Decatur budget includes money for vehicles, ag barn

If the 2014-2015 Decatur school budget looked a lot like the 2013-2014 budget, that was by design.

“When you take salaries out of the budget and take recapture out, and look at day-to-day expenses, there’s almost no difference from last year to this year. The budget is almost exactly the same,” said DISD Deputy Superintendent Gary Micinski, who handles the district’s finances.

The school board adopted a balanced general fund budget of $29,452,207 at a special meeting Wednesday. That’s a decrease of $76,144 from last year’s budget.

The general fund budget includes 71 percent for labor and benefits, 11 percent for recapture, 9 percent for contracted services and utilities, 6 percent for supplies, 2 percent for travel and fees and 1 percent for capital expenditures.

Capital expenditures is one area that has increased over last year, from $10,000 to $401,000. The 2014-2015 budget include two vehicles for instructional services, another vehicle for maintenance, a bus – and money to help pay for the new agriculture facility currently under construction.

The budget also includes an overall average salary increase of 2.5 percent for teachers, nurses and counselors.

The total budget including the food service fund and debt service is $36,495,034.

After adopting the budget, board members also adopted a total tax rate of $1.29 per $100 valuation. That includes $1.04 for maintenance and operations and 25 cents for debt payment. The tax rate represents a penny decrease from the 2013-2014 tax rate.

No one from the public attended or spoke at the public hearing on the budget and tax rate.

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Decatur to hold budget hearing

The public will have a chance to learn details and offer feedback on the 2014-2015 school year budget at Decatur Wednesday.

The school district will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget and tax rate at a meeting 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the DISD Administration Building, 307 S. Cates St. Following the hearing, the board will vote to adopt the budget and tax rate.

The district is proposing a total tax rate of $1.29 per $100 valuation for the 2014-2015 school year. That includes a $1.04 maintenance and operations tax rate and $0.25 for debt service. It represents a one-cent decrease from the current year’s tax rate.

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GPA policy change affects Decatur freshmen, sophomores

Decatur school officials hope changes in the way grade point averages are calculated will put less emphasis on grades and more emphasis on preparing students for life after high school.

That goes for incoming sophomores as well as freshmen, following action taken Monday by the Decatur school board.

Changes to the GPA policy were made in March, to affect classes beginning with incoming freshmen. The six-point scale will be eliminated, and only advanced courses such as pre-AP, AP and dual-credit courses will carry a potential five points. Core classes – English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language – will be on the four-point scale.

Incoming juniors and seniors will continue to use the previous GPA policy.

Last month, the board discussed the possibility of applying the new GPA policy to incoming sophomores as well. Notifications were sent to sophomore parents over the past month to inform them of the possible changes and to get feedback.

Judi Bell, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said she had received only one phone call from a parent asking for more explanation.

“What we want parents to understand more than anything else is we are trying to broaden the choices for that sophomore class,” Bell said. “We really feel like this is a better GPA system that allows students to pursue the electives they want.

“It seems to be a detriment (under the old system) if they had to take a 4-point class, and it would actually bring down their GPA if they were trying for all the advanced classes,” she added. “This way, they can try an elective, take things they might not otherwise take without penalty to their GPA.”

The changes are taking place as schools across the state implement the required changes to graduation plans outlined in House Bill 5. Gone (at least beginning with the incoming freshmen) are the minimum, recommended and distinguished plans. Students will now be required to take the foundation plan. They will also be able to earn an endorsement on one of five “pathways” designed to help students take courses to prepare them for a college or a career.

Under the new GPA policy, grades earned for courses not calculated into the GPA will still be listed on the student’s transcript, meaning colleges will still be able to see those grades.

One hope with the policy change is that students will be encouraged to take tougher classes.

“At some point, the kids have to understand they have to look past today,” board president Kevin Haney said. “They’ve got to look at those electives, even if they are harder, it’s going to prepare them for either college or going into a work environment as opposed to taking some class that is easy. They need to challenge themselves.”

Board member Diana Mosley repeated concerns she had expressed at an earlier meeting about eliminating the six-point scale for AP courses. She said students who put forth the effort for the rigorous course should still be rewarded with the higher grading scale.

High school counselor Neal Hall told the board the school is prepared for schedule changes due to the new policy, adding that it’s not uncommon to deal with schedule changes in the summer and beginning of school.

The board voted 5-1 to apply the new GPA policy to sophomores as well as freshmen. Mosley cast the opposing vote.

PERFORMANCE INDEX SUMMARY

Bell also gave a presentation on the preliminary Performance Index Summary, which has replaced the AEIS data in the state’s school accountability system. She explained that the performance indicators are grouped into four indexes:

  • student achievement (STAAR results),
  • student progress,
  • closing performance gaps, and
  • postsecondary readiness.

She cautioned board members that comparing this year’s results to last year’s was like comparing “apples to oranges” since the scoring system is different.

All DISD campuses received a “met standard” rating except for McCarroll’s sixth grade campus, which was rated “improvement required.”

Bell explained that the campus missed meeting the standard by one point in the scoring system. She said six students were not counted in the rating since their scores from last year could not be located as a point of comparison on the student progress index.

Bell said those students likely transferred into the district and were entered into the system by a different name or some other coding error. Of the six, four passed the STAAR test.

The district will attempt to correct those errors and appeal the rating in hopes of bringing the campus up to the “met standard” level.

The school board also recognized the district’s three school resource officers – Zachary Berrier, Kevin Flake and Richard Hale – as support staff employees of the month.

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Pre-K students to make Young younger

All of Decatur ISD’s pre-kindergarten classes will be at one campus this fall.

Previously, each of the district’s three elementary schools – Rann, Carson and Young – had one pre-kindergarten class on campus. This year, the three pre-kindergarten classes will all be at Young Elementary, located at 379 Buchanan Road off Farm Road 51 South in south Decatur.

Judi Bell, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said the new setup should improve the education process for both teachers and students.

“With one pre-K teacher at each campus, there was no opportunity for collaboration, no opportunity to work together to plan lessons,” she said.

The two other elementary campuses also have units unique to their school. Carson Elementary is home to the district’s severe and profound unit while Rann Elementary houses the district’s bilingual unit.

