The second round of third-grade reading tests significantly improved the percentage of McComb students who will advance to fourth grade.

Only 54 percent of McComb third graders passed the first test, given in the spring. But Ellis said that after the second test last month, the district’s passing rate is in the 70 to 75 percent range. At least 70 percent of third-graders at both Otken Elementary and Summit Elementary schools have passed the test.

“We think that’s good, based on the increase in the state’s passing grade,” Ellis said in an interview after Tuesday’s school board meeting.

This year the Mississippi Department of Education required students to score at the third of five levels to pass. In prior years scores at the lower second level were considered passing.

“With the higher standards, we are not significantly less than we were with the lower standards,” Ellis said.

Students who have not passed the first two tests get one more chance to do so in July. Those who fail again will repeat third grade.

The district’s goal is for 88 percent of third-graders to pass the reading test. Ellis said he didn’t know if the final passing rate would hit that target.

In another matter, the board took a step toward a new building at Summit Elementary School, agreeing to seek construction bids for four classrooms.

Ellis said the new classrooms will be used for specialized programs like gifted classes and physical education, which currently share space with other classes. The new building will be located next to two temporary buildings that have been at Summit for several years, and those buildings will remain on the campus.

As for the cost of construction, maintenance director Jonathan McLendon told the school board, “I’m hopeful it will come in well under $750,000.”

Also, trustees Kizzy Coney and Lynn Gilmore, in approving the monthly claims docket, had questions about the district’s consulting agreement with its former data analyst, Steve Johnson.

“We can do a good job of staff development ourselves instead of hiring somebody,” Coney said.

Ellis said he brought Johnson back during the past school year to continue training staff in the student-centered learning program, which began at Summit Elementary and now has expanded to several other schools in the district.

“This is the final year that we will be utilizing his services,” Ellis said, referring to 2018-19. “It is strictly for student-centered learning, not for any professional development.”

Coney and Gilmore asked for a copy of Johnson’s agreement with the district. They asked if the board had approved the agreement, and Ellis said state law allows a superintendent to complete such negotiations as long as money is budgeted for it.

In other business the board:

• Approved 18 student transfer requests for the 2019-20 year. Four students are coming in from Amite County, while eight are moving to North Pike and six to South Pike. In each case a parent works for the school district where the child will attend. The board also rejected two transfer requests to North Pike because they did not meet requirement to allow it.

• Approved financial statements for April. Revenue was $1.272 million, including $867,000 from the Mississippi Adequate Education Program and $261,000 in local property taxes. Expenses were $1.427 million, including $1.099 million for payroll and $295,000 for goods and services. April 30 cash on hand was $12.825 million.

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