LIBERTY — Blaming a narrowly missed cut score that would have meant the difference in receiving a D versus an F from the state on a central office clerical error, Amite County Elementary School’s principal leveled blame for the campus’ failing grade at the superintendent’s office during Thursday’s monthly board meeting.

Le Tina Guice presented  a letter from the Mississippi Department of Education addressed to her, Superintendent Scotty Whittington and the school board. The letter showed the school’s F letter grade but no numerical score on a scale that assigns schools A-to-F grades under the state’s accountability model.

She reviewed student growth and proficiency over the last two school years and determined that the school had acquired a score of a 267.9 — 1.1 point away from the 269-point threshold to receive a D letter grade.

“When you look at this report card it does not say that you missed it by one point,” she said. “... Do I believe Amite County Elementary School is an F? No. Do I believe Amite County Elementary School is a D? No.”

Guice said she reviewed testing and student data and found information on one student that should have given the campus three more points but did not because of a central office clerical error.

“I attribute that F to the lack of district-level support for Amite County Elementary School,” she said.

Guice maintained that the clerical error is evidence of shoddy record keeping and an claimed district has an inadequate chain of command to provide guidance to administrators.

Then she took aim at Whittington.

“The superintendent rescinded various duties and delegations based on race,” she said.

That remark prompted board attorney Nate Armistad to call for a motion to go into executive session.

The board closed its doors, and an audience of a little more than a dozen students and school officials gathered in the lobby. Although her words were difficult to make out, Guice could be heard through locked doors speaking in a raised voice.

Armistad stepped out of those doors 16 minutes later and gave an update: “The board is back in executive session. We’ve got things going on that will lead to a discussion in personnel. Thank you for your patience,” he said.  

The board returned to open session 24 minutes later, having taken no further action, and Guice continued with her monthly report to the board, which is routine for the district. She noted at the beginning of her presentation that the Mississippi Department of Education had required her to give a board report, too, and that it be forwarded to the state.

During her presentation, Guice noted that the school recently presented a plan to raise reading scores in kindergarten through third grade to the state and she would have a follow-up meeting next week.   

In reviewing the school’s testing data, Guice noted that in the 2017-18 school year, English and language arts scores improved from 17.5 percent proficiency to 20.1, while math dropped from 15.7 percent to 13.2 and science rose from 50 percent to 54.9 over the past year.

“This year they’re changing the science curriculum, so they’re going to do away with what we did the year before,” she said.

On lighter subjects, Guice said Miss Mississippi Alysa Branch gave a Tar Wars anti-smoking presentation at the school in the past month, students held a mock election and a vocabulary parade, and they are gearing up for the annual reading fair.

She also played a video of students who showed improvement  on state tests playing at the Area 51 trampoline park in Baton Rouge as a reward for their work.  

Guice also said she’d be meeting with state officials soon to discuss the campus’ plan to improve its grades.

“We’re aiming to be a C-or-better school,” she said.

Trustee James Copeland, in giving an oft-repeated call for more consistency in testing standards from the state, asked her to deliver a message: “When you’re up there on the 13th would you ask those folks up there when they’re going to make up their minds on what they want children to learn?”

Later in the meeting, Whittington gave his own monthly update and presented charts showing A-through-F grades in tested subjects.

“We seem to be doing alright on them but every year we seem to be doing aright on our grades until it gets time to take the state tests,” he said.

Whittington said critical areas of concern include sixth-grade math and seventh-grade English and language, both at the elementary school.

“Have you identified what’s causing that problem and how we’re getting there?” trustee Jimmy Burns asked.

“No,” Whittington said. “But we are working on a plan.”

The superintendent proceeded to discuss high school grades, noting that Biology I shows a high number of D’s and F’s and Algebra I spikes at F’s.

“If they’re on those teams then shut that thing down,” Burns said.  

Board president Monica Johnson noted that a district policy states that students must maintain a C average to participate in athletics, “but they’re still out there” playing even if they’re failing.

Whittington’s last slide — student and teacher absences — illustrated what he often considers a major contributor to the problem, adding that teacher absences at the elementary and high schools were both above 7 percent, which was more than student absences at either campus.

“There’s our problem, absentee reports,” he said. “And remember the golden number is 3 percent.”

Johnson said the district must go beyond the testing data to determine what the underlying cause of failing scores for each student who is struggling.  

“It doesn’ matter how much you drill children, if you’re not meeting the underlying issue that child is having ... you’re still going to have those grades,” she said.

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