LIBERTY — With the school year now well underway and district accountability scores as designated by the Mississippi Department of Education set for release this week, Amite County school district Superintendent Scotty Whittington teased its results.
The elementary school maintained an F rating but the high school improved to a D rating, Whittington told the packed board room Thursday evening.
“We could very possibly receive a passing grade,” Whittington explained, in reference to the district accountability rating.
Accountability ratings, which run from F to A, have not yet been released to the public, but superintendents have been notified of their performance. Whittington added that absentee rates across the district have improved this year. The high school is at 3.6%, down from 5.8% last year. The elementary is at 2.4%, down from 4.2% last year.
“Finally, we got some good numbers,” he said.
The board heard updates from principals at each school and new techonology coordinator Brandon Gordon.
Gordon said that the new district website is online and he and his team are currently setting pages for each school. Additionally, Microsoft Office 365 will be available free of charge to all students in the district, who can download the suite to five personal devices.
When asked about the district’s cybersecurity apparatus, Gordon said more was needed.
“We definitely need to increase our protection,” he said.
High school principal Neal Smith, new this year, expressed appreciation for Gordon.
Enrollment at the junior high is up to 159 students, Smith said. Add 262 high school students to that figure for a total of 433 on campus, Smith said, adding that daily attendance is sitting at 95.97%.
Smith noted that the high school has implemented a new system of gate security. At 8:30 a.m., all gates on the campus are locked other than the north gate, he said, noting that district principals will soon meet with Amite County Civil Defense Directory Grant McCurley to discuss an active shooter safety plan.
New elementary school principal Jasmine Jackson provided updates about her school. Daily attendance is at 96.57% and only one student has been absent more than five days, she said. Last year at this time there were apparently twenty students who had missed more than five days of school.
Attendance numbers have been so good at the elementary that administrators apparently took a double-take.
“We initially thought it was a mistake,” she said.
Jackson noted that behavior has improved in her school and credits her students for the change.
“Our children are responding to new expectations,” she said.
Enrollment is up by about 50 students to 489 this year, Jackson said.
Jackson said teachers are focusing on reading skills this year by focusing on the five components of reading: vocabular, phonics, understanding, comprehension and phonemic awareness.
“Our kids can’t read,” Jackson noted, arguing that literacy is essential for success on tests in subjects other than reading as well.
She also told the board that the elementary school is in need of a teaching assistant for the first grade and a special education assistant.
Jackson told the board that the elementary school’s Save the Children program recently underwent review and received high marks. Growth was at 80%, she said. The elementary school received the highest marks in the state program for kindergarten, first and second grade students, she said.
“I want to thank Ms. Bateaste and Mrs. Johnson,” she said.
Jackson also advocated for the board to consider allowing Americorps tutors into the classroom.
“I don’t think too much help is ever too much,” she said.
The elementary school has implemented a screening program to help teachers identify students who may need additional support in various academic subject areas before they have to take state tests, she said.
Amite County Vocational-Technical Center principal Augustus Russ told the board that enrollment is at 199 students.
Russ also discussed the importance of reading, noting that his data indicates that his students are very far behind in that subject area. He said that reading is important for other academic subject areas as well, because without effective reading skills students are not able to fully comprehend material.
“Students must be able to read,” he said. “You can’t dodge the reading, and you can’t dodge the math.”
Russ noted that math skills in the school are also lower than he would like.
“Our students are struggling with plain arithmetic,” he said.
Board President Diane Cook expressed her pleasure at the contents of the school reports.
“It looks like we have some really great things going on in our schools, and I hope that can continue,” she said.
In other business, the board:
• Approved an agreement with Liberty and Foster for workers compensation insurance for $55,016. Cissy Fenn recused herself because her brother works for the insurance agency.
• Accepted the resignations of Wanda Ross and Bruce Crosby.
• Approved one incoming student transfer and one outgoing student transfer for the 30+ mile rule.
• Hired high school teacher and varsity cheer coach Krishena Weathersby, athletic activity bus driver Warren Hargrove, vocational school secretary Krystal Montgomery, master teacher nurse supplement Lisa Leake, food service employee Tracy Tarver, high school teacher Patricia Smith and Save the Children volunteer Janae Frank.
• Approved a pay raise for food service employee Pamela Cameron.