“Logistically, it will be better, but it’s also a great way to provide instruction,” Bell said.

According to a report given to the school board in April, the change will not cost any additional money and should actually provide $50,000 in savings due to efficiency.

Another benefit will be that children coming from the Head Start program will now be bused to one campus rather than three.

Students may qualify for the pre-kindergarten program if they meet the following criteria:

  • are limited English speaking,
  • qualify for free or reduced lunch,
  • are active military dependents,
  • have been with the Department of Family and Protective Services, or
  • are homeless.

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Decatur ISD to hold enrollment fair

Decatur ISD will host an enrollment fair 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday, Aug. 14 and 15, at the Administration Building, 307 S. Cates.

Returning students will only need to attend if they haven’t already enrolled online. Computers and staff will be available to help with the online forms.

A shot clinic will be offered 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Aug. 14 only.

New and Pre-K students should bring a birth certificate, social security card, shot record, proof of residence and photo ID.

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Decatur ISD eyes penny decrease in tax rate

The Decatur school district is proposing a one-cent decrease in next year’s tax rate.

The school board met in a special meeting Monday morning where they proposed a total tax rate of $1.29 per $100 valuation for the 2014-2015 school year. That includes a $1.04 maintenance and operations tax rate and a $0.25 debt service tax rate. The current rate of $1.30 includes a 26-cent debt service tax rate.

A public hearing on the proposed 2014-2015 budget and tax rate was set for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at the DISD Administration building, 307 S. Cates St. The board is expected to approve the budget and adopt the tax rate Aug. 27 following the public hearing.

In other business Monday, the school board reviewed the student code of conduct and the draft budget.

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Decatur proposes new GPA rules for sophomores

Incoming Decatur High School sophomores may find themselves under the new grade-point average rules the school board recently approved for freshmen.

Back in March, trustees approved changes in the way grade-point averages are calculated. The six-point scale will be eliminated, and only advanced courses such as pre-AP, AP and dual-credit courses will carry a potential five points. Core classes – English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language – will be on the four-point scale.

The changes are designed to give students more flexibility in their schedules and allow them to take courses based on their interests rather than just to boost their GPA, administrators said in March.

Under the old system, students entered a dual credit and an AP course on a five-point scale. If a student successfully completed the AP exam, he or she was bumped up to the six-point scale.

When the changes were approved in March, the change applied only to incoming freshman rather than students who have already started taking high school courses under the old GPA system.

Incoming juniors and seniors will continue to use the old GPA calculations, but Monday, the board considered applying the new GPA calculation to sophomores as well as incoming freshmen.

“The real advantage I see, from a curriculum standpoint, is we are going to have some sophomores who may want to get into pathways for graduation, and if they do, they are more likely to do it when they have this (new) GPA calculation in place instead of the other one where they are playing the game, choosing the courses to get the best GPA rather than pursuing their passions through those pathways,” said Judi Bell, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.

The pathways she referenced stems from a new education law taking effect this fall. House Bill 5 laid out five different endorsements – or pathways – for schools to offer. Those include:

  • STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics),
  • public services,
  • business and industry,
  • arts and humanities, and
  • multidisciplinary studies.

Schools are required to offer at least one of those endorsements.

Bell explained that last year’s freshmen courses will be calculated on the old scale while this year’s sophomores will move to the new scale, creating a sort of hybrid calculation system for that class.

High school counselor Neal Hall said the GPA change might cause a few students to make schedule changes for the coming year, but he expects it won’t affect the scheduling of the majority of students.

With school scheduled to start in a month, board member Diane Mosley said she wanted to make sure parents of incoming sophomores were given information about the changes and allowed to give feedback.

“I’d like to give the community an opportunity, especially the parents of the sophomores, to be informed of those changes,” she said. ” … They are three years away from graduation and have already made some decisions. I’d like to get that out to the community before we make some decisions.”

Other board members said they liked the proposal and were ready to move forward.

“I’m fine going ahead with it,” trustee Jeff Elder said. “There will always be negatives along the way no matter what we do. … This is going to smooth some things out. It’s going to take some gamesmanship out of it. It’s going to make it easier for parents to figure it out. Plus, I’ve talked to a lot of people already, parents and teachers both, and everyone’s been really in favor of it.”

Ultimately, the board decided to have administrators write up a new policy on the new grade point average calculations applying to incoming sophomores and bring it back for board approval in a few weeks. In the meantime, the school will notify the parents of incoming sophomores in order to get their feedback.

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Weight room improvements approved by Decatur School Board

The girls’ weight room at Decatur High School will soon receive an upgrade.

The school board Monday approved spending nearly $37,000 for the project, which will include taking out a wall to expand the room, the purchase of new equipment and installation of a rubber floor. The weight room is located on the south side of the gym, underneath the visitors stands.

Superintendent Rod Townsend explained why the upgrades are needed.

“The girls’ weight room was never furnished like it should have been when the high school was built (in 2006),” he said. “It just had some old, dilapidated equipment that was put in there. It served its purpose, but right now we have a problem getting people scheduled, getting girls scheduled. They have to go to the fieldhouse to lift weights.”

Townsend said district maintenance employees could remove the drywall and make the necessary ceiling repairs.

Half the money from the project will come from current budget funds, while the other half will come from the construction fund balance.

BOARD REORGANIZATION

Each May following the election, the school board votes on new officers for the year. All of the officers were re-elected: Kevin Haney as president, Jeff Alling as vice president and Jeff Elder as secretary.

At the beginning of the meeting, Alling and newly-elected board member Jim Lamirand were issued the oath of office.

CAREER AND TECHNOLOGY REPORT

Townsend gave a presentation on the status of the high school’s career and technology program, which he said has been growing in recent years.

“It’s not just about animals,” Townsend said. “It’s about a lot of different things. Currently, we have about 360-370 kids taking part in our career and tech program. I don’t think there is a program up there that has that many involved in it as career and tech. It’s growing, and I think there are some good things to come.”

He pointed out that in the current year, 214 students had earned industry-recognized certifications such as ASE (Automotive Service Excellence), OPAC (Office Proficiency Assessment Certification), floral design, beef quality and master gardener. Another 74 certifications have been issued from Weatherford College, including gas metal arc welding and welding safety tools equipment.

