board approved all four campus improvement plans.

The overview of the results from the district’s First Integrity Rating System of Texas were presented. The district scored an A for superior achievement, with an exact score of 92%.

WISD scored maximum points in all areas of the FIRST report, except for two. The first area, which the district scored six out of 10 points on, was long-term liabilities and total assets. If the school district’s increase in students and membership over five years was over 7% or more, then the district would have automatically passed.

The second area, which Whitney scored eight out of 10 points on, was being sufficient to support future debt repayments. The presenter assured the board that Whitney pays off debt on time, but the district didn’t receive full credit on the report because there are other factors involved in that indicator, such as the number of students enrolled.

The board approved one property bid for $6,990.66, which represents the minimum bid of the property. It was struck off in October, and the bidder wants to improve the lot, which has a burned house on it.

The board approved an interlocal agreement for the 2022-2023 school year, which states that all students will receive free meals for breakfast and lunch from the cafeteria.

The board decided to vote for Don Ford on the 2022-2023 Hill County Appraisal District Board of Directors ballot.

Selected for staff member of the month for November was Billie Smith, a paraprofessional in content mastery. Intermediate School Principal Gauer wrote the nomination statement, which Superintendent John McCullough read: “Ms. Smith is part of our campus support staff that works with students in our campus computer lab. Ms. Smith assists our teachers with additional instruction for our students through our online computer programs designed to supplement our campus core instruction. Students are always encouraged by her infectious attitude and smile. She willingly helps out on campus with car ride dismissal and assists with lunchroom duty. Without Ms. Smith on campus, many of our students would not be exposed to an individual that exhibits a caring and helpful attitude to everyone she meets. She is a great role model for our students, and we are fortunate to have her as part of our team.”

The board will meet for next month’s regular session Monday, December 13.

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