SMS sees vast improvements

The Sweetwater Independent School District (SISD) Board of Directors met for their final meeting of 2011 on Monday night, Dec. 19, 2011 at the Administration Building.Sweetwater Middle School (SMS) brought their campus report to the board through the school's principal and vice principal, Jeff Withrow and Danette Price, respectively.Mr. Withrow noted that the campus has been preparing for the new state-mandated test, STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness), through the integration of the C-Scope curriculum which assists in developing critical thinking skills. As the state continues to release information regarding the standardized test, SMS will focus their preparations in that direction.The national financial crisis made an impact on state funding this year within education, which was felt locally at SMS. The school made cost cuts through staff reduction and absorption, monitoring and improving attendance rates and reducing the number of substitute teachers. As a result of fewer substitutes, the school saved money which in turn was given back to the campus. A teacher patio was recently established which is also used by teachers for student use. Mr. Withrow stated that this situation, among others, allows the school to help the district save costs.Other updates have been seen around SMS through some renovations made in the library. Not only were physical renovations made, but antiquated books--some over 50 years old--were replaced. The school also introduced a new librarian, along with new directors in the band and choir programs. Both programs continue to grow and see success, along with the new robotics program brought to the school this year.The program, with its partnership with Ludlum Measurements, is expected to be a springboard to students as they prepare for their futures for college and careers. The robotics program recently competed in an event and fared well, with one team advancing to the next round. Looking ahead to the next semester, the campus will have new teachers in science and art. Recently, a contest was held at the school which allowed students to design a bookmark, and the winning bookmark was presented to the board.Ms. Price then presented on the campus environment regarding discipline and the actions taken by school. With the mindset that positive behavior results in academic success, teacher interaction with students during discipline is vital.The school has also been monitoring teacher referrals for discipline, which also charts the grades and days of the week of referrals. It was announced that from this time last year, the referrals have seen an 18% drop. A new system which was implemented by Mr. Withrow has proven to be successful and contributes to the decrease. Also contributing to the decrease--due in part to the system--is parent involvement. Upon a student's second behavior offense, parents are notified. Consequently, parent support has greatly improved this year.Rounding out the report was another contest that SMS sixth grade history students participated in with the Art and Literacy program at the Grace Museum in Abilene. The students competed amongst each other to name the brahma bull mascot.The name selected by the students was "Mini Moo", the submission from sixth grader Reece Dahl. After being submitted into the official contest--which consisted of over 40 districts, Reece and "Mini Moo" won the entire contest and representatives from the museum will be in attendance at SMS on Wednesday to celebrate.Also on Wednesday, a UIL awards assembly will take place on campus, which will also recognize students with perfect attendance and the robotics team that competed.Another report was heard from Kathy Wilks, who presented the 2010-2011 financial audit report. Ms. Wilks offered a brief review of the past financial year and noted that a clean bill was given on all three opinion letters.The board approved the financial report, as well as the 2010-2011 AEIS (Academic Excellence Indicator System) report. A brief public hearing was held on the matter, but no input was given. However, SISD Assistant Superintendent Kathy Smartt noted that the state continues to raise the standards, and the ratings do not reflect that continual hard work of the teachers and administration.Praise was given to the new curriculum that will prepare students for state testing, especially at the secondary level. The ratings will now stand for two years--in contrast to the previous one year standing, and the AEIS report can be found on the school district's website.The board also approved the submission of a waiver for a missed instructional day at Sweetwater High School from the broken pipe that led to the flooding and no electricity on the campus. The application is being submitted for the full day of Nov. 29, as well as the half days of Dec. 12, 13 and 14. Upon submitting the application, the board anticipates learning the status of the waiver soon.In addition, approval was given on Policy Update 92, which affects the local policies of DFF, DFFA and DFFB. The plan covers various financial and personnel situations.Furthermore, the board approved their election of nominees to the Nolan County Central Appraisal District Board of Directors. The board will evenly divide their 1,365 votes among the five nominees: Dale Finch, Ben High, Jerry Rozzlle, Randall Smith and SISD board member Mark Meneses.Also approved was the consent agenda which is made up of the minutes from the Nov. 21 meeting, the financial statement and bills for November 2011 and the investment statement. Two delinquent tax lot bids were also accepted and approved. Approval was also given for two resignations and three new hires in professional personnel, and one paraprofessional resignation was acknowledged. An item which required no action was a report on board training. All board members met or exceeded their required training for the year, which was made up of three levels of training.In the Superintendent's Report, the current enrollment was noted at 2,249, an increase of 59 students from the first day. Tax collections were also reported at $513,385.14, or 9% collected.The Highly Qualified Report now stands with all indicators marked at 100%, and the update from Wallace High School still notes 12 students are anticipated to graduate this year. 45 students are currently enrolled and a brief discussion on discipline within transportation was held.In addition, some changes will have to be discussed regarding the health benefits of Superintendent Terry Pittman, as a result of federal health care reform. The board is also working toward finalizing a date for a called meeting on an evaluation on the superintendent.The January meeting was changed to the 23rd in that the original date fell on a school holiday. The same action was taken with the February and March meetings due to school holidays.