LUNCH PRICE ADJUSTMENTS

As part of the consent agenda that drew no board discussion, changes were approved to the pricing of school lunches.

Current lunch prices are $2.35 at the elementary, $2.60 at the middle school and $2.80 at the high school. The new pricing structure will include only two tiers: $2.50 for the elementary school and $2.75 at the secondary levels (middle and high schools). That represents a 15-cent increase at the elementary and middle school level and a 5-cent decrease at the high school level.

Recognitions and honors

The following students, teachers and groups were recognized at the meeting:

  • Carson Elementary teacher Danielle Scroggins as DISD educator of the month;
  • Alicia Flick, office secretary at McCarroll Middle School, as support staff employee of the month;
  • valedictorian Laura Nicholson and salutatorian Katie Isham;
  • members of the Superintendent Student Advisory Council;
  • state golf qualifiers Drew Jones;
  • boys state track meet qualifiers.

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Up to the challenge: Destination Imagination teams participate in state competition

A couple of teams from Decatur ISD are putting their creativity and teamwork skills to the test this weekend near Austin.

Both the high school and middle school Destination Imagination teams won their regional competitions last month to earn a trip to the state competition today.

Living Comic Strip

LIVING COMIC STRIP – The main challenge for the junior high team of (from left) Hatti Shipman, Haleigh Hurst, Sam Bagwell, Hayden Hurst and Sadie Walker was to bring to life a comic strip based on a work of art from an artist from another nation. They are shown performing at regional competition last month. Submitted photo

Destination Imagination promotes skills such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking and collaboration. Teams of students work together to complete challenges. Those challenges are designed to encourage students to think on their feet and use teamwork.

SOARING IMAGINATIONS – The Decatur High School Destination Imagination team includes (front, from left) Michaela Drewry, Maggie Downe, (back, from left) Nick Oberle, Sam Bowker, Patrick August, Clay Gillispie and Hunter Brandon. The team is bringing their toolbox to solve an unknown challenge at this weekend’s state competition. Submitted photo

The only thing the high school team knows in advance about its challenge is that they need to bring a shoebox toolkit with items such as duct tape, pliers, screwdrivers, a box cutter, scissors, nuts, bolts and screws. Each team will learn its challenge just an hour-and-a-half before they have to perform the assigned task.

That’s where they must use their other toolbox – the one that lies in their imaginations.

At the regional competition March 1 at Carrollton’s Creekview High School, the high school team brought items they might need for a trip to the Amazon – but only what would fit in a carry-on suitcase. Their challenge, revealed the day of the competition, was to create a PowerPoint presentation about certain aspects of their trip. The team was given two hours to create their presentation.

In the final 15 minutes, they were given a random challenge: they had to include a photo of a woman wearing a Christmas tree on her head.

Team member Michaela Drewry explained how they tackled the challenge.

“We had to incorporate that into our safari trip,” she said. “It was pretty cool. When we presented, what we ended up doing was, (saying) ‘When we were in the Amazon, we were thinking about our Aunt Linda.’”

The junior high team will have two challenges. The first is one they have been preparing for since the beginning of school – the main challenge – and the other is an instant challenge they won’t find out about until the competition.

Destination Imagination manager Brooklyn Stapleton explained what an instant challenge might look like.

“They walk into a room, and they are given crazy stuff like toothpicks, cotton balls, tape and say something like, ‘Build a bridge that is 2 feet long and will stand by itself.’ You’ve got like five minutes to build it,” she said.

The main challenge, dubbed “Laugh Art Loud,” included the following instructions:

  • Research works of art created by artists who were from a nation other than the United States.
  • Theatrically present a comic strip that is based on a work of art created by the artist from another nation.
  • Create three live comic strip panels.
  • Create an ARTifact that is inspired by the work of art.
  • Design and create a Caption Contraption for one of the comic strip panels.

The junior high teams are managed by Sara Hurst and Sue DeHart. Stapleton and Christi Perkins manage the high school team.

Decatur’s teams will compete against more than 450 other teams from around the state. The winners of the state competition will advance to the global competition to be held in Tennessee.

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Past meets the future at new school office

Past meets the future at new school office

Walking through Decatur ISD’s new administration offices Thursday, Superintendent Rod Townsend said he thought the building probably had enough room to handle 40 years of growth in the district.

Given that the building is already more than 75 years old, that’s probably a good bet.

Auditorium Makeover

AUDITORIUM MAKEOVER – Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend is pictured in the former auditorium of the 1938 Decatur High School building, which has been remodeled to serve as the new boardroom. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Like a cat, the 1938 Decatur High School building seems to have nine lives. It’s been a high school, middle school/administration office, intermediate school and even the temporary home to Weatherford College Wise County.

Thanks to a $2.6 million restoration and renovation project, the building located near the intersection of South Cates and East Ward streets once again has a new purpose.

The benefits of locating the administration offices there are two-fold: it allows more space than the previous administration building, but it also gave the district an opportunity to restore and preserve its oldest facility.

“I hope that this will be something the community will be proud of for many years to come,” Townsend said. “We tried to do it right and do it in a way that would maintain the original integrity of the building. I think it is something that will be here for a long time. It’s a great old building.”

Obviously, much has changed since the building’s early days as a high school – but great care was taken to preserve as much of the original look as possible. For instance, a dropped ceiling has been removed to display the ornate dentil crown moulding along with wall details such as the original “Auditorium” sign built into the wall near the front entrance.

Original windows that had been covered up for years in the auditorium were revealed and replaced with more energy-efficient windows. The auditorium’s original seats have also been preserved as seating for the new board room. A few rows of seats near the front were removed for the dais where the school board will sit, but those seats are being kept for replacement parts. Part of the stage was removed to create a ramp, and the backstage area is now home to an executive board room, restrooms and a small kitchen. The original flooring has been sanded and restained.

Out front, areas that once housed classrooms and a library are now home to various offices. Several areas are being used for meeting or workrooms now, but could eventually become more office space to handle future growth.

A grandfather clock from the 1938 high school was kept at the district’s former administration building, but has now been returned to its original location.

