SISD unveils action plan towards higher ratings

An action plan was unveiled to begin the trek toward higher ratings at the SISD (Sweetwater Independent School District) Board of Trustees meeting on Monday evening, Aug. 15, 2011 at the Administration Building, following the ratings announcement from the TEA (Texas Education Agency which brought the five main campuses within the district — and SISD itself — down one category from the previous year. In discussing the campus and AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) ratings — which now includes additional criteria and increased standards, SISD Assistant Superintendent Kathy Smartt cited the rating process as a very complex system. In the preliminary results for the AYP, SIS (Sweetwater Intermediate School), East Ridge, Southeast and J.P. Cowen met the standard. SMS (Sweetwater Middle School) and SHS (Sweetwater High School) missed the mark in the same two categories (Special Education in Reading/English Language Arts and Math), while in one of the categories SHS fell short in three different subgroups. As a result, the district missed AYP in those two categories and while some progress has been made in the past, the issues will continually be addressed to promote improvements.For the campus ratings, three schools were named recognized (SIS, East Ridge and Southeast elementaries), one school (SMS) and SISD itself were rated academically acceptable, and SHS was cited as academically unacceptable. Last year's ratings were exemplary, recognized and acceptable, respectively.All students who are tested fall into categories in regards to ethnicity and economics. Some students, however, can fall into both categories. The more diverse a school is, more categories are established — in which SISD has a variety of subgroups in contrast to surrounding districts like Highland, Blackwell and Roscoe.However, one such anomaly within the rising standards noted was that in the fifth grade Science test, the passing grade stands at 78, the highest passing standard of all TAKS tests. A few of the schools barely missed the mark for some criteria, and in two instances only missed gaining a higher rating by one percent. Many area districts have also fallen to the same fate and dropped in several campus ratings, such as Snyder, Abilene Wylie, Graham, Abilene ISD and Big Spring. The district essentially received the same scores, but rising standards resulted in the ratings drops district-wide.“As ridiculous and meticulous as this evaluation system can become, unacceptable is unacceptable," said Smartt, promising that the district will work to disprove the rating that now stands for two years. "It is just so discouraging to hard working educators, parents and students when a system of evaluation doesn’t truly depict the accomplishments of our successful district and campuses."As a result, SHS Principal Stacy Jones was in attendance to present to the board a plan of action to combat the low ratings. Though a compilation of problems inevitably led to the current dilemma, one of the biggest problems Jones cited was curriculum and the routine that the same actions will produce the same results.Some changes to be made will be for teachers to utilize several resources to make the transition from the TAKS test to the STAAR testing which will include technological support. Students will be identified based upon their previous testing results, in which their progress will be recorded and discussed on a regular basis.Academic counseling will be available for the low-category students and staff will participate in weekly meetings to prepare for the upcoming week. Attendance will be monitored within the student body while walk-throughs will be administered by the head staff.Different approaches with FLEX days and tutorials should prove beneficial in testing and preparedness, and more benchmark testing will be performed throughout the year. Staff development will utilize outside sources in order to find ways to motivate and engage students in their learning through a variety of teaching methods.While the start of the 2011-12 school year has become shadowed by the results — in which the district and board are disappointed by, the district and the board are collectively working together to improve their future rating as the STAAR testing era begins.Also during the meeting, several local policies were considered, including changes in regards to end-of-course testing which coincide with the new STAAR testing. The score on a students end-of-course (EOC) exam will now count for 15% of a student's final grade yet issues concerning credits, testing for special education students and grading were discussed. Concerning retakes, the policy should prove to only help students as needed but not be used as a means to raise a student's GPA (grade point average).Additionally, a policy on class ranking was discussed and approved, citing matters on graduating with honors, breaking ties for top spots and the final ranking, which is officially determined at the end of the fifth six-weeks grading period.Furthermore, the local policy on retention and promotion was approved. Some changes in wording did prompt the approval and while the policy is basically the same, the guidelines in place will keep students retained who are not ready to be promoted. Also part of the bundle was a policy regarding make-up work, though no action was taken. Approval was given, however, on the purchase of a vacant lot which was offered to SISD and is located across the street from the Administration Building. At $2,100, the lot is a reasonable purchase and will eventually be made into a parking lot for the Administration Building.Also approved was the consent agenda which consists of the minutes of the July 20, 2011 meeting, the financial statements and bills from the previous month, the investment statement and delinquent tax bids.A regulation on social networking was also discussed which required no approval. The district will present the regulation to both staff and students in which they will sign off on their understanding of the policy. Within the policy, employees are strongly urged to exercise caution in their interaction with students — including not initiating friendships with students, postings on their Facebook and/or Twitter accounts and their security and privacy settings. Another informative issue was the second budget workshop presented to the board by SISD Business Manager Nathan Elhert. While several issues mentioned had been discussed in the previous budget workshop, the proposed budget was presented to the board.Some changes and projections were highlighted during the presentation, including the tax rate. One area of funding would have to be determined in November, but currently the district is applying for a grant regarding antiquated air conditioning.Projections in campus enrollment for each school were also given, in which the numbers assist in planning the budget. It was noted that within the two grade-leveled elementary campuses, positive and smooth transitions were being made.Several personnel changes were reported, including one resignation, two reassignments ad four new hires in professional personnel which were approved. In the Superintendent's Report by SISD Superintendent Terry Pittman, three resignations and five new hires were reported within paraprofessional personnel.Also reported were the tax collections which now total $6,776,964.68 and stand at 103.29% collected. A change in student handbooks was announced, in that they will now be published on disks to distribute, though students will still have to sign a form to adhere to the rules.While the handbook will also be on the district's website, some printed copies will also be available. As a result of the technology upgrade, costs for distributing the student handbooks have decreased, resulting in great savings for the district.Training dates for all board members were discussed, and an Aug. 30, 2011 meeting was scheduled to discuss the tax rate, the budget and redistricting. A public hearing will also take place during the meeting.