Four Trustees Sworn in at Special Session
Four trustees sworn in at special session
New board discusses challenges of cost-saving dual enrollment programs
Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom swears in four trustees to the WFISD school board Dec. 6, 2016. From left: Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom, Mike Rucker, Adam Groves, Dale Harvey and Tom Bursey.
County Judge Woody Gossom launched the WFISD noon special session Dec. 6 with a swearing-in of four newly elected board members from the Nov. 8 election.
Board President Dale Harvey, the Place 4 incumbent who won re-election, was sworn in, along with Place 5 incumbent Tom Bursey. Also sworn in: Place 2’s Mike Rucker and Place 3’s Adam Groves. Both Rucker and Groves ran and won unopposed.
Board members also voted for new officers. The unanimous decision: Harvey will continue as the board’s president; Bill Franklin will serve as vice president; Elizabeth Yeager will serve as secretary.
A new dual enrollment program expands college possibilities
If parents want to save big money on their children’s college educations, there are now several ways to do it. But parents and their children must first pinpoint their career goals and the colleges they will attend to make the best decisions.
Associate Superintendent Peter Griffiths and Ward Roberts, director of innovation and advanced academics, explained the benefits of dual enrollment and proposed a new dual enrollment program called Go! College.
The many options are creating new opportunities for parents and students.
In Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses, students take high school courses, then test when the course is complete to earn college credit. Students must earn a high score of 4 or 5 on the test to earn college credit; otherwise, they earn nothing.
In the district’s dual credit program, high school students take actual college-level courses that earn them credit for both high school and college. Currently, WFISD has more than 170 dual credit courses being taken; the District expects to have 200 next semester. It will award more than 800 college credit hours through the dual credit program alone.
The new program being considered by WFISD officials is Go! College, a dual-credit initiative. The current sophomores who qualify based on their TSI scores may take 12 hours at Vernon College during their junior year, similar to two full year courses in high school, most likely English and U.S. History.
By their senior year, those students will have had the opportunity to complete 34 to 42 college hours. Such accelerated coursework can translate into substantial college savings. For example, the University of Texas charges $23,000 per year; a student who receives 42 college credit hours in high school will save about $35,000.
With the possibility of such a profound cost savings, one would expect dual credit programs to be popular. Yet in WFISD, many students still compete to earn a grade point average that will fall in the Top 10 percent of their school. This Top 10 percent achievement earns them automatic admission into Texas public universities, a coveted prize. (The University of Texas requires that students fall in the top 7 percent.)
These students prioritize coursework that bulks up their GPAs. Until recently, there was no GPA advantage to dual credit classes, though dual courses recently received a half-point increase.
The cost of a dual credit course, while economical, may also keep students away, said Mr. Griffiths. A dual credit course costs $285 (“a lot less than college,” said Mr. Griffiths). Of that, the District pays $185. A low-income student may also receive scholarship help to pay the remaining $100 to make it “a super bargain,” said Mr. Roberts.
Both Rider and Wichita Falls High Schools offer dual credit classes; Hirschi High School offers dual credit but draws so few “takers” that classes don’t make.
The question facing board members is this: How might the District change the dual credit program to make it easier for students at all three high schools to take advantage of it?
Idea No. 1 is to offer dual credit coursework at the new Career Education Center, which will open its doors in August 2017. Many students will be traveling over there anyway; while they are there, they could take the most popular courses of Government, Economics, and U.S. History.
Idea No. 2 is to offer the Go! College program’s dual credit courses at Vernon College in the morning or afternoon, depending on the student’s home campus schedule. This set-up makes it unimportant how many students from each campus sign up for the classes, since all classes will be delivered at VC. Students could complete the classes in the morning, then return to their home campus for classes and activities in the afternoon, or vice versa.
Typically, intensive college programs like an Early College High School require so much time from students that they are unable to participate in extracurricular activities. The Go! College program is similar but may allow students to still be part of band, athletics or other home campus activities.
The many different opportunities and college tuition savings options require that a student set his goals early so he can steer himself to the programs that will help him accomplish his own specific goals. In WFISD, about 105 students from the three high schools will earn Top 10 percent honors, which will qualify them for automatic admission into Texas public colleges. They will focus most on beefing up their GPAs.
Students who plan to attend a private Texas college or an out-of-state college should take the coursework whose credits will most easily transfer, such as Advanced Placement. They would not be good candidates for the Go! College plan, said Mr. Griffiths.
Students who take AP or IB courses, then test to earn their college credits, must evaluate how well they might do on their final tests to actually earn the college credit from the AP courses. A student who passes 10 AP tests could earn as many as 30 credit hours, but only if he scores well. In WFISD, only 30 to 40 percent of students score high enough to collect college credit.
Several WFISD officials -- Mr. Kuhrt with his daughter, Mr. Griffiths with his son, and WFISD Board Secretary Elizabeth Yeager with her son -- admitted they are facing these decisions with their own children now and struggling with how to counsel them.
Ultimately, the challenge becomes a big one for WFISD counselors, who will begin talking to students about college as early as fifth grade and again in eighth grade.
The issue must be communicated to WFISD parents. “It’s confusing,” said Ms. Yeager, “not knowing where your child may fit.”
The Go! College concept, which is being considered by WFISD, is already popular in the El Paso school district and in many others, said Mr. Griffiths.
“This is new for WFISD,” said Mr. Kuhrt, “but this is not new.”
