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Board discusses classroom improvements

By Lark Jarvis
San Jacinto News-Times

Financial accountability and academic performance ratings were among topics discussed by members of the Shepherd Independent School District Board of Trustees meeting last Monday.
To begin October’s board meeting, kindergarten students presented book reports and accompanying decorated pumpkins. Artistic expression and writing are both academic skill sets the students need to do well on their STARR tests.

Business Manager J.W. Kirkham reported that during the last reporting period, the district received a 100-point rating out of a possible 100 from the Texas Education Agency’s school financial accountability rating system. The system, known as the School Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) is the statewide quality assurance rating system for district financial management. The agency strives to make sure districts have systems in place that provide the best use of each educational dollar.

The district’s academic performance, however, is in the midst of a targeted improvement plan. Curriculum and Instruction/Special Programs Director Hannah Williams said that while the primary and intermediate campuses met no standards in 2015, they did meet 2016 standards in two areas—Student Progress and Postsecondary Readiness.

The state requires that 60 percent of students pass the STARR test for a district to be considered academically acceptable. Only 56 percent of Shepherd Primary and Intermediate students were able to pass the 2016 standardized test. The district has set as a goal a 70 percent passing rate, and to that end, is reporting data and teaching strategies to the state quarterly. Walk-through observations of teachers this school year have shown frequent “off-task and inappropriate student behaviors.”

Administrators are addressing these challenges using systems to improve classroom management, teacher evaluation and support, and instructional rigor and relevance. The systems the district has chosen to use are CHAMPS, T-TESS, and the Fundamental Five, respectively.

“It’s all about consistency,” said Williams. The board approved a Texas Accountability Information System plan that will monitor quarterly and annual district improvement goals.
Stephen Lee, a representative of Purdue, Brandon, Fields, Collins and Mott, LLP gave a report on the district’s current delinquent tax revenue. He said that the firm is on track to collect its goal of 90 percent or more of uncollected taxes which are referred to them if not paid by July 1, of a given year.

Campus Reports—For a complete listing of upcoming events on each campus, see the district website at shepherdisd.net and see each campus’ website

Primary Campus:
Principal Sandra Meekins reported that 21 out of the school’s 28 classrooms had class attendance at 90 percent or more.
On Oct. 28, the primary school will be having a Book Character Parade and class parties. The parade will start at 1:30 and parties will follow. Students are asked to dress like their favorite book character and bring a copy of the book to share. If students need a book to match their costume, Mrs. Owens, school librarian, will be more than happy to help. Students may wear a mask during the parade only. They may carry an accessory as long as it is not any type of weapon.

Intermediate Campus:
Attendance was at 96.4 percent campus-wide. In September, the school held a “See You at the Pole” assembly.
Career Day will be Oct. 31. Family Reading Night will be held in November.

Middle School Campus:
Students competed in a bookmark design contest and held National Junior Honor Society Inductions. Homecoming festivities included a lights-out pep rally and selection of a prince and princess. Some eighth graders learned about Anne Frank experientially when they spent all day without speaking, as Anne Frank had to do to survive in the Amsterdam Secret Annex. Language Arts teacher Stephanie Keasling coordinated the Anne Frank learning experience.
Storybook Character Day will be Oct. 31. See the website for full details. In order to teach about the process of electing a President, all students will participate in a Mock Election on Monday Nov. 7. The first Parent Night of the year is Nov. 1.

High School Campus:
See detailed website calendar for events, including the FFA Greenhand Camp on Oct. 27 and FFA Fruit and Meat sale beginning Oct. 28. On Nov. 16, Angelina College will have an information session on the FAFSA (Federal Financial Aid form—required of all students) for students and parents. Dec. 12 will be an informal college information day. Colleges will have information available during lunch.

District Auxiliary Service Coordinator Pat Murphy reported that the district now has two fully air conditioned buses, and they will be operational as soon as paperwork is complete.
Technology Coordinator Tommy Hughes reported that power outages have become a problem and are putting equipment at risk. He is researching costs for a backup generator. John Few said that it seems to be Entergy, rather than SHECO, that is having surges and other difficulties, and that looking into other suppliers may be an option.

Colonel James Albano said that all JROTC cadets would be fully outfitted by the middle of November, and that there is now a Pirate Cadet Handbook. The program’s 48 cadets now comprise 8 percent of the school’s enrollment. In order for the program to be fully certified by the Army, the program must enroll 10 percent of the student body. Full Army certification would make federal funds available for the program. An air rifle marksmanship program is one of the possibilities that federal funds could help provide.

Currently, the JROTC has a trained color guard and physical fitness team. They will hold a carwash on Nov. 5.

Special Education Department Director Charlene Lowe discussed the current status of the district’s compliance with the new Texas state law requiring audio/visual cameras in special education classrooms. Because there is some discrepancy between the state attorney general’s interpretation of the law and the Texas Education Agency’s (TEA) Commissioner’s Rules for Special Education, the specifics of the requirements are still uncertain. The state legislature passed the law but did not fund it, and the the Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education is urging legislators to clarify and fully fund the law.

Financial advisor David Holland presented information on the district’s final phase of bond refinance, which will cut district bond interest rate in half. Business Manager Kirkham said that the bonds will not be sold at an interest rate lower than 7.5, and that sales can take place in the next six months, but that the exact date has not been determined.
The board approved Brenda Cronin’s position as Record Management Officer, and accepted the resignation of instructor Nancy Helms. Amy Sewell was approved as high school health science instructor.

The board moved to waive building use and custodial fees for Little Dribblers. Board member Jerry Curtaia proposed that the district look into changing/adding to its bereavement leave policy. Staff is currently allowed one bereavement day based on closeness of the relationship of the loss, combined with available state and local personal days.

November’s board meeting date will be Thursday, Nov. 17, instead of the normal third Monday of the month.