Mountain school board talks grades

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Over the course of almost seven hours on July 17 and 18, the Magdalena Municipal School Board discussed several important issues regarding its students, parents and staff.

School grades

“Let’s talk a little bit about school grades,” said Mike Chambers, the MMS superintendent, at the meeting.

Grades from the state for individual schools were released. Getting all the correct data into the state on time was a “nightmare,” said Keri James, the grants coordinator for the district.

“You get these school grades and they’re new to us,” James said. “We’re still learning them. And for me to make any sense of it I needed to compare it to last year’s school grades and look at the points. We grew in all our schools except the high school, but they still (got) a C. And we grew in lots of areas at the high school; we just didn’t in some of the others.”

The middle school got a C and the elementary school finished three-tenths of a point shy of being a C school, she said.

James raised concerns about how the state judges the data collected. As an example, James said she reported to them many occasions when parents were involved in activities at the school. The state, however, only gave them one point out of five in terms of parent involvement.

“To me, this is like saying, we’re going to go run a district track meet, and then after the track meet we will decide what’s going to be the qualifying standard to make it to state,” Chambers said. “And we’re not going to let you know what it is. We’re just going to give you a point ballot.”

However, board member Kelby Stephens pointed out the area that will help improve the school’s grade most is student performance.

“If you look at the point system,” he said, “the real meat and potatoes is the performance in math and reading. That’s where we’re going to make the most growth. We make a five-point difference in math and reading performance – that’s a huge deal. That has to take place in the classroom.”

Attendance

Attendance is probably the largest issue at the three schools in Magdalena.

Chambers said many students are missing a substantial amount of days but still receiving passing marks.

“These (attendance) numbers are pretty frightening,” Chambers said. “How is it that a student can miss 40 to 50 days and still have a B in somebody’s class?”

The average student at Magdalena High School misses 14.3 days a year. Last year, the schools had an 88 percent attendance rate; to receive the points for the state grades, schools must have 95 percent attendance.

Chambers suggested instead of an allowable 10 unexcused absences a semester for students, a student only gets a total of 10 absences – excused or unexcused – in order to send a strong message to students and parents that students cannot miss school.

Other school districts only allow 10 absences a year and they have 180 school days, Chambers said. Magdalena only has 150 days of school because of the four-day week.

Board member Randell Major raised the point that if the school comes down hard on truant kids the dropout rate will rise. Marva Bronson, who was chosen as the new board member on Tuesday, agreed with him.

“We want them to attend,” she said. “But we don’t want to overcompensate to the point where we lose them entirely. It’s a really fine line.”

Magdalena gives incentives to students for having good attendance. However, Chambers said students are in danger of losing credit if they continue to miss school – this means they would have to retake classes.

Technology Policy

The new technology plan and acceptable Internet use policy were presented to the board.

“We are taking proactive steps to ensure that we are doing everything that we can to protect our children and our students from any kind of imagery or information,” said Jake Mow, the school district’s technician.

He told the board he had installed a program called CompuGuardian that sends him an email if an infraction occurs. An infraction includes a student going on to YouTube, Facebook, or any other unauthorized site. The browser will also shut down if a student attempts to access one of these websites.

“Now, we will never be 100 percent protected,” Mow said. “(Technology) changes too fast and people are constantly making ways around the protections that we have in place, but we are doing everything that we can.”

Students must also sign a user agreement. The board approved both measures.

The school is required to have an updated technology plan in order to be eligible for more funding and the Public Education Department mandates it as well, Chambers said.

Magdalena schools have a lot of outdated equipment, but the district can’t really afford a lot of new equipment because of the budget crunch, Chambers said. Mow told the council there is a silver lining because the student to computer ration is excellent, at 3 to 1.

Chambers said a mill levy in order to raise money to update old equipment was a possibility. That tax could raise about $500,000 a year, he said. But that was only a suggestion.

Quality of Education Survey Results

Members of the business office presented the results of a parent survey taken to identify weak points in the school. This is a standard, yearly way to evaluate educational progress.

“(We had) no surprises,” Chambers said. “If you look at most of the questions (on the survey), under ‘strongly agree’ and ‘agree’ are, you know, in the 90 percentile. You know, ‘are kids safe in school,’ the total is 99 percent. ‘School building is in good repair and has sufficient space to support quality education,’ 99 percent.

“You know, there are a couple areas that are not necessarily bad but are a little bit worse and so we always kind of take a look at those. For example, (in) the elementary school, the question about consistent discipline. There were 12 percent who disagreed with that statement.”

Chambers said the discipline question really depends on how parents perceive the role of their child in an incident in which they need to be disciplined.

Nine percent of parents believe the district did not use funds adequately.

“I guess that’s not too bad,” said board member Randell Major, “considering the budget.”

Chambers agreed. He said, in talking to other superintendents, he realized they would love to have something with which only 9 percent of parents disagreed.

“They get sometimes 40 to 50 percent of the people disagreeing,” Chambers said. “I think you really have an issue then.”

Also, 25 percent of middle school parents said they do not think the school had high expectations of their students and 13 percent of parents said they don’t get enough progress reports from their child’s teachers.

Chambers said the school will look into those.

Another popular issue with parents was the lack of a hot breakfast available to kids in the morning. Chambers said the food available is meant to be a snack.

Miscellaneous

The board approved:

  • An audit of the school;
  • Insurance for part-time employees;
  • A reimbursement amount of 30 cents a mile for drivers on feeder routes;
  • Marva Bronson as the new board member, replacing Gail Armstrong, who resigned last board meeting.

Teacher Gail Lujan resigned and will work at Cottonwood Valley Charter School next year. The school district hired two new teachers. Jory Mirabal resigned as head football coach; Billy Page, the athletics director, will coach football this season. Bryan Baca, the auto tech teacher, will coach volleyball.