WISD discusses COVID-19 protocol, benchmark data

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

January 19, 2022

The Whitney ISD Board of Trustees met Monday, January 10, in a regular session to discuss COVID-19 quarantine protocols, review benchmark data and hear administrator reports.

In honor of school board appreciation month, for the January meeting, the board room was decorated with handmade posters for the board members, and board members received snacks and other gifts.

Superintendent John McCullough reported that as of the date of the meeting, Monday, January 10, the district had 16 active cases of COVID-19 and 48 quarantining due to household exposure.

He said that The Texas Education Agency, the Centers for Disease Control and the Department of State Health Services guidelines conflict with one another and recommend a different number of quarantine days for employees. The CDC guidelines now state that it is acceptable for employees to return to work five days after exposure or onset of symptoms if they wear a mask for five days after returning to work, whereas the TEA recommends that students quarantine for 10 days and that staff members quarantine for five days if they wear a mask for an additional five days after returning to work.

The district is obligated to abide by the protocols laid out by the DSHS and TEA and could face ramifications if these protocols are not followed. Therefore, the district continues to recommend that both students and teachers quarantine for 10 days if they test positive for COVID-19 or if someone in their household tests positive.

If the TEA changes its guidelines to state that teachers and students are advised to quarantine for the same number of days, then the district will discuss adopting those guidelines at that time.

Superintendent McCollough said, “That is what our recommendation is to go with the full 10 days, until we get more information, or until it is consistent with the students and the staff because it is too hard to tell students one thing and staff another.” The district provides COVID-19 sick days and is ordering more tests for the teachers so that staff members will have tests available to them if they need them.

The board reviewed WISD’s Return to In-Person Instruction and Continuity of Services Plan. The updated plan stated that the district would address academic gaps, work to amend social emotional needs, make every attempt to keep school open without experiencing closure, provide help for students with disabilities who are learning in the classroom or at home and maintain technology needs by ensuring each student in grades pre-k through second have Ipads, and each student in grades 3-12 have laptops.

Brad Brunett, board member, expressed appreciation for the superintendent and everyone in the district who is striving to make pandemic-related decisions that will both benefit students and keep them safe. Brunette said, “There is a lot of gray area that you’re having to deal with, with the different guidelines and rules and everything, so I just appreciate y’all continuing to hang in there and deal with this as best as you can.”

Laura Hunt, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, presented the 2021 benchmark data for reading, math and science for the intermediate school, middle school and high school. The benchmark test is a 20 to 25 question multiple choice assessment that the district creates to check for content understanding and prepare students for the larger standardized tests that they will take later in the school year. This benchmark tested students exclusively on the content that they have learned so far this school year. The benchmark results were labeled using the terminology used in STAAR tests results: did not meet grade level, approaches grade level, meets grade level, and masters grade level, with did not meet grade level being a failing test result and masters grade level being the highest test result.

Hunt analyzed the comparison between the 2020 benchmark results and the 2021 benchmark results. Her general summary was that the number of students who scored meets and masters in 2021 increased from the number of meets and masters last year, which is a positive sign that more students are reaching their grade level and above.

Math in general is an area of needed growth and improvement. Hunt observed that students performed well in math areas of general computation, mathematical relationships and representing the value of numbers, and they struggled in areas of problem solving, multi-step processes and explaining their mathematical thinking. In reading and language arts, students performed well in imagery and figurative language, author’s purpose, theme, determining the meaning of unknown words and determining key ideas, but the students struggled in the areas of inference, plot, using print or digital resources, characteristics of informational text, editing sentence structure organization. Overall, the students tested well in their general reading, writing and calculation skills, and they have room for improvement when it comes to higher level critical thinking.

Hunt outlined a plan to help teachers respond to the benchmark results with action and discussion. Teachers will identify the areas of success and the areas of needed improvement, consider instructional reasons for the results and then discuss ways they can help their peers with areas of needed improvement, and look at common misconceptions in the results. If numerous students picked the same incorrect answer choice, the teacher can work to figure out the reason for the misconception that students may have. Certain programs can also show teachers whether a small group of students were struggling in a particular content area or whether the entire class was struggling in that area. That can help teachers determine which type of instruction is needed.

Melody Haley, assistant superintendent, presented the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund III plan. She reported that not all of the funding has been used in some areas of the plan such as summer school and counselor contracting. The district is looking to spend more money in the areas that the funds went unused. The district still plans to purchase another bus with the funding in the future, but it wanted to ensure there was enough money allocated in other areas before buying it.

Jason Sneed, board member, commented that he hoped to redirect some of the remaining money on more retention stipends for teachers. Sneed said, “Teachers are struggling because there aren’t as many people, so let’s reward them. I would like to see a focus on using any unused money on retention stipends. I think that it is important to keep the teachers here in our district.” Haley responded by stating that she and the superintendent plan to incorporate retention stipends into the funding for ESSER III and looks forward to providing him with more details as they work them out.

During administrator reports, Principal Amber Seely said the elementary school has been reviewing its benchmark data and was pleased to see an increase in scores this year, especially in kindergarten and first grade. She said, “We’ve got good things going on. We have a lot of great conversations and a lot of hard-working teachers.”

Intermediate School Principal Russell Gauer shared the details of the winterfest, which was set for Wednesday, January 19. It has since been postponed until the spike in illness subsides across the area.

Middle School Principal Kendra Hensley said the campus spent a recent staff development day discussing bright spots along with how teachers can help students perform well on standardized tests. She said teachers plan to put more focus on teaching the TEKS that require a higher level of thinking so that students can gain more practice in those areas.

Principal Amy Leech said that the high school recently received its STAAR retake results. High school students are required to pass five STAAR tests, so the school offers retesting for students who have failed previously in both the fall and summer. She was happy to report that quite a few of the retesters passed. She also shared that for the first time, WHS cheerleaders were set to participate in a UIL cheer competition Thursday, January 20. At this competition, the cheerleaders ended up advancing to finals.

Nominated for January 2022 Whitney ISD Staff Member of the Month is Sidney Wilson, a member of the Whitney Intermediate School paraprofessional staff, who specializes in fifth grade inclusion.

Superintendent McCullough read Wilson’s nomination statement written by Intermediate School Principal Gauer: “Ms. Wilson supports our students in the position of special education and inclusion, support staff. She is working towards her goal of becoming a certified classroom teacher. We are looking forward to her accomplishing that goal as well. She meets our bus at the back of the gym each morning, and her smiling face is one of the first things students see as they arrive on campus each day. She is always willing to help out anyone on campus and never hesitates to encourage students when they are struggling throughout the day. She has a bright future ahead of her as an educator. She is a great role model for our students. We are fortunate to have her as a part of our team.”

Wilson expressed her thanks by saying, “I only want to be a teacher because I have a really great school to work at, and I genuinely love this district.”

The board will meet for next month’s regular session 6 p.m. Monday, February 14.

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