South Pike School District trustees heard reports Thursday from principals regarding progress on state testing and absences.

Eva Gordon Lower Elementary principal Kim Daniels said enrollment is at 411 students for December, down slightly from 413 in November. Average daily attendance was at 92%, and chronic absenteeism — the rate of students who missed two or more days of school over the month — reached 29.44%. The rate of teacher attendance was 90% and discipline referrals decreased to eight.

Daniels said the rate of chronic absenteeism has been trending higher as the year has progressed, and it represents a main issue she is dealing with. She said a bad spate of illness contributed to the figure over the winter.

“A virus has been going around,” she said. “We had eight students that went home this morning.”

Lampton said the increasing absences are concerning and asked Daniels what steps she and her faculty have taken to address the issue.

Daniels said faculty make calls to parents of absent children, provide incentives and rewards for children with perfect attendance, work closely with the district truancy officer, hold parent conferences and send out electronic notifications and text messages to parents. The school also recently started a student absentee committee to help address the problem. She said before Christmas the school held an information session for parents to drive home the importance of daily attendance for the well-being of students and district.

Eva Gordon Upper Elementary principal Geneva Holmes said results from the school’s second round of benchmark testing showed growth.

The school scored a 255, up 13 points from 242 at the beginning of the year and only 24 points away from the goal of 279, which is in the D range. She said the third round of benchmark testing will be in March to correspond with the administration of exams.

Board members commended the improvement.

“We are in this together. We are here to help each other,” board president Clara Conerly said. “I want us to be the best school we’ve ever had. Let’s work together.”

“It looks like we’re seeing fairly good growth. Do you feel that way?” Trustee Luke Lampton asked Holmes.

“I do,” she said.

Holmes said her staff sent children home for the holidays with work packets and received 118 of 290 when school resumed. She said teachers support the program and she intends to continue it in the future.

Holmes said enrollment was at 290 students in December with a rate of average daily attendance of 93.94%. Chronic absenteeism was at 25%, teacher attendance was 86% and discipline referrals decreased to 29. Holmes said teacher attendance is expected to improve with the return this week of an instructor who was out for an extended period on family and medical leave.  

South Pike High School Principal Camita Dillon said enrollment was up to 501 students in December, the rate of average daily attendance was at 94%, chronic absenteeism dropped dramatically to just over 7%, teacher attendance was up to 98% and discipline referrals increased from 34 to 39. She said 22% of students were in dual-enrollment and 13.9% had taken the ACT.

Lampton asked to see an average of ACT scores at the next board meeting and whether Dillon feels her students are showing growth. She said they are.

“On the whole, I think we’re doing very well,” she said.

In other business, the board:

• Heard a request from Conerly that anyone seeking to address the board submit their  request to Superintendent Dr. Donna Scott three to four days ahead of each board meeting.

• Heard public comments from Leslie Hurst, who said she is concerned about the safety and mental health of students.

“We’re responsible for them in our care,” she said.

Hurst said she’d like to see a zero-tolerance policy enacted regarding gang affiliation.

“I care about the students and I want everybody to be safe,” she said.

“We’ll look into that,” Conerly said.

• Approved the 2019 school board meeting attendance report required by state law. No board members missed 20% or more of meetings over the year.

• Renewed an employment application service agreement with software company PowerSchool for $1,340.

• Agreed to advertise for bids for district copy and print services.

• Approved the 2019-20 school improvement application.

• Approved the Eva Gordon Upper Elementary school improvement action plan.

• Approved an application for federal Title V Rural and Low Income funds that, if awarded, would pay for a technology department employee.

• Approved the county’s continued use of a South Pike facility as a voting precinct at market value for the 1-acre  parcel.

• Canceled John Forman Jr.’s 16th Section hunting and fishing lease due to lack of payment and failure to pay 2017-18 land taxes. The parcel will be readvertised for bids. South Pike requires a minimum bid of $15 per acre.

• Accepted the resignation of high school teacher Susan Duncan.

• Hired junior high teacher Linda Winn and substitute bus driver Janice Rawls.

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