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Board hears proposal for block schedule

March 9, 2011

By SHEA STASKOWSKI
sdnedu@bellsouth.net

The Starkville School District Board of Trustees heard a proposal for Armstrong Middle to go to a modified block schedule.
Armstrong Middle School Principal Elizabeth Mosley proposed a modified block schedule for students rather than the traditional seven periods. Monday through Thursday classes would be on the block schedule, whereas Fridays (or Mondays, depending on what teachers decide works best for them) would be the traditional seven periods, she said.
One major advantage of a block schedule, Mosley reported, is that it would allow for the implementation of more exploratory and elective courses like French, intro to journalism, intro to theater, speech, JROTC, learning strategies and pre-advanced placement.
Mosley explained that the new schedule would also increase instructional time and help eighth graders make a smoother transition to high school where the block schedule is already in place.
“Teachers would be able to use differentiated instruction because they have more class time to do so,” Mosley said.
She added that it would also afford students less time to interact in the hallways as the students would be changing classes less frequently, which could cut down on disciplinary issues.
No action was taken on Mosley’s presentation.
Also in new business, Assistant Supt. Dr. Beth Sewell delivered a report on amending the grading policy. For the last two years, Sewell and a team of educators have been working to revise the current grading policy to make it more consistent throughout the district.
“We wanted it to be very consistent throughout all grades and subjects,” Sewell said. “Students ought to be graded through the curriculum.”
The group came up with five principles from which all grades should be assigned. The first principle is that “grading is based on consistent, predetermined grading procedures in the same courses and across grade levels for curriculum standards found in the Mississippi Frameworks using a pacing guide developed for each subject,” according to the amendment.
The second principle is the revision of summative grades when students demonstrate mastery of skills and understanding, and that the final grade should summarize achievement.
Third, teachers will use various types of quality, rigorous and relevant formative and summative assessment instruments. Quality rubrics and checklists will be used by teachers, and grades should be based on individual performance only.
“District-wide summative common assessments, based on district pacing guides, will be administered each nine weeks in each subject,” is the fourth principle according to the policy draft.
Finally, teachers should involve parents and students in feedback.
Sewell also proposed a 10-point grading scale in an effort to keep SSD students on the same playing field with the other 133 district across the state that currently operate that way.
She proposed a hypothetical scenario where a SSD student and another Mississippi student are vying for a college scholarship. The SSD student could have a 91 percent in English, which in the SSD is a B, whereas the other student could have a 90, which is an A in 133 other districts. Though the SSD student scored higher, colleges predominately look at grade point average, and an A earns a student more toward their grade point average than a B does, and the SSD may lose out on the scholarship when they in fact scored higher than their competition, she concluded.
The board approved the grading policy unanimously.
At the start of the board meeting, Notary Public Debbie Sciré administered the Oath of Office to newly appointed board member Eric Heiselt. Heiselt is replacing outgoing board member Bill Weeks, who served 20 years on the board.
Supt. Judy Couey then called for nominations for president. The board voted Pickett Wilson as president, Dr. Keith Coble as vice president, Eddie Myles as secretary and Lee Brand Jr. as assistant secretary.
Also during the meeting, Couey, Sewell and Assistant Supt. Dr. Walter Gonsoulin delivered their annual reports.
Gonsoulin reported on the remaining $3.6 million of the bond issue. He explained that the bathroom renovations throughout the district and the paving project at Starkville High School will be bid out April 8 at 2 p.m.
The gym air conditioning projects throughout the district and the SHS field house projects will be advertised the week after spring break.
Couey then reported on the out-of-school suspensions and in-school suspensions from the 2009 first semester to the 2010 first semester. The district saw a dramatic decrease in out-of-school suspensions at Henderson from 2009 to 2010. Couey explained that could be attributed to Henderson being the sixth grade school in 2009 and a fifth grade school in 2010. There were 132 more in-school suspensions throughout the district that Couey attributed to the implementation of the dress code, she said.
She also reported that a number of procedures have ben implemented throughout the district to reduce discipline infractions including required meetings with assistant principals to work on discipline procedures, positive behavior interventions, introduction of multiple classroom infractions and standardized discipline templates.
Technology specialist Lenora Samuel delivered the technology report by conducting a mock test with the board members using new SMART Response Systems in conjunction with the SMART Boards. The SMART Response System is an interactive controller that allows teachers to make quizzes and lesson plans on the computer and displayed through the SMART Board, and students can use the response systems to answer. The SMART technology then displays results instantly for teachers to see which questions students had the most problems with so they know what material needs to be taught in a different way.
The mock test showed the board some of the basic, yet advanced, capabilities of the SMART systems used in the classroom and how it can increase classroom instruction.
“It should never be used as a display,” Samuel said because it is such an interactive piece of technology.
Currently, there are 175 SMART Boards and other interactive whiteboards used throughout the district. There are also 1,705 computers available for the 5,223 students of the district. These are advancements that have been made in the last few years in the district.
The next regularly scheduled board meeting will be held April 5 at 6 p.m. at the Greensboro Center.

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