“It has come full circle,” Townsend said. “It’s back home.”

The renovation has also turned up a few surprises. When drywall was removed from the room where Townsend’s office would be located, a large safe was discovered. Rather than covering it back up, a new door was put on so it can be used for its original purpose.

The walls of the main corridor of the building remain mostly bare, but Townsend said he has a plan in mind that fits with the theme of celebrating the district’s past. He’d like to hang photos of all the country schools that consolidated to form the Decatur Independent School District.

“We want to celebrate the future, but we also want to recognize the past and make sure we give credit to those who put this together in the beginning,” he said. “One way to do that is to recognize each community school that went into making this school district.”

Townsend said he would welcome any photos of those schools or the early days of the district.

The next step in the project is renovation work at the old administration building. The technology department will move there this summer.

OPEN HOUSE

The school district will hold a come-and-go open house at the new administration offices 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Cookies and punch will be served, and a short dedication ceremony is scheduled for 2:15.

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Decatur will use makeup days April 28 and Memorial Day, May 26.

Decatur ISD Superintendent Rod Townsend said he “expects to hear about it” from parents who might have already scheduled activities for Memorial Day weekend.

“We’ve done it a couple of years and gotten by with it,” Townsend said. “We pushed our luck, and now it got us.”

The situation has been remedied for next year. The 2014-2015 school calendar approved at Monday’s school board meeting lists Memorial Day 2015 as a student and staff holiday. Next year’s bad weather makeup days have been assigned to April 2 and May 11.

Townsend said schools are pretty well locked into using the bad weather days as scheduled. A staff development day could be changed to a full instructional day, but those staff development days would have to be added somewhere else on the calendar.

While most schools expect the TEA to grant the waiver requests, if those requests were denied, schools would be looking at options such as holding school on Saturday or turning scheduled holidays into instructional days.

Even if the TEA grants the waiver, schools have lost a full week of instructional time. With the amount of state standards, known as the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), which are required to be taught, that leaves a lot of ground to be made up.

“You have to adjust your schedule and prioritize those TEKS,” Townsend said. “You will have to speed up that process.”

He added that Decatur’s middle school has a built-in period typically used for tutorials or extracurricular activities that will be utilized to make up for some of those missed instructional days.

While students might enjoy getting unplanned days off due to weather, educators don’t share the same enthusiasm.

“We would much rather go to school,” Townsend said.

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Decatur School Board approves admin contracts, meets Monday

The Decatur School Board met Wednesday and will meet again Monday.

Last Wednesday’s meeting included an agenda with only two action items. Following a closed session, the board approved one-year extensions for all administrators, principals and directors.

The board also approved a budget amendment to pay for damage sustained by a district storage facility during a recent ice storm.

Monday’s agenda includes calling a trustee election, possible changes in class weights and GPA formula due to House Bill 5 requirements, a consent agenda that includes the 2014-2015 school calendar and a superintendent’s report that will feature updates on items such as the high school ag project center, technology and the central office transition.

The meeting will be at the DISD Administration Building beginning with a closed session at 6 p.m. followed by an open session.

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Temperature relief on the way for Decatur elementary

Some classes are too hot and some are too cold, but a fix could soon leave the rooms just right.

Over the Christmas break, part of the energy management control system at Rann Elementary went out. The system, which controls the room temperatures, runs on outdated software that is at least 14 years old, said Superintendent Rod Townsend.

“Not all of it is out, but about half of it is out, so some of the rooms are being controlled, and some are having to be manually controlled,” he explained to board members at Monday’s meeting. “(We’ve) not been able to keep it at a constant temperature. It’s either been running wide open or closed completely off.”

Townsend said the school had a couple of options. It could replace parts of the system wing by wing at the school, or it could replace the entire control system.

He recommended replacing the entire system.

“In order to do that it is a pretty sizable project, somewhere in the $75,000 to $85,000 range,” he said. “We can do it one wing at a time, but in the long run it will cost you more money. If we continue like it is, almost weekly we have pieces that go down. It’s obsolete, so we aren’t able to repair that piece. That’s not the way I’d recommend it. You are eventually going to have to replace the whole system.”

The new system would receive periodic updates like any other software program, Townsend said.

Townsend recommended paying for the system replacement with some of the $140,000 in bond money left over from the 2008 bond project.

Because repairs are needed as soon as possible, Townsend asked the board to give him permission to seek bids and accept the one that provides the best value for the district.

“I think we can do it for a lot less than $85,000,” he said.

The board agreed to have Townsend seek and award a bid for the replacement.

Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, the board went into a closed session for a little more than an hour to perform the annual superintendent evaluation. The board reconvened and unanimously voted to extend Townsend’s contract for another year. The contract now runs through July of 2017.

The board also voted to give Townsend a raise of $6,500. That brings his salary to $159,726. Townsend was hired in July of 2009 with a salary of $135,000.

In other business:

  • Hassie Sutton from McCarroll Middle School was honored as educator of the month and Juan Garcia from the maintenance department as support staff employee of the month.
  • Joel Forbis, a senior trumpet player, was honored for earning second chair in the all state jazz band.
  • The district now hopes to move into the renovated central administration building the first week of February.

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‘Your land, my land…’; Decatur may still own property under 1939 school building

Decatur ISD will move into its new Central Office in just a few weeks, as a $2.3 million renovation and restoration project on the 1939 Decatur High School building nears completion.

But the district may not own all the land it sits on.

DISD requested a replat of the 8-acre tract as a formality, tying the entire tract together and un-dedicating some city streets that run through it – streets that have been out of use for decades.

As it turns out, a portion of the land – including some where the school has sat for more than seven decades – still belongs to the city.

“Part of the acreage within that platted tract does not belong to Decatur ISD,” city attorney Mason Woodruff told the council at its meeting Monday. “It belongs to the city, at least as a matter of record.”

Woodruff said the matter was only brought to his attention about a month ago.

The replat was no problem and won the council’s unanimous approval. Woodruff said since the city is the other landowner, if the city signs off on the replat, there’s nothing that will hold up the project or delay the district’s moving in.

“Both the city and school district still need to do some research and see how the property was acquired,” Woodruff said. He recommended that if no deed or action can be found in either entity’s minutes, the city just donate the property to the school district.

