Chico class of ’18 must pass exams to attend graduation

Freshman entering Chico High School in a few weeks will have a new set of rules regarding grade point average and graduation procedures.

Perhaps the biggest change is to the graduation ceremony itself.

In the past, students who passed all of their required courses at Chico High School could participate in the graduation ceremony even if they had not yet passed their state end-of-course exams. They simply received a certificate of completion rather than a diploma.

That will no longer be the case beginning with the class of 2018.

Superintendent Mike Jones told the school board last week that the testing requirements are getting tougher, and so, too, should Chico’s graduation procedure. Students must now pass the state exams in order to participate in the ceremony.

“We think kids will work harder if they’ve got some incentive to work harder,” he said. “We’re afraid this kind of sends the wrong message that if I don’t pass, I’m still going to get to go to the ceremony and walk.”

He added that it is not really fair to the students who have completed all of their requirements and earned the right to graduate and receive a diploma.

Jones said the high school will do everything it can to help students meet those requirements. For instance, students who are failing or have tardies will be required to stay at the end of the day for one-on-one instruction while others who are passing will be allowed to leave.

Another change that will affect graduation and post-graduation is an adjustment in the way the high school calculates grade point averages. In the past, grades have been calculated on a numeric basis such as 90 or 100, but beginning with the freshman class, grades will be calculated on a 4-point scale.

“The colleges are used to seeing kids from big schools show up with 4.6 and 4.5 GPAs,” Jones explained. “Our kids are showing up with a 98 or something like that. It doesn’t quite do the same for them. So we think it puts our kids in a better light when they are applying to universities.”

The district is also changing the way it calculates grade point averages to incorporate the changes required by House Bill 5.

Beginning with this year’s freshmen, all students will be required to complete a foundation plan, and then students can choose an endorsement to help them choose the rest of their courses. The law is aimed at helping prepare students not just for college, but also for careers.

Grade point averages will be based on courses taken for the foundation plan, and honors courses will continue to be weighted more (on a 5-point scale) than regular classes to encourage participation in those courses.

The graduation and grade point average changes will not affect incoming sophomores, juniors or seniors.

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Elementary meal prices increasing 50 percent

Students and staff will be paying more for meals this fall at Chico ISD.

On Thursday, the Chico school board voted to raise meal prices for breakfast and lunch.

The price increase was needed to bring meal costs closer to the rate of reimbursement, Superintendent Mike Jones explained. The National School Lunch program provides free or reduced-price lunches for students who meet certain income eligibility requirements. Schools are reimbursed for the cost of providing these meals to students.

Current reimbursement rates for breakfast is $1.58, and for lunch it is $2.95, Jones said. Last year’s student meal prices at Chico ISD were $1 for breakfast at all campuses, $2 for elementary lunch and $2.75 for middle school and high school lunch.

Jones recommended an all-campus breakfast increase to $1.30 and elementary lunch increase to $2.50.

“We need to go up on our breakfast prices,” Jones said. “I know we normally try to go up incrementally – 10 cents, 15 cents – but we’re so far behind, I’d recommend we go up to $1.30 for all three campuses for breakfast.”

Jones added that he understood that increases in both breakfast and lunch could create a bit of a financial burden for some.

“I’d like to get to $2.50 at the elementary this year, but that’s an 80-cent increase for someone who has an elementary kid who eats breakfast and lunch,” he said. “Some folks can afford it, and some folks it’s going to be a hit in their pocketbook.”

Board members suggested the prices should be set even higher.

“If they stop at the donut shop or the Chico Mart, it’s going to cost more than that,” board President Bill Hand said. ” … I think breakfast ought to be $1.50, and lunch prices ought to be $3.”

By setting those prices above the rate of reimbursement, Jones said it would keep the school district from having to dip into its own funds so much to make up the cost of providing meals. He pointed out that the numbers have been “artificially low” after several years with no price increase.

After a brief discussion, the board voted 5-0 to set student meal prices at $1.50 for breakfast and $3 for lunch at all campuses. Meal prices for staff were set at $2 for breakfast and $3.50 for lunch. Board members Paul Cantrell and Donald Joe Clark were not in attendance.

In other meal-related business, the board approved spending $15,645 for a steamer for the middle school kitchen. The board also made a related $25,000 budget amendment to cover the cost and installation of the steamer and other cafeteria upgrades related to the new meal program beginning this fall. At last month’s meeting, the board approved a contract with Walker Quality Services to provide cafeteria management services for the 2014-2015 school year. The service is expected to provide higher quality meals and more food choices for students.

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Chico ISD seeks to improve food quality

Lunch at Chico ISD may taste a little different this coming school year.

