By LANA CLIFTON
The Bryant School Board met Monday, Aug. 17, with a full agenda including 2009 Benchmark test results, individual school achievement recognition, technology updates and plans for the Salt Bowl.
Dr. Deborah Bruick, Assistant Superintendent, shared the results of the Benchmark testing for the district. “We really do want to celebrate our teachers and our schools and our students, because when we received our school data back, we knew it was growth again and it was a job well done for the most part.”[more]
Bruick pointed out gains in Special Education scores, which, she said, were often linked directly to whether or not a school ended up with a school improvement status.
According to data provided by Bruick, Bryant’s scores surpassed state scores in every area as a district and surpassed key counterpart districts in many areas. She interpreted the data as still showing consistent growth when compared to previous years. She also recognized Salem Elementary as the only school in the district to be named as a school exceeding school improvement standards.
Data for elementary school combined population scores in math for third through fifth grades showed improvement for all schools in the district except Bryant Elementary, which stayed the same with 88 percent of students scoring in the proficient and advanced ranges and Springhill Elementary, which moved slightly from 92 percent to 90 percent.
The literacy category showed increases in combined population scores across all elementary scores with the greatest increase in Davis Elementary, which increased from 71 percent of students in the proficient and advanced ranges to 85 percent.
The middle schools and high schools showed increases in combined population scores in math. Literacy scores in combined population, however, only increased at Bethel Middle School. Bryant Middle School showed a slight decrease, from 75 percent to 74 percent with proficient and advanced scores, while Bryant High School showed a drop from 69 percent to 66 percent.
Scores for subpopulations with schools did not fair as well. Although there were gains over previous years in most cases, the levels reached were not high enough to meet the goals set by the Arkansas Department of Education in several schools.
Three schools in the district were given a school improvement status by the state. Bryant Elementary is in year one of school improvement. Bryant Middle School is also in year one. Bethel received school improvement status for the second year in a row. For all three schools, the scores that put them in this category were those of the subpopulation of students with disabilities.
Schools with this status must meet certain goals to meet state standards for improvement to be released. While a school has a school improvement status, they must offer school choice as an option to students who would like to go to another school. Those schools in year two must also offer supplemental services to help students gain the knowledge needed to improve their test scores.
Board members discussed reasons for the different score variations with Bruick and the different challenges involved in improving. Bruick said she thought a key to improvement was early literacy. She also mentioned the idea of a modified summer school for students who need extra help.
Other ideas presented by board members and Bruick included studying schools that are comparable to Bryant with better scores in some areas to find out their methods, hiring additional English teachers for the middle schools, and double blocking English classes for students who are struggling.
The School Board recognized the achievements of two schools.
Collegeville Elementary received the 2009 Best of Bryant Award in the “Schools” category by the U.S. Commerce Association, an organization that recognizes outstanding businesses and organizations for exceptional marketing success.
The district also recognized Salem Elementary for earning its Annual Improvement Gains Award of $15,000. This was awarded because they received a 4-gains score. This means the school is exceeding improvement standards. Salem was the only school in the district to receive the award. The school was allowed to choose how it would spend the money. They decided to distribute it evenly among the staff.
Bryant High School Principal, Randy Rutherford, presented high school scores in advanced placement classes. He noted gains in the scores. He told the board that many students were earning college hours for some of these courses which saved their parents money.
Rutherford then went over the ACT profile report. He felt the “college ready” scores were not entirely accurate because they figured in responses students gave on a survey they took before the test. The survey contained a question about courses completed that Rutherford said was worded in such away that students might have answered it incorrectly.
Average ACT scores for the Bryant High School students who took the test showed gains over previous years in all subjects. The scores were also higher than the state average scores.
In other business, Brooks Jackson, of Jackson, Brown and King Architects, addressed the board with an update on facilities projects.
He began with a report on the projects that had been slated for the summer. He said all work was to be completed by Wednesday, the first day of school. At the time of the meeting, Jackson said the work was already primarily complete with only minor items left to be finished.
Jackson then began to bring the board members up to date on the progress of the new high school building project. He said the presentation that had been scheduled for Aug. 6 had been held as scheduled.
