Whitney ISD on the mend after spike in COVID cases

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

February 23, 2022

The Whitney ISD Board of Trustees met Monday, February 14, in a regular session to discuss the 2020-2021 annual report, hear administrator reports and review other business. It was also announced that the district will use the scheduled bad weather makeup day Monday, May 16, to replace the day the district was closed for the spike in COVID-19 cases.

Superintendent John McCullough said, “COVID numbers are really starting to drop at this time. Last week we only had one positive case in the district, so that is much improved over what took place in January. I want to thank the principals for everything they did because the month of January was rough. You never knew who was going to be there, or where you were going to put people. I appreciate everything y’all did during that time.”
When WISD was closed Friday, January 21, 50 staff members were absent due to the coronavirus, and the district was unable to fill 21 substitute positions. To make up this day, Whitney ISD classes will be in session Monday, May 16.

During administrator reports, Whitney Elementary School Principal Amber Seely said she is glad to see more staff at work after going through a tough month with staffing. Seely said, “A lot of people were very flexible. We weren’t sure what we were going to be doing at the office every day, so we are very glad to have our staff back.” She also reported that the elementary school is analyzing middle of the year data and considering how to improve the curriculum for next year.

Principal of Whitney Intermediate School Russell Gauer announced that the Winterfest that the campus postponed during the rise in coronavirus cases has become a Springfest and is planned for Thursday, March 31. He has also noticed an improvement in staffing. He said, “When you go from trying to fill 15 positions down to three, it is pretty nice.” The intermediate school is preparing for the mock STAAR tests that are in about a month.
The middle school is also preparing for tests. Whitney Middle School Principal Kendra Hensley said, “We also are glad to be getting back to a sense of normalcy, but the key word around our school is testing, like Mrs. Marbut said we are doing field tests tomorrow for social studies and TELPAS testing. In two weeks we are mock testing, so we are just in that frame of mind.”

While focusing on testing, the middle school is also trying to create a positive environment on campus. The school hosted a chili cook-off and potluck last week. “Everybody had a lot of fun. It was good to see all the smiles and the groups of people together,” Hensley said. “We’re doing random acts of kindness this week to celebrate and work on creating good humans. We’re trying to get students to go out of their way to do nice things for others.”

Field tests give the state data to help them create the real standardized tests in the future. These field tests also give students more experience with using the online format that the STAAR tests will be in next year. According to Melissa Marbut, director of assessment and accountability, most students will be taking their tests online next year, with the exception of a small percentage of students statewide who are prone to seizures or have other medical issues, who will take a test on paper.

Marbut said, “This week is very important for us in many ways. It is not only giving the state the information they need to build those tests the best they can for our kids, but for us to be prepared to service our kids in an online environment.”

When Marbut presented the district’s annual report and public hearing for the 2020-2021 school year, one key finding that stood out to her in the Texas Academic Performance Report was that improving students’ writing skills needs to continue to be a focal point in the classrooms. She knows that teachers are already focussing on writing, and they need to keep incorporating writing into their lessons and tests because it will help students on STAAR. Not only are STAAR tests trading in pencil and paper format for an online format, STAAR tests are also being reconfigured to include more questions that require student writing. Writing is becoming more integrated into several subject areas to boost higher level thinking in students.

According to the Texas Education Agency, “House Bill 3906 established a ‘multiple choice cap,’ meaning that no more than 75% of points on a STAAR test can be based on multiple choice questions. Texas educators are helping design new question types that reflect classroom test questions and allow students more ways to show their understanding. All possible new question types are being field-tested with students to ensure validity before they are incorporated into the redesigned summative tests beginning in spring 2023.”

The final 2021 report that Marbut delivered to each school board member addressed financial reports, attendance, graduation and dropout rates, campus improvement plans and student performance in post secondary institutions. The report also reminded the board that Whitney did not get an accountability rating or an accreditation status for last school year because of the declared state of disaster. The district met requirements in special education determination, and there were no violent or criminal incidents on campus last year. The district will continue to focus on improving College Career and Military Readiness by encouraging students to finish the program of study that they started high school with and pass the test for that program.

Principal Seely then presented the elementary school’s middle of the year data, which showed that students had made significant gains in math test results. In Kindergarten, 70% of students passed their math test with a 70% or better. In first grade, 68% passed with a 70% or better. In second grade 82% of students scored a 70% or better. These percentages are higher, if the grading scale used for STAAR is applied. If teachers measure the passing rate with the STAAR grading scale, 95% of kindergarten students passed, 82% of first graders passed and 92% of second graders passed.

Seely said, “There is a lot of great instruction going on. We’re just making sure it’s effective and pinpointed to exactly what is going to make a difference for our kids in both reading and math.”

The board also approved the renewal of the district of innovation plan, a corrected resale deed and a resolution to ensure that all WISD employees are paid for the days missed due to ice and snow February 2 and 3.

The board approved the notice and order for the May 7, 2022 school board trustee election. The places up for election are Brad Brunett and Bobby Cryns.

After returning from closed session, the board voted to hire a new teacher, Debra Bradley, for the intermediate school.

WISD’s February staff member of the month is Janette Green, instructional aide at Whitney Middle School.

Superintendent McCollough read Principal Hensley’s nomination statement: “Ms.Green brings a positive attitude to Whitney Middle School every day. She is a paraprofessional who serves our students in content mastery and inclusion classes. On any given day, you can see Ms.Green helping students academically and with social-emotional needs. She makes positive relationships with teachers and students and is always willing to lend a hand. With the recent, unusually high volume of staff absences, we had to call on Ms.Green frequently to cover classes. She has been very flexible and has never once complained about the added responsibilities. Ms. Green goes above and beyond her job description to help make Whitney Middle School a great place to work.”

The board will meet for next month’s regular session 6 p.m. Monday, March 7.

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