The Chico school board Monday approved a contract with Walker Quality Services to provide cafeteria management services for 2014-2015. Superintendent Mike Jones said he had talked with other school districts who have used the company, and they had been well-received at each school.

Earlier this year, Jones visited Era ISD, one of the schools the company serves, and was impressed with the quality of the food and the positive reception by students.

Jones explained that while a representative of the company will help train cafeteria workers and plan food items, the school will continue to employ its own cafeteria employees and manager. No additional staff hirings are anticipated. Jones said a steamer will need to be purchased for the middle school.

The company will also regularly survey students, and if certain items are not popular, changes to the menu will be made.

The school will hold an open house next month before school starts to give students and parents a chance to sample the new food offerings.

In other business, the board:

  • reviewed preliminary budget numbers, and Jones said the school is looking at a $200,000 deficit due to a reduction in additional state aid for tax reduction that is gradually being phased out for Chapter 41 schools;
  • contracted with Steve Gilland of Bowie to perform the 2013-2014 audit; and
  • amended the 2014-2015 school calendar to have teachers report Aug. 12 rather than Aug. 14.

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Chico test scores remain high, but funding sinks

Chico school board members heard a little good news on test scores before they had to wade into the more sobering subject of finances at Monday’s meeting.

Superintendent Mike Jones presented the board with preliminary STAAR (State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness) results. The board reviewed a three-year comparison of the district’s scores as well as a comparison to the state average scores.

“We’re very proud of the fact that 77 percent of the time we met or exceeded the state scores,” Jones said, adding that teachers and students are to be congratulated for their hard work.

A more detailed report of Chico’s test scores, and scores for other schools around the county, will be featured in an upcoming issue of the Messenger.

Jones also presented the board with preliminary tax values for the district, which were calculated at $591,708,057 by the Wise County Appraisal District. Certified values are due to be released at the end of July. Even if the values increase, Jones said he doesn’t expect it to help next year’s budget.

“We don’t anticipate values going up a great deal,” he said. “We might have a modest increase, but even if it does go up, it won’t help us much due to recapture.”

Because Chico is a Chapter 41 “property-rich” district, it is required by state law to send money to the state to help poorer schools.

If the district maintains its current payroll and salaries, it is looking at a deficit of close to $200,000. That deficit is due mostly to a reduction in state funding, Jones said. Schools have been receiving funding from the state in the form of state aid for tax reduction, but Jones said the state is phasing that out. Schools are scheduled to receive none of that funding by the 2017-2018 school year.

Jones cautioned that the budget talk was preliminary, and the district will look at ways to reduce that deficit.

In other business, the board:

  • reviewed the results of the annual climate survey. The survey is taken by parents, teachers and students. Jones said the results are intended to give an overall evaluation of the school climate and looks to identify areas where improvements can be made.
  • took no action on authorizing Jones to offer probationary contracts to fill vacant teaching and coaching positions through Aug. 18, 2014, after a 3-3 vote.

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Chico ISD joins city in agreement with quarry

Chico ISD gave its approval Tuesday to a settlement agreement, along with the city of Chico, and P&K Stone for a planned limestone quarry.

Chico Superintendent Mike Jones went over the agreement with school board members and explained how P&K had addressed some of the school’s major concerns about the quarry, which will be located just east of the city limits. Jones said one of the school’s initial greatest concerns was traffic.

“They’ve addressed those concerns,” Jones said. “If they follow, and I have no doubt they will, the TCEQ rules and the agreement that has been reached, they will be a good business neighbor for Chico.”

Chico Mayor J.D. Clark told the Messenger last week that among the ways P&K plans to address traffic issues is by requesting TxDOT’s approval to widen Farm Road 1810 in front of the quarry’s entrance to allow a turning lane for trucks.

The city of Chico signed off on the agreement last week.

In other business from Tuesday’s meeting, the school board:

  • approved the 2014-2015 school calendar which begins Aug. 25, ends May 29 and features a spring break of March 9 through 13.
  • appointed Barbara Kay as election judge and Carrie Byers as an election worker for the May 10 school board election.
  • approved a resolution to pay employees for a missed staff development day due to weather.
  • approved seeking a TEA waiver for instructional days missed due to weather.

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Contracts of Chico principals, directors extended

Chico ISD’s campus administrators and district directors all received contract extensions at Monday’s school board meeting.

High school principal Lisa Slaughter and elementary school principal Karen Decker received two-year contract extensions through the 2015-2016 school year. Middle school principal LaJuan Foster, who was hired to serve as interim principal last summer, received a one-year extension to remain serving as interim principal.

Maury Martin, director of special programs for the district, and athletic director Stephen Carter received an extension through the 2015-2016 school year.

The district waits until budget discussions in the summer to make any possible changes in salaries.

