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County schools prepare for better state testing


Bonnie Coblentz



STARKVILLE -- Board members heard about plans being made and action taken to address academic performance in the Oktibbeha County School District as they prepare for state testing that begins in late March. 


The county school district has been labeled "at risk of failing" by the Mississippi Department of Education For perspective, the Starkville School District ranks just two steps higher at "academic watch." 


The board took up the matter of the 2010 state testing and the West Oktibbeha County High School''s improvement plan. They also spent some time discussing problems with the district''s energy savings contract they have with Johnson Controls. 


Jerome Smith, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, had good news and bad news for the board regarding progress made to prepare students for the upcoming state tests.  


"Three of four schools improved, but one school dropped," Smith said, referring to student performance on the most recent round of practice tests. 


Superintendent James Covington indicated the school that dropped was East Oktibbeha County High School. 


"On the first test, they blew it out of the water, so we know they can do it," Covington said. "We just need to find the incentive to make them want to do it" on the real test. 


Smith identified four groups of consultants and specialists who are working with teachers and district staff to address the areas where students performed the lowest. 


Helen Kennard, principal of West Oktibbeha County High School, presented the board with copies of the improvement plan for this high school. 


"We were cited on the test cycle for last year on the federal side," Kennard said by way of explanation. 


The plan she presented addresses the issues where the school had deficiencies. One was that it failed to meet adequate yearly progress, or AYP, because of the number of students tested. 


"We did not test 95 percent in one category," Kennard said, adding that this group was special needs seniors. 


The plan she presented includes guidelines for transitioning students to new materials and subjects, remediation for those falling behind, and preparation for upcoming classes.  


Board member Herman Bush asked how the after-school program is doing, and Kennard characterized it as "pretty well." 


Challenges for it include the students who need it the most not staying for it and working around athletic schedules to offer the individualized instruction some students need. 


Covington said the steps Kennard and her staff are already taking appear to be working. 


"Scores shot up on the last assessment," he said of the school. 


The board was asked to approve this improvement plan for West Oktibbeha High, and did so unanimously on Yvette Rice''s motion and Bush''s second. 


Much of the rest of the meeting was taken with a discussion of a poor savings report from Johnson Controls, the company with which the school district contracted to implement an energy savings plan. 


Board member Charles Avant had the majority of the questions after reviewing the mid-year and end-of-year reports from Johnson Controls. His concerns focused on automatic thermostats that were set to the wrong temperatures and some that did not have the time set correctly on them.  


Both situations mean the buildings they controlled were not being heated or cooled in the efficient manner as planned. 


The board was unhappy that Johnson Controls did not keep the appointment they set to audit the system, but instead showed up unannounced and unaccompanied to check the system.  


Problems they found in this audit cost the district much of the energy savings check they expected as the return on their investment. 


Covington said he would gather more information on this issue and make a full report to the board at the next meeting. 


The board went into closed session to discuss personnel matters.  


They plan to meet again April 6 in the superintendent''s office, but may call a special meeting before then to reconsider school uniforms.




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Reader Comments

Article Comment Tax payer commented at 3/3/2010 8:40:00 AM:

Johnson Controls sold the district a bill of goods. The controllers don't work correctly, the rooms are either way to hot or way to cold. Units that have malfunctioned constantly since Johnson Controls installed the new thermostats costing thousands of dollars to be spent, not even counting the man hours district personal have spend resetting and repairing the units.
This is another example of a company taking advantage of school districts because they know there is no one to hold them accountable. The schools would have save money simply using common sense when setting room temp and turning the units off at night, over school holidays, and in the summer.
Instead we have spent a ton on money to lose money. The money spent with Johnson Controls would have been better used to fix the still leaking roofs in the district. before there were working ac units with leaking roofs, now we have nonworking ac units and still leaking roofs.


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