The Giles County Board of Education held its monthly work session Sept. 23, at which they heard updates on data from the Spring 2021 state testing and responded to public concerns about the health and safety of students during the ongoing pandemic.
Assistant Director of Schools Keith Stacey presented the board with data from the Spring 2021 Tennessee Comprehensive Achievement Program (TCAP) testing. As expected, Giles County, along with much of the state, showed an overall decrease in test scores following the school closure in Spring 2020 and the volatile 2020-21 academic school year.
Overall, numbers in Giles County are around the average scores for the state of Tennessee. While some schools and counties in the state showed gains last year, overall scores decreased in Tennessee. Within Giles County, Richland Elementary and Middle schools and Minor Hill School stand out with more than one third of students at or above grade level.
The school system has developed a plan to help bring students up from the Approaching Grade Level (Level 3) bracket up to On-Track (Level 2), which they have dubbed “Stretch 5, Achieve 15.” By adding five correct test answers to these students’ scores, the numbers could improve by 15 percent.
“Not every student has a fighting chance to be a level three student,” Stacey said, so the teachers will focus on students who have the potential to bridge that gap to level two. However, Stacey added that “we are not omitting any students from growth. We want all students to add five [correct answers].”
The district was “held harmless” because more than 85 percent of students, including those of whom were virtual, participated in the testing. Because Giles County had a 96 percent participation rate, the school system did not receive a letter grade rating, and maintained its funding from the state.
Giles County School District was rated a Level 1 School in the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS), a decrease from the Level 3 rating received in the 2018-19 academic year (TVAAS levels were not assigned for 2019-20 due to COVID). The state assigns these values on a scale of one to five, with five being the best, to assess student growth year over year.
While the composite score decreased overall, Director of Schools Dr. Vickie Beard pointed out that certain areas within the school district had outstanding marks.
End of Course Testing for AP U.S. History scored a five, as did the ACT English tests. ACT Reading ranked at level 4, and CTE Concentrators-literacy, ACT composite, ACT English, ACT Science Reasoning, Fifth Grade ELA, Fifth Grade Science and Eighth Grade Science all were Level 3. The composite score for Richland Elementary was Level 3, as well.
Beard also highlighted the Giles County graduation rate, which is 95.6 percent, well above the state average of 89.6 percent
In an interview, Beard described the many ways the school system is working to address the learning loss from the past two school years.
“First of all, we’re in person,” she said. “That’s how our students learn best.”
The school system is putting an emphasis on attendance this year, putting in to place a tiered system for truancy.
“We are in the process of creating an attendance awareness campaign,” Stacey added.
Beard noted that the district is using what the state has deemed “high-quality instructional materials,” and teachers are still becoming more comfortable and familiar with it in its second year. At the work session, Stacy described the need to appeal to students, providing what he called “Edutainment,” in order to keep their interest and stimulate them.
“We expect the ELA scores will show increases as teachers gain confidence in the new curriculum,” said Stacey.
The schools are also providing “high-dosage, low-ratio tutoring” at schools using ESSR funding to provide help to students who need additional support. This tutoring, which is separate from the RTI groups, is done at at 3:1 student/teacher ratio.
The school board hopes that mandating summer school and summer learning camps this year for students who have low test scores and failing grades will help boost student performance. In the summer of 2023, these will be mandated by the state for students who need to catch up.
A revised Dress Code policy (6.310) was presented. Changes to the policy include allowing students to have hair dyed or styled in any fashion that is not “disruptive … to the educational environment.” Similarly, the specific requirements for shoes and piercings (in the ear or nose) were relaxed to include any that are not “disruptive to the educational environment.”
The dress code policy was also revised to state that tight pants or leggings may be worn with a shirt that covers the wearer’s bottom, changed from “four inches above the knee.”
Ripped and torn clothing will now be permitted if it does not show skin four inches above the knee.
The revised dress code policy will be added to the agenda for the next board meeting for first reading and, if passed, will go in to effect after a second reading in November.
A raise for school employees was discussed, but the board opted to add a bonus to the upcoming meeting agenda.
Previously, the school board voted to provide employees with a bonus of $1,000 for certificated teachers, $750 for non-certificated staff and $250 for part-time employees. They had set aside approximately $234,000 for these bonuses, but would need to approve pulling the rest from the fund balance to reach the necessary $552,591.55 to provide bonuses to all 545 employees. The bonuses could be expected by the Thanksgiving break. Beard reinforced that she wanted “all employees to know they are important.”
A 3 percent raise for all staff would cost more than $640,000 and, as it is an ongoing expense, would require a more lengthy budget approval process.
“To budget for a 3 percent raise, in order to still have a balanced budget, there would have to be more income or cut expenses,” said County Finance Director Beth Moore-Sumners.
The board chose not to pursue that option. Instead, they agreed to revisit the overall pay schedule for employees to ensure it aligns with the state minimums, which are likely to approach a $40,000 starting salary for teachers. Currently the state minimum is $38,000 and Giles County offers new teachers $38,500.
The board added the following Policies for Second Reading to the upcoming board meeting agenda for vote: 3.404 Private Vehicles; and 6.312 Use of Personal Communication and Electronic Devices
After the work session, there was a special called meeting to vote on the rate increase for health, vision and dental insurance premiums prior to the upcoming open enrollment period. In an effort to keep premiums at the same rates as last year for Board of Education employees, the school board voted to absorb an estimated $36,000 of the increased rates.
Other issues discussed during last week’s work session included:
• A field trip for Richland FFA to the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis.
• Approval to move $2 million from the district’s fund balance to go toward the budget for the school renovations.
The next board meeting will be at 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14, at the Central Office.