The board also voted to offer a contract to Pam Williams to serve as high school counselor. Superintendent Mike Jones said this will be Williams’ first counseling position after interning with counselors at Lake Travis ISD.

In other business, the board:

  • held a public hearing on the 2012-2013 Texas Academic Performance Report. The district received a 2013 accountability rating of “met standard.”
  • called an election for May 10 to fill two trustee positions. (See a related story in this issue for updated filings.)
  • hired Shannon Loyd of the San Antonio-based Loyd Law Firm to represent the district in a 2011 hail damage claim.
  • took no action on 2014-2015 salary and stipend schedules.
  • agreed to allow Glenn Gonzenbach to lease two acres of district-owned land in a rural part of the district in exchange for a 3/16 royalty rate for oil or gas production on the property.
  • awarded bids to James Wood Motors for a 1-ton, four-door pickup and a Suburban.

BOARD TO MEET MONDAY

The school board will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday for a work session on the facilities review committee report given at the January board meeting. Jones said the board will consider the prioritized items and decide what should be the next step.

Other agenda items include updates to professional contracts, a resolution to pay employees for missed instructional days due to weather and a shared services agreement with Bluebonnet Co-op for students with visual impairments.

The meeting will be held in Room 150 of Chico Elementary School.

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Chico ISD looks at options for next icy blast

Today is the first official day of winter, but area schools have already used up their allotted bad weather days – and then some – due to the recent winter storm.

Chico Superintendent Mike Jones said his school district is already looking at options for getting kids to school in the event of another snow or ice storm this winter.

One of the biggest issues with winter storms is that back roads and driveways are often left frozen and slick, making driving treacherous or even impossible. These conditions may linger even after major roads in the area are clear.

Jones said the district is looking at identifying designated pick-up points. If a parent can drive their student to that point, or if a student can safely walk there, the bus could avoid having to navigate icy roads. The locations would need to have an area where a vehicle can safely pull off the main road so as not to create a traffic hazard.

It might not be ideal in some areas, but Jones said if it is possible to have school, schools should be open.

“We’re considering trying this if it becomes necessary,” Jones said. “It beats calling off bus transportation.”

Jones said when he worked at a school in West Texas, one option they had was to run buses “on pavement only.” During the recent ice storm, a couple of schools ended up running limited bus routes, while Chico did not run any buses the first two days students returned to class.

Jones said about two-thirds of students attended classes that Wednesday through Friday, Dec. 11-13.

If the plan is enacted, Jones said the list of designated pick-up points will be sent to parents.

BOARD MEETING

Chico’s board of trustees met Monday and received positive news about their annual audit. Jones said it was an unqualified, “clean” audit.

Under personnel, Jones announced that high school counselor Evelyn Holt will be leaving at the end of the school year. The board agreed to post the job position now so that a new counselor could be hired as soon as possible to help with the transition and prepare for the 2014-2015 school year.

Also, Michele Constant was hired as a family and consumer sciences teacher for the high school beginning in January.

Recognition of student awards and honors for fall activities was postponed to the Jan. 20 board meeting.

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Committee provides report on facilities

A committee studying facility needs at Chico ISD has ranked what it sees as the most important needs for the district.

That information has been turned over to architects, who can advise how to address those needs, and then the information will be presented to the school board, said Superintendent Mike Jones.

“The architects will be working with the school board to finalize those and then the ball would be in their court (the school board) to decide what if anything they want to do, if there is any action they would like to see as far as a bond,” he said.

Although the report given by committee member Mike Maddux at Monday’s meeting didn’t get into specific details, Jones said there are areas of general consensus.

“I think it is fair to say that everyone agrees that the middle school is the oldest building in the district,” Jones said. “It needs a roof. It needs probably HVAC units that are energy efficient. Some of the windows leak. There was some discussion, that if they are going to try to patch the windows, it might be better to go ahead and replace those windows and have more energy efficient windows.

“There was broad consensus for security enhancements and upgrades,” he said. “We feel very good that our buildings are very safe, but there are certain things we can do with lighting, fencing and other things to make a safer environment for our kids, our faculty and our visitors.”

The facilities review committee is made up of community members chosen by school board members.

One facility in the district that hasn’t used its kitchen in years will soon be cooking once again.

The board agreed to start using the middle school kitchen to prepare meals for that campus. Meals have been cooked at the high school since it opened in 2010 and carted next door to the middle school as a way to save money.

The kitchen opening will require the hiring of at least one more food service worker.

The board voted 4-1 to approve the kitchen’s use with Mark Tate voting against the action.

In other business the board:

  • cast all of its alloted votes for Randy Moss for the Wise County Appraisal District board of directors.
  • approved campus and district improvement plans, the district technology plan and policy updates.
  • approved a full-time position at the elementary that will give at-risk students additional help with testing.

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