Reporter: Ellie Mahan
February 22, 2023
The Whitney Independent School District Board of Trustees met in a regular session Monday, February 13, and congratulated Whitney Elementary School for earning a perfect score on its intruder detection inspection. The board also discussed the elementary school’s middle of the year testing data and other agenda items.
The Texas School Safety Center’s intruder detection inspection that took place Thursday, January 19, consisted of four parts, and no corrective action was needed for any of the parts.
For part one of the assessment, the intruder detection audit, no corrective action was needed because no access was able to be gained at the campus. For part two of the assessment, the exterior door audit, no corrective action was needed because all exterior doors were securely locked and closed, and no doors were propped open. For part three, the classroom door audit, no corrective action was needed because all interior doors were closed and locked if they had students inside when they were checked. For part four, weekly door sweeps, no corrective action was needed because the district was able to prove that the doors were checked weekly.
Superintendent John McCullough said, “So far we’ve had a random audit at the middle school and the elementary, and both of those have been perfect with zero findings and zero need for corrective action.”
Elementary School Principal Amber Seely presented the school’s middle of the year testing data, including reading and math benchmarks and writing samples. She went into detail about the test results of each grade level and noted that there was an increase in the number of kindergartners who reached the masters level on their tests; she reported that 74% of kindergartners scored in quintile four or quintile five, which is in the 70% to 100% range. She was also impressed with the second grade’s test results, although there were still areas that she would like to see improvement in first and second grade.
Overall, Seely stated that elementary school teachers have been working hard in their professional learning communities and recently created a list of ways that they can work toward improving students’ academic achievement. Seely said, “This week we will be prioritizing things from that list and picking which items we want to take some action on.”
To ensure that the district has technology anti-virus software, the board voted to amend the budget by taking $50,000 from the fund balance. This change was due to a recent ransomware attack.
Kristy Smith, director of technology, said, “We had a ransomware incident a few weeks ago. We were very fortunate that it did not spread to our mobile devices or our desktops. It was caught inside our servers. As soon as we discovered it, I pulled out my cybersecurity book, and we went by the book, shutting everything down. When we called the campuses, everybody did exactly what I asked. Everybody shut everything down and let us do what we needed to do on our side to get everything cleaned up and rebuilt.”
The district has 32 servers, and six were hit with the ransomware file. “They could tell that the file was dated 2019, so it could’ve been sitting out there for that long, and somebody clicked it, or it had a timer that went off at that particular time. All it did was encrypt. It didn’t take our files and send them out. It just shut everything down inside,” Smith said.
Smith said that she reported the attack to the FBI and the TEA, and the files were able to be restored fairly quickly.
During administrators’ reports, Intermediate School Principal Layna Philipp said that her campus will soon start a program called Push. She said, “Our instruction leaders of the campus will teach kids in a whole group scenario. Myself, the assistant principal, reading and math specialists will bring the kids into the cafeteria with them. It will be a little bit of a break for guided instruction, to ensure our kids are getting what they need.”
Phillip was a teacher for 14 years before she became an administrator, and she said that she is looking forward to taking on a teaching role for Push. “The science of teaching is interesting to me, but the heart of teaching is what I am (about) and how I go about doing campus business. I’m excited to model that for everybody,” Philipp said.
Middle School Principal Kendra Hensley reported that the middle school was able to partner with the high school so that eighth graders could listen to Damon West, the motivational speaker who spoke at the high school Monday, February 6. She said that the middle schoolers are still talking about the uplifting message.
During the week of the board meeting, Hensley said that the middle school celebrated kindness week by having dress up days and kindness challenges.
Academically, most subject levels and grade levels at the middle school will complete their curriculum at the end of this month, and then students will be taking mock STAAR tests.
High School Principal Amy Leech said that Jennifer Ryan, former elementary school P.E. teacher, spearheaded the effort for Damon West speaking at the high school. Part of West’s message compared the ability to make positive change to the coffee bean’s ability to change a boiling pot of water into coffee. To keep the positivity and motivation going, local coffee shops such as Lazy Llama, Overflow Coffee and Brewed Awakenings have donated gift cards so that students and staff members can nominate people who they think of as “coffee beans” to receive a gift card to a local coffee shop.
Leech said that interim testing for English I and English II would be held the week that this newspaper is published.
She also noted the WHS’s German Club advanced to the state competition in almost every event they participated in.
Leech and Hensley were set to attend a webinar on vaping in the coming weeks. Leech said, “That continues to be something that we are battling with constantly, along with every school across the nation.”
Also at the meeting, Adrian Marino took the oath of office and was officially sworn in as a new school board member. The school board will hold an election for two seats Saturday, May 6. The board approved the joint election agreement between Whitney ISD and the City of Whitney, so elections for both the school board and the city will be held in the Whitney Administration Board Room, located at 305 South San Jacinto Street.
A property bid in the amount of $3,709.42 was accepted for Lake Edge Harbor Lot 180, which represented the minimum bid at the time of the sheriff’s sale in July of 2021. The property is a vacant lot on Farm Road 1713 that is wooded and will need to be cleared off.
The board voted for a resolution regarding employee pay during the weather emergency that took place January 31, February 1 and February 2. This ensures that all WISD employees will get paid for the days that the school was closed due to the winter weather.
The board approved a localized policy manual update. One piece of the update was for the district’s guardian plan. The text states that guardians must be authorized by the school board; guardians are allowed to carry on district property at school-related events or school-sponsored activities; and the guardian program is completely voluntary. Possession of firearms must be a part of the district’s emergency operation procedures.
Superintendent McCullough announced the resignation of the following employees: Tina Meadors, Amber Laningham, Gena Arnold, Kristie Allison-Bailey and David Davis. After the closed session, All current WISD administrators were approved for a new contract for 2023-2025.
WISD’s staff member of the month for the month of February is Dawnanita James, second grade teacher.
In her nomination statement, Principal Seely wrote, “Mrs. James is a very dedicated, hard-working teacher on our campus. She uses a variety of teaching methods to meet the needs of all her students. She utilizes data reports to help her develop lessons and increase student-achievement…Mrs. James works hard to build strong relationships with the students and their families. The students in her class respect one another and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. She is known to create a chant or quote for inspiration to help encourage and inspire students.” James’ class showed great improvement in the middle of the year math benchmark, with 89% of her class meeting the middle of the year goal.”
After McCullough read the nomination statement, James said, “This is my passion. It’s not a job for me. It’s my life.”
The next school board meeting will be held Monday, March 6.