“They would need to request it,” he said. “If the council approves, we could do a deed.”

The remodeled portion of the property was built in 1938-39. For several years it was used by Weatherford College as a local campus, before the county built it a new facility that opened in 2012.

After it was vacated, the school board voted to remodel it for a central administration building, leaving the current admin building to serve as a stand-alone technology building.

The district will likely make the move within the next few weeks.

POLICY ON HOT MONEY GETS OK

The council also approved a new policy on the use of Hotel/Motel Occupancy Tax (HOT) money to bolster marketing efforts for events coming to Decatur.

Recently both the city and the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) donated funds to help Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds attract and publicize the Texas Sporting Clays Championships, to be held in this area Sept. 17-21.

The council approved $5,000 from HOT money and another $5,000 from sales tax revenue as well as the use of the Decatur Civic Center for the event’s awards banquet. The EDC approved a $15,000 grant.

But city officials, wary of an onslaught of requests in the wake of that approval, decided to create a policy to set aside a fixed amount of money for such events and require a lengthy, written application.

“I just want to head this off before we have a problem with a lot of people coming to you guys on a monthly, routine basis asking for hotel/motel money,” said city Finance Director Brad Burnett.

Under the new policy, applications would be due by the end of July, and the city council would consider them once a year as part of the budget process. Organizations would then submit expense reports, and city staff would reimburse up to the amounts approved.

“We’ll have a pot of money out there – I’m thinking in the neighborhood of $10 or $12,000,” Burnett said. “It’s a pretty detailed application, but if you have a lot of these, we’ll need a lot of information to determine which to fund and which not to.”

City Manager Brett Shannon said the process is needed to control the expenses.

“Doing it this way, you’re always going to be OK on your budget,” he said. He noted the policy mirrors one currently used by the city of Mansfield.

TRUCK FINANCING APPROVED

The council also approved the purchase of a sewer vacuum truck for the Public Works Department at a cost of $296,740.

The purchase will be financed over five years with payments of $64,022 a year – a total of $18,818 interest at 3.124 percent – through the Government Capital Corp.

The first payment was budgeted at $58,000, so the city will have to find a little money elsewhere for this year, Burnett said. Future payments can be budgeted at $64,000.

PLATS APPROVED, VARIANCE DENIED

Five items on the council agenda were requests for action on zoning, replat or a variance.

In addition to the school district’s request, the council approved Chris and Micah Fernihough’s request for a final plat on about 4.3 acres they own along South U.S. 81/287.

The couple, owners of TLC Lawn Care, which sits at the front of the long, narrow piece of property, said they plan to build warehouses at some point and wanted to get the plat done in advance. The council approved it unanimously.

Jeffery Pinkerton, who owns a 1.44-acre lot on North Lane and Mulberry, asked the city to replat his property to close portions of an alley and a street that cross it, but have never been used.

That replat was approved, but a variance Pinkerton requested from the city’s sidewalk design standards was denied.

He agreed to escrow the funds, meaning the sidewalks and curb-and-gutter along both Lane and Mulberry can be installed as part of larger projects in future years.

The council also approved a zoning change from single-family 2 to restricted business for Stephen Todd and Susan Parks. The law firm plans to convert a house at 400 E. Main St. into a law office.

They had requested C-1 zoning, but the council approved C-0, which is slightly more restrictive. Either designation allows the law office according to city Planning Director Dedra Ragland. The office is in the city’s Central Business District, which allows houses, offices and retail.

One nearby property owner opposed the change due to traffic concerns.

APPOINTMENTS

The council reappointed six members to the Decatur Hospital Authority board of directors and named one new member.

Loyd Jackson, who was first appointed in 1989, was reappointed along with Andrew Sandford, Debbie Waggoner and Jana Erwin, D.O. – all of whom were appointed in 2008 – and Lesa Warren and Mark Duncum, who were appointed in 2010.

Ray Cook, who served on the board in the early 2000s, was newly appointed to bring the total number of directors to 11.

Burnett was named to the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ Air Transportation Technical Advisory Committee (ATTAC) because a vacancy opened up.

Mike Sayers, the city’s former airport manager who retired last year, is also a member of the committee. Burnett took over those duties when Sayers retired.

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DISD Education Foundation winners

The Decatur ISD Education Foundation awarded 15 innovative teaching grants to educators in the district Friday, Dec. 13.

Social Studies Weekly

SOCIAL STUDIES WEEKLY — Cara Daniel at Young Elementary was one of the recipients of a $1,075 social studies grant. Submitted photo

Mimio Magic

MIMIO MAGIC — Young Elementary first grade teachers Tami Blythe, Holly East, Clyde’ette Gage and Kimberly Warren received a $4,003.24 grant. Submitted photo

Lets Go 3D

LET’S GO 3D — McCarroll Middle School teacher Kristi Thetford and her students were on hand for the presentation of the $4,960.85 grant. Submitted photo

Let the Creating Begin

LET THE CREATING BEGIN — Carson Elementary teacher Stacy Williams received a $1,317 grant for collaborative research. Submitted photo

Double Winner

DOUBLE WINNER — Carson Elementary teacher Karen Crooks received a pair of $415.03 grants, one for science studies and the other for Texas community studies. Submitted photo

Mobile Music

MOBILE MUSIC — Decatur High School teachers Eric McNiel, Ginger Dillard, Cody Knott, Cassidy McQuiston and Chris Yurasek received a $5,000 music grant. Submitted photo

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Decatur Education Foundation awards teaching grants

Decatur Education Foundation awards teaching grants

The Decatur ISD Education Foundation awarded 15 innovative teaching grants totaling nearly $40,000 Dec. 13.

Young Elementary teachers Tami Blythe, Holly East, Clyde’ette Gage and Kimberly Warren were awarded a $4,003.24 grant titled “Mimio Magic” given in honor of First Financial Bank. Students will collaborate frequently using the Mimio. They will brainstorm animals that are oviparous and create a circle or bubble-thinking map. They will have the power to “own” their learning in order to create these thinking maps by adding to or deleting items from them.