Improvement Required campuses give updates
Three WFISD schools reported Tuesday on their progress as Improvement Required campuses. They are all on target to meet their annual goals, according to Debbie Dipprey, district coordinator for school improvement.
A school receives an Improvement Required rating, and is put under a multiple-year improvement program, when academic scores on state tests fall below the state’s minimums.
The district’s Professional Service Provider, Dr. Sheila Runnels, has been assigned to WFISD and is complimentary of campus leadership and the efforts they are making to improve school culture and performance at Burgess Elementary, Booker T. Washington Elementary and Kirby Middle School, said Mrs. Dipprey.
It is tempting to “try anything and everything” when campuses face performance problems but WFISD has made specific, focused changes to bring about academic improvement, she said.
“We are aware of the urgency in putting our campuses on the right road,” said Mrs. Dipprey.
Kirby Middle School
Kirby Principal Troy Farris reported that at his school, teachers keep “data walls” of all students’ progress. Students also track their progress in their own data folders, which helps them be accountable for their learning, he said.
Students receive targeted instruction in daily advisory periods and in tutorials, which are held before and after school. Some students, who are two to three grade levels behind, are getting focused help in basic reading and math skills.
Kirby teachers receive 45 minutes of daily professional development, which includes cultural awareness training. They also use the time together to discuss and collaborate on students’ progress, said Mr. Farris.
Booker T. Washington
Booker T. Washington Elementary Principal Mark Davis said his efforts to boost parent involvement and volunteers at his campus had succeeded. More than 350 parents attended a recent literacy event, and the number of volunteers at the East Side campus is up.
Mr. Davis continues to implement a popular program, Capturing Kids Hearts, and other systems to help teachers with classroom management. “Discipline referrals are decreasing,” he said.
The school hosts after-school tutorials and is having mixed success with programs like Think Through Math, he said. Mr. Davis introduces a Word of the Week to students to create a culture of continued improvement, he said.
Mr. Davis continues to monitor his staff’s classroom management skills and their use of differentiated instruction. Differentiated instruction is more work for teachers because it requires them to tailor their teaching to the many different learning styles of students.
Burgess Principal Ann Pettit told board members Tuesday that she offered her teachers a refresher course in the Capturing Kids Hearts behavioral training, which had been very effective among her staff when it was first presented last year. She, too, boosted parent involvement with a Pre-K Literacy Night and a Trunk or Treat family night.
Children receive one hour of targeted instruction daily, she said.
She continues to monitor “Tier 1 instruction,” which is the daily classroom lessons that are delivered to students.
Superintendent Mike Kuhrt told board members that he observed improvements in motivation, morale and attitudes at all three schools as a direct result of new strategies and techniques. “We can talk academics all year long,” he said, but if the campus culture is not positive, improvement won’t come, he said.
Mr. Griffiths distributed a summary report of the state’s newly released Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR) to board members as a precursor to a full report at the next board meeting on Dec. 12, he said.
Nov. 2016 Budget Amendments
In a 6-0 vote, board members approved budget amendments to the 2016-2017 budget.
Expenditures rose by $17,809, primarily due to an order for musical instruments from the 2015-2016 budget that was not fulfilled until the new fiscal year. A $65,000 pre-K grant also affected several functions of the budget, though it did not affect the district’s bottom line.
There were no changes to the food or debt service budgets.
Hirschi and Haynes electric switchgear
In a 6-0 vote, board members unanimously approved the purchase of ES electrical switchgear from Peirce Electric of Wichita Falls for $137,475.
The price includes a $15,000 contingency fee that may be returned to the district if no problems emerge. The original estimate for the Hirschi/Haynes switchgear project was $270,000.
Jack Peirce Electric provided the best project value, according to the district. The company has successfully completed similar projects for WFISD, according to District documents.
Purchase of band, orchestra instruments
In a 6-0 vote, board members awarded nearly $137,000 to multiple internet vendors to purchase band and orchestra instruments. The competitive bid pricing was so competitive that WFISD saved $22,273. Administrators requested – and received -- permission to plow the savings back into additional instrument purchases.
A recent “What do you need?” request posed to band and orchestra teachers revealed that some instruments are 50 years old. In other cases, eight students are sharing one instrument. These purchases will allow the district to update its instruments and provide one for each student musician.
Debby Patterson, executive director of school administration, told board members that the District will respond to a “Statement of Impact” form from UT Tyler Innovation Academy by telling the Texas Education Agency that the school will create a negative impact on WFISD.
The online/virtual campus could potentially take enrollment from WFISD, which translates to lost funding.
The form is a routine response from TEA when charter schools are established. Districts are notified and given an opportunity to explain if they believe they will be affected negatively by the change.
Board members learned of three policy updates.
- The EHBAF (Local) policy will expand its video/audio monitoring of special education to all 26 facilities.
- FDB (Local) rewords a district policy on intradistrict transfers and classroom assignments.
- FFA(Local) updates nutrition guidelines for the local School Health Advisory Council (SHAC).
In a 6-0 vote, board members approved the hiring of seven new teachers, who bring a total of eight years experience. Five are new teachers to the profession.
Board member Bill Franklin asked if the District was seeking out more experienced teachers.
“We’re trying to find them; they’re just not out there,” said Human Resources Director Cyndy Kohl.
Finding experienced teachers mid-year is a challenge, added Mr. Kuhrt. Generally the best teachers are education mid-year graduates, he said.