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Walk-throughs, grants dominate school board meeting


Carmen K. Sisson



The city school district's board of trustees held a lengthy though relatively routine board meeting Monday night, with the majority of the 2.5-hour session devoted to an update on the district's "Believe and Achieve" initiative. 


The program was implemented at the beginning of the school year as part of Superintendent Dr. Martha Liddell's proposal to improve district test scores through teacher training, classroom observation and professional development strategies.  


Liddell emphasized leadership, communication and teamwork as keys to the program's success.  


The initiative calls for each board member, along with central office staff and school administrators, to perform regular walk-throughs at designated schools, using iPads and a computerized questionnaire to rate student engagement, teacher effectiveness, environmental factors such as temperature and comfort levels, and other concerns.  


At the end of each observation session, the results are tallied and discussed with teachers.  


Though such close scrutiny required a bit of an adjustment for teachers, the random checks have resulted in a decrease in disciplinary referrals, Liddell said.  


Board member Aubra Turner questioned Liddell at length about the process, expressing concerns over the fairness and effectiveness of having in-house observations, especially with each person assigned to one school for the duration of the year.  


Liddell said school rotations will be part of the plan next year but added that she feels the method is "extremely fair" and "very effective." 


Likewise, the district's grant writing department also provided an update, with grants and special projects coordinator Jannette Adams saying she is working to monitor and track 22 grants totaling $874,378. 


Turner questioned the equity of the allocations, saying certain schools and projects seem to receive considerably different levels of funding. She pointed out the district's dropout prevention program, Project 2020, which has received $300,000 in grants. She also noted $237,000 in grants allocated for Project Lace-Up, an after-school enrichment program and $181,000 in grants for the state-sponsored teacher incentive pilot program underway this year at Cook Elementary Fine Arts Magnet School and Franklin Elementary Medical Sciences and Wellness Magnet School. 


Adams said the district hopes to eliminate the grant distribution inequities by holding a grant-writing workshop to help teachers become more comfortable with applying for grants for their schools.  


During the meeting, the board also unanimously approved its latest grant -- a Mississippi Department of Education Rural Development Grant worth $84,084. The grant will be used for Project Boost, an after-school tutoring program to be held at Stokes-Beard Elementary Communication and Technology Magnet School, Fairview Elementary Aerospace and Science Magnet School, and Franklin.  


In other news, board member Jason Spears was appointed as board secretary, replacing Turner, who resigned from the position at the Nov. 29 special board meeting. The board approved the minutes from the meeting with a 4-1 vote. Turner cast the lone dissenting vote.  


The next regular board meeting will be held Jan. 14 at 6 p.m. at Brandon Central Services.


Carmen K. Sisson is the former news editor at The Dispatch.



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