Early Christmas Gift

EARLY CHRISTMAS GIFT – Young Elementary teacher Kara Daniel shows off her Decatur ISD Education Foundation grant check to fellow fourth grade teachers Lindsey Green and Lauren Cary Friday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Young Elementary teachers in kindergarten through fifth grade, including fifth grade teacher Tammy Rainey, were awarded a $6,990 grant titled “Weatherbug School” given in honor of Devon Energy. Students will work in groups to examine authentic weather data and work with other Weatherbug schools to learn and investigate climates in different areas of the country.

Young Elementary teacher Kara Daniel, Rann Elementary teacher Lindy Bryant and Carson Elementary teacher Brooklynn Stapleton were awarded a $1,075.20 grant titled “Social Studies Weekly” given in honor of Roy and Jeannine Eaton. Students will be able to dig deeper into significant events and contributions of famous Texans and events. Students will not only focus on social studies, but they will also expand their reading and writing skills, as well.

McCarroll Middle School teacher DeDe Diaczenko was awarded a $900 grant titled “Making Our Mark, Weaving a Legacy” given in honor of Dr. C.M. and JoAnn Cocanougher. Students will use a friendly loom to create tapestries that will be displayed on each of the middle school campuses. Much in the same way each student impacts the community they are a part of, the tapestry will represent this time in their lives and how they made a mark on their campus history.

Diaczenko was also awarded a $3,000 grant titled “Get Fired Up, Artists!!” given in honor of Datalink Information Services-Randy and Pam Shrull. Students will build and glaze their own pinch pot/coil pot. As students work with the clay, they will receive instruction from a master potter who will offer advice in design and structural development.

McCarroll Middle School teacher Kristi Thetford was awarded at $4,960.85 grant titled “1D, 2D, No…Let’s go 3D!” given in honor of Atmos Energy. In order to determine the mission and the process to complete the mission and solve the issue in the community, students will need to collaborate on different issues. Students will need to discuss different options on fixing the issue along with the final product to be presented.

Rann Elementary teachers Aaron Massey and Giselle Gutierrez were awarded a $1,647.57 grant titled “Experimental Design: Preparing for the Future…” given in honor of J.E. and Betty Carson. All activities will allow students to work together to collect information and communicate the information they have collected. Students will then work together to create a presentation that explains the information they have collected. All assignments will include an oral presentation of some type.

Rann Elementary teacher Holly McNiel was awarded a $4,878.90 grant titled “More Mallet Madness” given in honor of North Texas Bank. Students will learn the importance of collaboration in an ensemble performance to ensure they are playing together.

Carson Elementary teacher Crystal Klose was awarded a $432 grant titled “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!!” given in honor of Decatur Tire Store. Students will be able to use resources to collaborate on projects. They will be asked to present information obtained and synthesized from the newspapers. They will be asked to critically think about the people discussed in a historical context and develop theories about their actions and the decisions they made and how those actions still impact us today in our country and in the world.

Carson teacher Stacy Williams was awarded a $1,317 grant titled “Let the Creating Begin” given in honor of iCopy/Wise Wireless. Students will collaborate with each other to complete the research about each one of the heroes. They will be involved in a few fishbowls as a class to discuss the information they have found.

Carson teacher Karen Crooks was awarded a $415.03 grant titled “Science Studies Weekly Discovery” given in honor of Bond Family Eye Care. Students will develop research and media skills using primary and secondary sources. 2.0 digital tool suggestions for creating online products like videos, avatars, posters and slide shows are provided.

Crooks was also awarded a $415.03 grant titled “Texas Community Studies Weekly” given in honor of 2K Pawn and Gun. Students are required to write about what they read, perform additional research, cite sources and consider other points of view. Assessment questions require students to recall, examine and analyze the text they have read.

Decatur High School teachers Eric McNiel, Ginger Dillard, Cody Knott, Cassidy McQuiston and Chris Yurasek were awarded a $5,000 grant titled “Mobile Music: Band on the Run” given in honor of Wise Regional Health System. The Sound Machine will allow students to be in charge of their learning. They will be able to take it out, set it up on their own, digitally enhance it with their 21st-century tools that the district already provides and be more productive with technology in the classroom.

High school teacher Christine Carreno was awarded a $1,378.66 grant titled “3D Molecular Designs” given in honor of Charles and Loraine Burton. Students will have a completed DNA molecule, a completed water molecule, and a completed sodium chloride molecule. Students will then demonstrate the structure of DNA and how nitrogenous bases fit together. Students will also demonstrate the different phases of water and how an ionic bond dissolves in water.

High school teacher Audrey Micinski was awarded a $2,754 grant titled “Lighting the Way to Understanding Light!” given in honor of DATCU. Students will engage in a month-long study of light and optics which will be addressed through a series of labs including both prescribed and open-ended labs in which students start with the basic concepts of reflection, refraction, diffraction and interference. That initial study will springboard into the making of a working microscope and then finally a telescope.

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Board wants plans drawn up for new ag facility

The Decatur school board has not yet approved the building of a new agriculture project facility, but it moved one step closer in that direction at Monday’s meeting.

Last month, the board heard a report on how the success of the ag program at the high school has led to high enrollment in ag classes and projects. That has resulted in an ag barn that is beyond its capacity. Superintendent Rod Townsend said in a few cases, more than one animal is in a pen.

“Mr. (agriculture teacher Mark) Goggins told me that if we grow any more next year, we will be at the point where we have to start turning students away,” Townsend said.

At last month’s meeting, architect Kevin Smith, president of Claycomb Associates, said he would try to get cost estimates for a new ag facility. Townsend relayed that information to the board Monday.

“We basically came up with a floor plan that we felt we could live with,” Townsend said. ” … It appears it will cost in the neighborhood of $70-$80 per square foot to build. But we’re at the point we can’t go any further until we have a full set of plans drawn so we can send them out and get some hard numbers on this.”

The facility will cost an estimated $750,000 to $800,000 to build.

The board indicated they wanted to move forward with more specific plans.

“I think we really want to let these guys grow this (program),” board member Jeff Elder said. “We have to do something. If we don’t, we’re going to be holding the program back.”

The next item on the agenda dealt with selecting a construction method, if the project was to be approved. The board approved a resolution selecting competitive sealed proposals as the method.

In other business, the board decided to pay off the notes borrowed in January of 2005 to purchase buses and other transportation equipment. The district originally borrowed $1.7 million, and after this year, there would be two remaining payments left totaling $32,387. Counting interest, fees and other costs, the approximate savings would be $26,887 over three years.

Assistant Superintendent Gary Micinski said the most important benefit of paying off the notes early would be freeing up about $210,000 for future budgets.

As part of the superintendent’s report, Townsend said it will probably be the end of January before the central administration offices will move into the renovated building next to the support services building. Townsend said he hoped to have next month’s board meeting at the renovated building.

Accountant Jenny Miller with Snow, Garrett, Williams gave a report on the annual audit, saying the district had “a clean, or unmodified opinion,” which is the highest level of assurance that could be given with an audit.

At the beginning of the meeting, various groups and individuals were given special recognition including:

  • winners of the district’s Christmas card art contest – Morgan McGee, Kendall Childers, Karina Aguilar, McKaela Aylor, Kathy Davenport and Alejandra Fernandez;
  • members and coaches of the Class 3A state champion Lady Eagles volleyball team;
  • Kris Tamplen as educator of the month; and
  • Lorrie Leonard as support staff employee of the month.

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Doubling up: School looks at the ability of facilities to handle twice the students

School enrollment at Decatur doesn’t appear it will double anytime soon, but what if it did?

That was the hypothetical scenario presented to school board members and administrators Monday.

Looking to the Future

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE – Most of the discussion about future expansion needs based on student growth at Monday’s school board meeting was centered around Decatur High School, which opened in 2006. According to one high-growth projection, the school could begin to reach functional capacity in as little as four years. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The exercise was designed to take enrollment trends and compare it with space for future growth in the district’s current facilities.

“What we’re looking at tonight is what if you just doubled everything?” said architect Kevin Smith, president of Claycomb Associates. “Do you have enough space on each campus to double your occupancy on those campuses? Not that that is the best answer, but at least it will give you a frame of reference to know the possibilities.”

District enrollment has remained relatively flat the last few years. In fact, enrollment growth has been at 0 percent three of the last four years and only 1 percent the other year, according to information provided by Templeton Demographics. But despite this slowdown in growth in the school district, Smith said he believes it is just a matter of time before those percentages start climbing again.

“I believe the growth is coming, I really do,” he said. “And I believe it’s coming from Northwest (ISD) up this direction, and it’s coming from U.S. 380. I think there is no question it is coming from both directions.”

The good news, he said, is the district appears to be in good shape, at least in the short term.

“I don’t think you are in a position right now where it will sneak up on you,” he said. “If someone comes in and starts subdividing, building houses, it’s going to be a two-year process. Unless you have that here, you are not going to have a great influx of people. I think you are in pretty good shape in the short term.”

While each school in the district still has room to support student growth, the high school is the closest to reaching its functional capacity. Current enrollment stands at 878, and the functional capacity of the school is 1,012.

Smith explained functional capacity doesn’t mean every class in school is full of students every class period. He arrived at the functional capacity number by multiplying the number of core classrooms times 25 (the maximum number of students per class) and multiplying that number by 75 percent.

What that means is the school still has room to add more students, but once you pass the functional capacity number, it begins to take away scheduling flexibility and eventually could lead to less course offerings.

“It would change the dynamics of how we run the building now,” said high school principal Jason Cochran. “… You’d have changes in cutoff numbers. Right now, you might have 12 in a physics class. My cutoff numbers would change so that if I didn’t have 19 or 20 in a class, that class doesn’t make. The offerings would become more uniform. We wouldn’t be able to diversify the programs as much as we do now.”

The high school was built so that adding classrooms is a possibility. The drawback is core classes are concentrated in the northern section of the building, making that area of the school more crowded.

Templeton’s high growth scenario for the high school would put the campus at its functional capacity in the 2017-2018 school year, while a medium projection shows the school staying under the functional capacity for at least another 10 years.

If the original theoretical scenario of doubling the current enrollment was applied to the high school, the student population would stand at 1,756 students, which would require an additional 36 classrooms, an increase in dining/food service, an expansion of the parking area and an increase in athletic space.

School board president Kevin Haney asked Smith for a “ballpark figure” on how much it would cost to make these expansions to the current high school. After doing a little figuring, Smith estimated it would take $7.5 million.

“Seven-and-a-half million is not a bad number to get to a position we could double our enrollment there,” Haney said.

Current enrollment at the elementary level is 1,368 with functional capacity of 2,508.

Middle school enrollment (seventh and eighth grade only) is 503 with a functional capacity of 750.

The sixth grade campus is the only school in the district that currently has enough space to handle double the enrollment. Current enrollment is 234, and the school has a functional capacity of 554.

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Fully stocked: Ag students in need of bigger barn

The success of the Decatur High School agriculture program has created plenty of student enthusiasm but also a shrinking amount of space.

Both were on display at Monday’s school board meeting.

During the student recognition portion of the meeting, Decatur ag students were honored for their recent performance at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky.

Full House

FULL HOUSE – The Decatur ag barn is at capacity, due in large part to the growing number of students in the program. Success of students such as Shelby Drews, a member of the Chapter Quiz Team that finished fifth in a recent national competition, has led to increased popularity of the program, according to school officials. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

The Chapter Quiz Team placed fifth overall in the National FFA Quiz Contest, which is a general know-ledge test over the National FFA Handbook. Team members include Michaela Cross, Caylla Cotten, Shelby Drews and Michael Hicks. Cross was second high individual of the contest.

Brooke Millican, a 2012 DHS graduate, was also honored for being named national champion of the Home and/or Community Development-Entrepreneurship/Placement Proficiency award. Millican designed, raised money and coordinated the construction of a pocket park behind the Decatur Visitors Center.

The Decatur FFA Chapter was also recognized as a one-star program, an elite rating only obtained by 2 percent of FFA chapters nationwide.

But the program is far from a one-year-wonder. It has brought home numerous state and national awards over the past several years.

Schools have discovered that success breeds success, and students are drawn to a program that has a history of winning.

“If you’ll remember, we added a third ag teacher two years ago,” Superintendent Rod Townsend reminded the board. “And at the time, each teacher had about 140 kids. We added a third one, and that year every ag teacher had 140, and one ag teacher had 150.

“I thought we would reduce the size of some of those classes, but it didn’t work that way. We just picked up that many more students. If you grow just a little bit more, you’re going to be looking at adding a fourth ag teacher.”

More students mean more projects.

“You are completely full at that ag barn,” Townsend said.

Board members viewed a possible floor plan with space for an increased number of pens for animals. Townsend said he believes such a facility could be built for $750,000 to $800,000.

Architect Kevin Smith, president of Claycomb Associates, was in attendance and said he would try to get cost estimates and have them ready for the board to review at the December school board meeting.

The ag students weren’t the only group recognized Monday. The boys and girls cross country teams were also honored for their recent success at the state meet. Taylor Clayton won the state title, and his team finished eighth. The girls team finished second.

Young Elementary kindergarten teacher Angie Taylor was honored as educator of the month, and Patti Rivera at Rann Elementary was recognized as support staff employee of the month.

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Specialists help teachers create ‘future ready’ students

The task was clear: find materials that would work best for the next big innovation at Apple. This would require identifying and classifying metals, non-metals and metalloids based on their properties.

It would require collaboration in teams and the presentation of their findings.

The Next Big Thing

THE NEXT BIG THING – Students in Jessica Murphy’s science class (from left) Rayanna Harper, Casey Teague, Katelynn Eslinger and Hayley Holloway, work on a project designed to teach them about the classification of elements. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

While this might sound like the work of engineers employed by one of the biggest technology companies in the world, it was actually an example of a recent project-based learning lesson in the sixth-grade classroom of McCarroll Middle School science teacher Jessica Murphy.

The scene in the classroom is similar to those in classrooms across the Decatur school district. Students are grouped together, working as a team to come up with solutions to a problem. They use laptops or iPads to research and create presentations.

It’s a long way from sitting in rows of desks, listening to a teacher, taking notes, memorizing facts and taking a test on those facts. The lessons are designed to engage students and teach them skills that will help them succeed in the future.

In many cases, students watch videos of a lecture on a computer at home, then participate in projects at school so they can apply what they’ve learned.

This dramatic change and the increasing use of technology can sometimes create challenges for teachers who want to embrace these new types of teaching methods – but don’t always know the best way to do it.

Coach for the Classroom

COACH FOR THE CLASSROOM – Future Ready math specialist Kaci Cook talks with visiting teachers Julie Hyman and Cindy Gestes about the district’s Future Ready Project. Also pictured is Beth Fountain, assistant principal for the sixth grade campus at McCarroll Middle School in Decatur. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

But this school year, teachers at the middle and high schools have a resource with three “Future Ready specialists.” These curriculum assistants are available to help teachers carry out the district’s mission of “providing a quality education where students will learn digitally, think creatively, and compete globally.”

“Maybe you want to incorporate a brand-new app, but you don’t know exactly how it works. We can come in and show you that,” explained Future Ready math specialist Kaci Cook. “We will co-teach with you. If there is a hard-to-teach or hard-to-learn lesson … and they just really want help planning it and maybe even co-teaching it, sure, that’s what we’ll do.”

Decatur ISD trustees approved the strategic plan that outlined the district’s “Future Ready Project” in April 2012. Since that time, groups of teachers have received “Future Ready training.” The Future Ready specialists work with teachers to expand on that training and be a resource.

“The biggest thing is just helping them,” Cook said. “When they go through the Future Ready training for three days, they leave and then there’s no support. So our role is to step in after they’ve gone through this. … After they are trained, we’re there to touch base with them, to say, ‘Hey what do you want to try? Let us help you make it work.’ Because it can be an endeavor.”

Teachers and administrators from other area schools recently spent the morning in Decatur seeing how the Future Ready Project was being implemented. In the classroom of sixth grade math teacher Angee Morton, students were learning about unit rates and ratios. A real-life scenario was used to help the students grasp the concept.

Their task was to determine the best deal for a group of students taking a long trip. The students looked at the number of people who would be going on the trip, and the possible number of days for the trip, then tried to determine the most cost-efficient way of traveling. They researched the different costs of flying the group to various destinations and calculated other relevant information such as miles per gallon.

Students were learning the required skills as set forth in the state standards, but at the same time, they were applying those skills in a real-life situation.

“They know they are figuring miles per gallon, but they don’t realize they are learning unit rates until they apply that vocabulary term on it. And then they say, ‘I can do that!’” Cook said.

That was a lesson Cook had helped Morton with a few days earlier. It was Morton’s first experience creating a project-based learning lesson from the ground up.

Morton said Cook had been a great help in planning the lesson.

“She helped me create the documents the kids would actually use and then the first day, she helped start it with the ‘knows’ and ‘need to knows,’ because that drives the rest of the project,” Morton said. “So she helped that first day. She came in a couple of times while it was going. The biggest help was just getting it off the ground, getting it started.”

Cook said many teachers have utilized their services. The specialists will often get emails from teachers who talk about an upcoming lesson and ask for ideas. Others haven’t reached out to them yet, and that’s fine, Cook said.

“You just have to be there for when they do come around and they say, ‘You know, I see you’re helping them. I’d like some of that help, too,’” Cook said.

“It’s one of those things as a coach, you can’t force the help. I often say, ‘Hey, check out this resource,’ or ‘I saw this the other day, and I thought about you.’ But I won’t do anything other than that because it really has to be them saying ‘OK, I’m ready to reach out and try something new.’”

Alan Bonner, a Future Ready science specialist, said activities like the one where students imagine they are Apple engineers are designed to allow the kids to have fun – and be engaged – in a lesson.

“The TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) that they have to teach, yes (students) are learning that, but in a way that drives them,” he said. “They think they are just learning about making a cell phone because they are Apple engineers. It’s not the teacher tricking them into learning, but they get what they want, and the kid gets something entertaining out of it, too.”

Cook and Bonner’s positions, as well as Future Ready program specialist Lori Cole’s position, were funded by a grant from the Miles Foundation.

For more information on the district’s Future Ready Project, visit www.wcmess.com/future.

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