Whitney ISD board holds April meeting

Reporter: Ellie Mahan

April 20, 2022

The Whitney ISD Board of Trustees met Monday, April 11, in a regular session to view 2022 mock STAAR test results, watch a presentation on the ACE Program and hear administrator reports.

During administrator reports, Amber Seely, elementary school principal, reported that the campus enrollment is growing. Four new student packets were passed out on the day of the meeting. With the new students, the elementary enrollment will be at 419, which Seely said is the highest it has been in a long time.

Russell Gauer, intermediate school principal, said that WIS will host its field day soon, an event that hasn’t been held in recent years due to COVID.

Kendra Hensley, middle school principal, announced that there is now a culinary class at WMS. Tony Dudik, seventh grade Texas history teacher, started the program and led the first class Saturday, April 9, where he taught students how to make kolaches.

Hensley also shared that Michelle Kaase’s middle school art students have been studying the work of Dale Chihuly, a famous glass artist in Seattle. The students replicated his work with art pieces made of colorful plastic. Through this, they learned about recycling, elements of art and heating safety.

Amy Leech, high school principal, said that Algebra One Boot Camp, an event in preparation for the algebra one STAAR test, was set for Thursday, April 14. A company traveled to WHS to help students learn algebra test-taking strategies as well as methods for stress reduction. Also scheduled for the week of the meeting was a Career and Technical Education business luncheon. WHS is hoping to expand its CTE program by adding new practicum classes and opportunities for work study programs. The luncheon was intended to gather input from businesses on how to merge school with community.

When Whitney experienced a power outage following spring break, the school lost many pieces of technology and equipment. According to Kristy Smith, director of technology, items that were lost due to the power outage include card readers, cameras and about 75 desktops and monitors.

Assistant Superintendent Melody Haley reported that Whitney showed lower attendance for the first four six weeks than usual, and Whitney is not the only district struggling with attendance this year. Schools across the state have also reported low attendance. To help schools improve these records, the state has offered to average the attendance of the first four six weeks and apply a percentage rate. Haley said although the rates are low for Whitney, they are not alarming numbers when compared with other districts.

Cynthia Ries provided an update on a program called After School Community Education Center (ACE), which is available in the elementary and intermediate schools. ACE is a program that is funded across the nation and provides daycare, a place to go for homework help and fun, after-school activities.

Enrichment programs held through ACE include cooking, CPR, sewing and games that will help children with vocabulary and other classroom skills. ACE also uses a program called Crazy Eight, which involves games for children that use math concepts. Ries said that she has seen children have so much fun during activities like building catapults that they forget they are using measurements and other math knowledge in the process.

ACE encourages children to have better behavior in the classroom by prohibiting students who are sent to ISS for misbehavior from attending ACE. Ries said, “The more we work with the kids, the more we show them that we care, the more that we’re there every day, the more things will improve, grade wise and behavior wise.”

ACE also works to build friendships between older intermediate school students and younger elementary school students. The program partnered fourth and fifth graders with younger elementary children so that fourth and fifth graders could supply mentorship and help younger students become comfortable with navigating the school campus. In some cases, Ries has seen the bonds between those students extend beyond the program and into the playground.

She said, “We have that camaraderie. I try to tell them ‘We are a family. We take care of each other. We don’t call each other names. We help each other out.’”

When Ries came to Whitney, she was originally locked in for a three-year grant with the opportunity to apply for an additional two years. ACE has been in Whitney for four years. After the fifth year comes to a close, Ries hopes to reapply for the $75,000 ACE grant to continue assisting kids with academic and social-emotional needs. The grant buys supplies for the program that are also accessible for teachers to use in classroom instruction.

Laura Hunt, director of curriculum and instruction, then presented this year’s mock STAAR data in comparison with last year’s mock STAAR data. Mock STAAR tests help students prepare for their real STAAR tests that they will take later in the year. Mock tests are the released STAAR tests from the previous year. Therefore, they evaluate students on not only everything they have learned this year but also the rest of the content for the year that they are set to learn before taking STAAR tests.

One district-wide goal for the mock STAAR tests was to improve the number of students who scored “masters” and “meets,” the two highest grade categories for STAAR tests. Whitney saw the largest score increases in one or both of these categories in the following subjects: high school biology, English II, middle school science, seventh grade reading, fifth grade math and fourth grade reading.

In addition, the high school algebra 1 results showed an increase in the number of students who scored “approaches,” the third highest grade category. Hunt said, “Another big takeaway is that we’ve got some work to do in order to meet our district goals for third grade.”

Overall, many students showed improvement in their mock test scores when compared with their benchmark scores, which Hunt described as impressive because the mock tests cover more content than benchmarks do. With the results from the mock tests, teachers analyzed the data to consider instructional reasons behind student needs and to plan next steps to score improvement.

Superintendent John McCullough announced four resignations: Nancy Hix, John Halstead, Rexann Bissing and Rex Unruh. The superintendent said that there have been no applicants for the new open positions, but three principals from the district attended the region 12 career fair, where there were 20 applicants for all the open positions throughout the district.

Because there hasn’t been a full-time School Resource Officer on a Whitney campus in several months, Whitney is considering starting its own district police force. District administrators are communicating with Police Chief Chris Bentley and researching the matter so that they have a full plan and budget for the police force. The start-up cost will depend on how many officers Whitney will employ, since start-up money will be used for training, equipment and cars for the employees.

The board approved: five White Bluff property bids, the annual allotment and Texas Essential Knowledge And Skills certification and the staff development waiver, which allows for time built into the school calendar for staff development days.

The board accepted the public fund investment officers who are Cody Fitch, business manager, Assistant Superintendent Haley and Superintendent McCullough, who said the officers go to training annually. This year the training had an increased focus on cybersecurity.

The number of continuing education hours for each board member was announced, and all Whitney school board members had completed required continuing education hours.

The board met in closed session and then transitioned back to open session, where members approved all teacher contracts, accepted Sharon Jones to take a teaching position for next school year, accepted the withdraw of Terry Smith’s resignation and approved Russell Gauer as the new Director of Operations.

Nominated for WISD’s April staff member of the month was Michael Luedke, 8th grade math teacher. Luedke has been a math teacher for 10 years and is now a content leader in the subject. Luedke offers his math knowledge and his time as he regularly tutors both middle school and high school students in math after school hours. He can also be found outside of school working at games and athletic events. He recently held a pizza party for students who met his expectations on a particular math program.

Superintendent McCullough read the nomination statement written by Principal Hensley, “You can find him serving on several campus and district level committees, which is a testament to his colleagues’ respect for him, as they have nominated him to represent WMS. He is a resource for all math teachers and has also mentored new teachers both to the profession and to Whitney ISD. What stands out most about Mr.Luedke is his relationships he has built within the WMS community and the community as a whole… Mr.Luedke is an integral part of the WMS staff and is leading and showing others how to move toward the campus vision of being a family.”

The board voted to move the next regular school board meeting from June 13 to 6 p.m. Monday, June 20.

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