By John R. Schirmer
The Nashville School Board voted Jan. 21 to extend Superintendent Doug Graham’s contract through the 2016-17 academic year.
The vote came following a one-hour executive session. Graham met with the board for 30 minutes during the executive session.
The local school district followed its usual procedure of rehiring the superintendent in January. Re-employment of building principals, assistant principals, certified and classified personnel will follow in February and March.
Graham has been superintendent since 2006. