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Madison City Schools special education teachers pose with their certificates from the Knights of Columbus Council 10232. The council awarded these certificates to the teachers for their help in raising funds for students with intellectual disabilities. (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

Local Knights of Columbus present check to MCS at school board meeting

MADISON — At the Jan. 10 Madison City Board of Education meeting, Madison City Schools received a generous check from the local Knights of Columbus Council 10232 to help bolster the schools’ programs for students with intellectual disabilities.

According to Deputy Grand Knight and ID Chairman Jerome Villarreal, the Knights of Columbus’ efforts over the course of the past 28 years have brought in more than $150,000 to support those in the community with intellectual disabilities.

“We hope to continue our efforts to increase our community’s support for those among us who need it most,” he said.

Raising money for this cause is a national initiative for the Knights of Columbus. This year, Council 10232 helped raise nearly $4,500, their largest sum since the 2013-2014 period. Many of the Knights attribute this year’s success to a new fundraising event that was put on in conjunction with the council’s usual storefront fundraising.

“We have a number of ways of raising money,” said one Knight representing Council 10232. “It’s up to the council how we raise money. One thing that we did this year that we had not done before—and contributed measurably to the success—was the 5K road race that we ran.”

The first-ever Tootsie Roll 5K, which was held Nov. 3, 2018, saw a successful turnout. The council said they hope to hold it annually.

Council 10232 also recognized that they did not raise all the funds alone, though. They credited Madison’s special education teachers and their efforts with contributing to this year’s success. As a way to thank them, the council presented a certificate to each teacher, as well as Michelle Hyams and MCS’ Director of Special Education Dr. Maria Kilgore.

Dr. Maria Kilgore, director of special education for MCS, accepts a check from Council 10232 for nearly $4,500 to support Madison’s students with intellectual disabilities. | (Record Photo/Kendyl Hollingsworth)

Kilgore said in late October 2018 that the funds allow teachers to acquire a wide variety of class materials. These include books, supplies, and even items for students to learn crucial life skills, such as food for cooking and laundry detergent for cleaning clothes. Some other items MCS teachers have purchased before include headphones, cleaning supplies, storage bags, chairs for a reading nook, seats for technology programs, speech materials for language enhancement and adapted P.E. equipment, according to Kilgore.

Following the Knights of Columbus’ presentation, the board heard from Chief Academic Officer Heather Donaldson and Coordinator of Auxiliary Services Bob Lipinski concerning MCS’ recent state report card results, which were announced Dec. 28 for the 2017-2018 school year.

Donaldson said Alabama’s individual schools and school systems were graded based on six factors: academic achievement in reading and math, academic growth in reading and math, graduation rate, progress in the ELL program, college and career readiness and chronic absenteeism.

Graduation rate was measured differently this time around, according to Donaldson. Instead of the indicator including both four- and five-year cohort graduates as it did in the past, the state only considered the four-year cohort graduates for this report card. Graduation rate is also the only indicator that was not measured for the 2017-2018 school year; rather, this data was based on graduates from the 2016-2017 school year.

Progress in the ELL (English language learner) program was a new indicator for this year. Donaldson said the only data included in this indicator’s calculations were from EL students with a growth record on the Access 2.0 assessment. This means the students would have to have at least two years of data for this to be measured.

“If a school did not meet the end count of 20 for this indicator—20 students with two years of growth on the Access 2.0—then the 5 percent for the EL English language proficiency indicator was shifted to academic growth,” Donaldson added. “That’s why some of our schools did not have a score for EL. That percentage in turn was shifted to academic growth.”

Though MCS scored two points lower this time for the ELL program indicator, board member Luis Ferrer shared his positive outlook on the matter at hand. “It’s not just us,” he said. “It’s the whole state. This is something that is happening because … it’s a secondary effect. We’re growing so fast as a state, but … we have one of the best EL programs in Alabama. Just because we lost two (points) doesn’t mean we’re not doing a great job. We are doing an awesome job, so it’s just a shared struggle that the whole state has.”

Donaldson said there are six different ways a graduate is deemed college and career ready: if they benchmark on at least one section of the ACT; if they earn an industry-recognized credential; if they earn college credit through dual enrollment; if they earn a silver or higher on the ACT WorkKeys assessment; if they earn a passing score on either AP or IB exams; or if they enlist in the military. Donaldson said she believes MCS should continue pushing for students to earn at least one industry-recognized credential.

“[The state has] a grant opportunity every year where we can apply for money to help pay for those industry-recognized credentials, and we have earned in a grant for the last three years roughly $30,000-45,000 every year so our students do not have to pay a dime to earn an industry-recognized credential,” she explained. “So, what we have to do is continue to push that and encourage more students to take those credentials so we can increase that number of college and career readiness.”

Chronic absenteeism was measured this time by the percentage of students who were absent 15 or more days during the year. Both excused and unexcused absences counted for this indicator, and Donaldson reminded the board that the absentee report also includes “medically fragile” students.

Superintendent Robert Parker said MCS can do more to control their scores for both college and career readiness and chronic absenteeism. With CCR dropping a point and a half, Parker said they plan to raise the high schools’ scores up to at least 95 with an ultimate goal of a perfect 100.

“We’ve already worked on college and career readiness with Mrs. Lambert, Dr. Clayton and their staff,” he said. “We’ve had full meeting, and … Dr. Clayton and Mrs. Lambert have a plan—and it’s a lofty plan—to reach 100 percent in CCR. … We believe we can get up around 95 percent, and that’s going to give us another point. A point is significant, and we know we can control that. We can control that by the way we schedule students, by making sure that all the students hit one of the standards.”

As for chronic absenteeism, Parker reminded everyone that a child missing more than the general limit of days per year will count against both the child’s school and school system on the state report card. For students who have already missed more than nine days, Parker said their principals are aware of each one of them.

“My expectation is that every child’s parent is alerted,” he added. “We want them to know, and we want them to understand that they’re going to count against us, and they’re going to count against their community and their school if they don’t get them to school. If somebody’s sick, that is what it is. We can’t control that, and I do not hold that against a child, but I do want them to understand that going for two weeks to Disney is going to impact your school report card.”

The academic achievement and growth indicators are weighted, according to Donaldson. MCS uses three assessments to measure achievement: Scantron (grades 3-8), AAA (grades 3-8 and 10) and the ACT (grade 11). The primary assessments for growth are Scantron and the ACT. Students’ 11th grade ACT scores are compared to their 10th grade ACT Aspire assessment results.

Lipinski said the state is looking to implement another assessment spring 2020: the Alabama Comprehensive Assessment Program (ACAP), which will be taken by students from second to eighth grade.

“We are very proud of all of our schools for earning an A for the second year in a row, but we do know that we always have room to grow, and so this is a great opportunity for us to continue building on our strengths and for us to also focus on our areas for continuous growth,” Donaldson said.

Donaldson and Lipinski also addressed some of the board members’ frustrations with the lack of timely communication from the state concerning which indicators they would be graded on and how they might have changed from previous assessments. Though Donaldson and Lipinski could not answer every question or concern, there was a consensus among all that MCS should be proud of their results but continue pushing for improvement in all areas.

The board approved all items up for approval on their actions items agenda. This included the following: minutes for Dec. 11 and 19, Camp Invention for West Madison Elementary School, Policy 7.3 Academic Standards, an elevator maintenance bid to Otis Elevator Company, the November 2018 financial and bank reconciliation statements and the November 2018 budget amendment.

The board also heard the first reading of an amendment to 5.1 Employee Qualifications and Duties which addresses employee conduct with students. “This is recommended throughout our policy pipeline in association with the Alabama Association of School Boards and our policy attorney,” said Board Vice President Tim Holtcamp.

According to John Jones, the amendment addresses appropriate behavior between employees and students, as well as the term “student” and whether a student is currently enrolled in a class, has been enrolled in a class or is projected to be enrolled in a class. This also ties in with the age and ability for a student to give consent.

“We feel that it’s a good addition to the policy pipe—through the policy pipeline—and something that is addressed in other areas of government and legalese for our teachers and so forth,” Jones added.

As the meeting wrapped up, Parker and the board commended MCS staff, teachers and students for their excellent performance in achieving high scores on the state report card.

“Y’all have done an absolutely fantastic job, everybody from the administrators all the way down to the kids and back up,” said board member Connie Spears. “It is saying something very strong about our system that we are able to do this with the number of students that we have and the number of new students and growth we have every year. That is a huge impact.”

Board member Tim Cummings called everyone’s passion and drive “outstanding” as they continue pushing to reach new heights.

Spears also spoke of a need for a new committee to address transition and space for pre-k special education.

Board President Ranae Bartlett said MCS will not need to rezone anyone this spring. She also commended teachers for their “great professional development” recently, particularly with sharing what they do in the classroom on social media.

“It’s incumbent upon all of us to just share what you’re doing every day because everyone doesn’t get to be in schools with you, and you are doing amazing work,” she said. “I was just so proud to see all of the things that you were doing to prepare for the school year.”

The next school board meeting will be Jan. 24 at 5 p.m. in the board room at the central office, which is located at 211 Celtic Drive in Madison.

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