At last week’s meeting, the Columbus Municipal School District heard reports from two new principals, approved an academic calendar and approved new hires.
New Columbus High School Principal Jill Savely briefed the board on her plans for the upcoming academic year.
Savely had been an assistant principal at CHS for seven years before being named principal in late June.
“In a building as large as ours, there are always going to be challenges,” Savely said. “First and foremost, we are going to concentrate on raising our Subject Area Test scores and thereby raising our Quality Distribution Index. [All high school students must pass four subject area tests to graduate. QDI refers to the scoring mechanism for the state’s current accountability system. – Brian Jones] With all of the work through the budget, we have been able to add additional curriculum coordinators to our building. That is going to help us tremendously in working with students and our subject area classes. We intend to continue to collect data on our students’ testing and look for trends and see where they are strong and where they are week. During the year we will do assessments every nine weeks in lieu of nine weeks tests. Those assessments will mimic the subject area tests, and we can run that data and determine where we’re doing a good job and where we haven’t hit objectives hard enough, and then we can go back and re-teach as necessary. At the end of the third nine weeks, we will have a mock subject area test so that we can predict how they will do. After that point we’ll still have a full four weeks to teach to address their weaknesses.”
CHS will also work more closely with East Mississippi Community College, she said.
“We need to increase our graduation rate,” Savely said. “We’ve got to put our students in a position to be successful when they leave us. We are looking at a senate bill that says that community colleges must allow us to work with them to come up with a way to help students who are in danger of dropping out. The actual details of how we would work with EMCC are not in place. The beautiful thing there is that we get to establish those guidelines.
“One thing that we can do there is look at classes that stand in place of subject area tests,” she said. “We have some students who simply do not test well. It doesn’t mean that they’re incapable of learning or that they’re not intelligent, but they do not test well. For instance if they can’t pass the Biology I subject area test, if they can go to EMCC and pass Biology I then that can stand in lieu of the subject area test. Again, this is very new, the details have not been worked out, but I know there are people who will work with us. We have not entered into discussions with EMCC yet, but the law says they have to work with us. That’s an option I would like to investigate.”
Freda Dismukes, new principal at Columbus Middle School, also gave the board an overview of her plans for the next academic year.
Dismukes was also elevated to principal late last month. She had previously been assistant principal at CMS.
Dismukes said she wants to use data collection to improve test scores, improve discipline and increase parent involvement.
“I want to look at how to implement the data we have to raise our test scores,” Dismukes said. “We have Project Lace-Up at the middle school, where we have implemented a shared vision so that they take ownership of their test scores and how they are going to grow. Those students had to know exactly what their scores were in the area of math and language arts, and they had to know what area they need work on. We gave the kids an incentive to find out their scores and where they needed to improve. Over 80 percent of the kids in the program increased their scores. If that works in an individual program, we need to make it school-wide.
“Research shows that if discipline is taken care of, we can move on as far as academics,” she said. “We will have high expectations from the first day of school and will make sure each teacher has what they need in the classroom to make children successful. Every child in that school should be made to feel important, and should know that they are there to learn. Teachers need to make sure that all students have a clear understanding of what’s expected of them. School-wide programs will be put in place to encourage positive behavior.
“The third area I want to strive in is parental involvement,” she said. “Parents have told me that sometimes they don’t feel welcome, sometimes they feel like the school doesn’t want them to come. We want the parents to know that they’re invited. We want them to come visit anytime. Of course they have to come in and check in with security, but they are welcome. We want the children and the parents to feel at home.”
The board approved the 2012-13 academic calendar. In the end, the district’s calendar will not feature additional staff development time.
Last month the board approved a calendar that called for students to be released early on Wednesday to give teachers more staff development time. The board first refused to approve the calendar, but then approved it after emerging from an executive session. Many community members were outraged by this maneuver, and, after great public outcry, the calendar was pulled and Superintendent Martha Liddell stated that she would seek community input before a decision was made.
Last week Liddell asked the board to approve an academic calendar with no early release.
“This is just the basic calendar,” Liddell said. “It does not include anything regarding professional development. We have learned from the state department that a professional development schedule will have to be developed separately and submitted to them as part of the new accreditation standards.”
The calendar was unanimously approved.
Finally, the board approved several new hires at the central office, two of whom were crossing district lines from the Lowndes County School District. Edna McGill, who was formerly LCSD assistant superintendent for curriculum, was named professional development and public information officer. Before going to the LCSD, McGill was principal of Cook Elementary School. Tim Wilcox, former assistant principal at New Hope Elementary School, was hired as the new principal at Cook.
Dr. Myra Gillis, who was the district’s personnel coordinator, was named director of accountability.
The personnel items were approved unanimously.