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School board hears principals’ reports


Bonnie Coblentz



School officials heard five annual administrator reports Tuesday night from the principals of the high school, alternative school and vo-tech school, and both assistant superintendents of the Starkville School District. 


This year, several reports were combined in one individual, such as the high school report including bands and athletics. Making the reports were Keith Fennell, SHS principal; James Stidham, director of Millsaps Career and Technology Center; Julie Kennedy, director of Quad County Alternative School; Walter Gonsoulin, assistant superintendent for federal programs and operations; and Beth Sewell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. 


"I feel we''re working in the right direction to perform at the level expected of us," Fennell told the board as he began his report on the high school. 


Among his highlights were the bands'' continued superior ratings in competition, the ROTC''s renewed status as a unit with distinction, 400 students performing in high school athletics and two National Merit finalists. He said maintaining these high rankings will be the challenge for coming years. 


He said the school is working to implement differentiated instruction and differentiated assessments, which allow teachers to instruct a student in the way best suited to their learning styles and allows for testing that takes into consideration a student''s learning style. The school is working to standardize grading policies and procedures, and trying to reach average daily attendance of 95 percent. 


Fennell said goals for the coming year are identification badges for students and strategic fencing to limit pedestrian cut-throughs across the campus. 


Stidham was optimistic about the value and role of his school. 


"Career and technology education is what is going to help our economy get out of the mess it''s in," Stidham said. 


He told the board recent grant funds have put them "in real good shape with equipment," but he did ask for restroom renovations at the school. He said about half the high school students complete one of the two-year programs offered at the school, a fact he called remarkable for a college town. 


He is trying to increase enrollment in the evening classes for adults, and said the career and technology school is a vital part of keeping students in school. 


"It is as important as athletics," Stidham said. "Some kids come to school to play ball. Other are here to become an auto mechanic." 


Kennedy has been director of the alternative school for less than a year, but she spoke highly of the GED opportunities, reduced disciplinary referrals and the EdOptions program that is allowing students to catch up on failed classes and graduate rather than drop out of school. 


There are currently about 70 students in the alternative school, which can take as many as 90. 


"We''re looking forward to moving into the Overstreet building," Kennedy said. 


She said the extra space will allow them to expand the numbers in their GED program, the cafeteria will make feeding easier, and the gym will eliminate the need to transport the alternative students once a week to Armstrong Middle School for physical education classes. 


Gonsoulin updated the board on the maintenance, transportation, technology and child nutrition programs, as well as federal programs. 


He said the transportation department has been working to limit emissions at the downtown bus barn, and he said the GPS units installed on the buses have reduced speeding and cut down the amount of time the buses spend idling. 


Federal money has been used to hire class size reduction teachers in the elementary grades, and he gave numbers showing the success of the summer feeding programs offered again last year at Armstrong and Ward-Stewart Elementary schools. 


"Sudduth Elementary School was awarded and recognized by USDA for achieving Silver-level status in the Healthier US Challenge," Gonsoulin said. "This is one of the highest honors a school nutrition program can achieve." 


To help lower the school drop out rate, a fourth high school counselor was hired with federal funds. 


Sewell reported on the Larry Box Environmental Center, gifted and special education programs, curriculum issues, testing and professional development. 


"We''re making sure our curriculum is aligned in all we do," Sewell told the board. 


She said the environmental center at the Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge is 100 percent booked, largely because of recent efforts to align the programs offered there with grade benchmarks. She said the district is working with other area school districts to develop pacing guides for the Mississippi Curriculum Test 2 subjects. These pacing guides let teachers know what material must be covered in a certain amount of time to ensure students are prepared for the annual testing. 


She also said she is working to create one data book for all test results, so a student''s performance through the various grades can be reviewed and the data used as an evaluation tool. 


When asked about the upcoming round of state testing, Sewell was optimistic. 


"I''m hopeful that we''ll move up in accreditation," she said. "If we don''t, it''s not because we haven''t been working real hard."




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