“Since then,” said Jackson, “programming and diagrammatic work is complete and revisions to drawings have been incorporated.” He also let them know that schematic design work was in progress.
Jackson told how he had traveled to Massachusetts to tour two buildings that used solar voltaic technology. He was very excited about the possibility of using a similar system in the new building.
He said he was looking into a system that would allow the high school to be totally water independent. He made it clear that he was looking at different and innovative ideas for the new building.
“We’re going to push the envelope … We are going to do it to the limits that our budgets will let us,” said Jackson.
Tait Shrum, Technology Director for Bryant schools also gave an update report. He informed the board of ongoing projects to update and replace computer systems, password systems, security systems and campus computer networks. Shrum also fielded questions from board members about new applications, security and service options.
Assistant Superintendent, Don McGohan, had two different orders of business. One item involved the denial of a student applying to transfer to the Bryant School District under the School Choice Act.
Following a two-year old district policy established to keep from overtaxing the school district’s special education department, McGohan had denied the school transfers of a student based on the fact that he would require special education services. According to McGohan, there is a clause in the School Choice Act, which allows for such denials in cases where acceptance of a transfer would put a strain on the district.
The child’s mother appealed the denial and came before the board to plead her case. The board read the letters that had been exchanged between the parent and McGohan and discussed the issue at length. The main points of discussion were centered on two facts that complicated the case. The student’s sister had been accepted into the district under school choice, and the student had lived in the Bryant school district and attended Bryant schools from kindergarten through second grade until his family moved into another district.
McGohan said he had denied around eight other students for the same reason before the start of the school year.
Vicki Kingston, Special Education Coordinator for the district, also addressed the board to let them know the program was at capacity and that more and more students requiring special education were coming in every day.
After discussing what was best for the child and the district, the board was silent as everyone waited for someone to make a motion to accept or deny the appeal for school transfer. Board member, David Moore, broke the silence by making a motion to deny the appeal. The motion passed 4-1. Board member Sandra Porter voted against it.
McGohan also approached the board requesting additional staff members. The board approved a new kindergarten teaching position for Salem Elementary to accommodate an unexpected increase in kindergarten students. They also approved a part-time aide position for the Bryant High School P.E. department needed to fill a hole left after the recent resignation of the basketball coach.
Bryant athletic director, Coach Tom Farmer and Gary James, Chairman of the Salt Bowl committee, addressed the Bryant School Board to present some plans and goals for the football game that has become a tradition in Saline County. The event is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 4.
Coach Farmer introduced James, saying, “This doesn’t just happen, it takes a lot of work.” He mentioned that James was leading the committee and that the committee had about 16 different subcommittees.
James stepped forward and acknowledged the work of many people in the community who had been meeting and planning since January. “It’s all about teamwork,” he said.
“Our vision is to have 30,000 people show up for the game,” announced James. “Our focus is on the students,” said James. “It’s so neat to see those football players, the band, the drill team, walk out on that field in front of 30,00 people. That might be the only time in their life they get to perform in front of that many people. Plus we want to have fun. When it’s all said and done, it’s still a game.”
James went on to share that this year the Salt Bowl committee decided the event needed something more than football. “So we called a time out this year and said, ‘what do we need to do to enhance this game?’”
The committee decided to team up with the Arkansas Rice Depot, a program in Arkansas that distributes food to needy families. According to James, 23 schools in Saline County are a part of the Rice Depot’s Food for Kid’s program that gives food in backpacks to hungry kids at school. He stated that 1,200 kids in the county went home with food from the Rice Depot every night.
“What we’re trying to do is to use this game to where it’s more than a game. It’s about helping our community, helping the kids in our community.”
Several banks in Saline County have agreed to set up booths at the game where those attending the event can get a hot dog, chips and a drink. Donation boxes will also be at the booths to collect money from those who are willing to give to the Rice Depot. The committee is also going to encourage everyone to bring a jar of peanut butter to the game. The schools in the district will also be collecting change and peanut butter.
According to Farmer, the plan is to have volunteers available to load food into the Rice Depot truck during halftime.
Other items on the agenda included: a presentation of preliminary copies of the budget from Richard Stipe, business manager for the district; a personnel report showing resignations, new hires and contract revisions; the Superintendent’s report and presentation of artwork for the agenda cover.