D29 awarded $1 million grant for facilities

Williston District 29 has been awarded a $1 million grant for capital improvements.

The state approved the funds as part of the Abbeville lawsuit over equitable school funding for some of the state’s poorer, rural districts, said Interim Superintendent Dr. Everette Dean during the board’s Oct. 17 meeting.

The grant will fund three main projects identified by the district, including new windows for the Kelly Edwards Elementary gym as well as the middle/high school gym. Both gymnasiums will also receive new heat/air units. The final project is addressing drainage issues at the elementary and middle schools, said Dean.

As part of the grant, the district is required to submit a five-year comprehensive facilities study with cost estimates by February 2018. They are currently working to develop this study.

Dean, who started at the beginning of October, said he is looking to finish the school year strong by working with the community and district employees. He has met with all principals and district administrators individually since he started earlier this month to identify strengths and weaknesses. He said he wants to have open lines of communication and promote and environment where there is “trust and support for one another.”

“We thank you for your immediate due diligence and leadership,” said board chairwoman Ferlecia Cuthbertson.

Curriculum

Debra McCord, the district’s director of curriculum, instruction and accountability, presented a district data report on some state standardized tests from the 2016-2017 school year.

On the English language arts portion of the SC Ready test, Kelly Edwards Elementary School saw a 5 percent decrease in the number of students who met expectations compared to the previous year while the state decreased 3 percent. At the middle school, they increased 4 percent in the “met” category, which was in line with the state average.

McCord said they see informational text as an area of concern for third through eighth graders. That’s why they are implementing several strategies, such as increasing exposure, reading strategies through content area classes, training with the reading coach on informational text strategies and increases funding for informational text resources in the classroom through Title 1 and Tier 2 funds.

On the SC Ready math test, elementary students saw a 5 percent decrease in the number of students meeting expectations, whereas the state average decreased by 2 percent. The middle school increased 2 percent while the state maintained the percentage of students meeting expectations.

The district has also identified an area of concern at each school for math. Number sense is the focus at the elementary school while the middle school’s focus is data analysis and geometry. McCord explained to the board several initiatives they are working on in those areas, including instructional strategies training with the math coach.

For the science portion of SC PASS, the elementary school increased the “met” category by 12 percent, which is above the state’s 9 percent average. The middle school’s increase of 19 percent was also higher than the 6 percent increase for the state for middle school students.

“That’s a pretty decent increase for one year,” said McCord of the science scores.

On SC PASS social studies test, the elementary school maintained its percentage of students who met expectations while the state increased 1 percent. At the middle school, their 8 percent decrease was double the state’s decrease of 4 percent.

McCord also gave an overview of the end-of-course tests in four subjects. The district’s 69 percent passage rate for Algebra 1 surpassed the county’s other two districts but was below the state’s average by a few points. On the Biology 1 test, 88 percent of Williston’s students passed, which exceeded the rates of nearby districts and the state. More Williston-Elko High School students also passed the English 1 and U.S. History tests than that of nearby districts, but came in well below the state average.

On ACT WorkKeys, McCord said 84 percent of Williston’s students who took the test earned a certificate with 10 percent of those earning gold, 43 earning silver and 31 earning bronze. They were even with the state percentage of students who received a certificate and also above the rate of neighboring districts. However, they are behind in the number of gold certificates compared to the state average.

McCord said they are working to address deficits through data analysis and usage training, data analysis meetings with action plans, standards-based classroom instruction, benchmark testing, classroom small group instruction, and individualized learning paths. They also have a new reading interventionist to help “bubble kids”, who are students that need one-on-one help to move them from merely being close to meeting expectations to actually meeting expectations, she said.

She also told the board that Act 155 has been updated as Act 207. Act 155 abolished the high school exit exam starting with the Class of 2015 and allowed former students who were denied a diploma solely due to not passing the exit exam (HSAP, BSAP) to petition their local school board for a diploma. While it originally had a deadline, the renewed Act 207 eliminates that, said McCord.

District 29 currently has one request which is being reviewed. Petition forms are available on the district’s website. Forms should be returned to the district office via mail or in person.

Foster Children

The board approved the first of two readings of a new policy regarding students in foster care.

Dr. Tasha Louis-Nance, director of student and special services, said Policy JFABF was recommended by the S.C. School Boards Association in order to align with new requirements under the Every Students Succeeds Act. It relates to the process of placing a student in a new district when the student is moved to a different foster home. The policy establishes the process in which the district and the S.C. Department of Social Services will work together to “ensure that these students experience limited educational disruption during their placement in foster care and that they remain in their school of origin whenever possible,” according to the policy.

“It looks at stability for our students,” she said.

Louis-Nance said District 29 currently has seven students at the elementary school who fall under these parameters while there are four at the middle school and five at the high school. However, she said, they will not be impacted by the new policy because the policy only applies to new placements.

In other news:

• January 12 (in-service day) and Feb. 19 (President’s Day) as make-up days for the days they missed due to hurricanes. These two days were already included in the board-approved calendar as bad weather make-up days.

• Director of Finance Rose Anderson reported that revenue for the month of September totaled $357,082.35 while expenditures were $637,867.57.

• The board approved the monthly personnel report, including the resignations of Ray Cole as a deaf interpreter at the high school and Mary Cave as a Save the Children employee at the elementary school.

• The board approved the transfer requests of three students to attend District 29.

• The board approved a field trip request for the band to travel to Athens, Ga. to participate in the Christmas parade.

• The November meeting has been moved to Monday, Nov. 20 at 7 p.m. due to the Thanksgiving holiday.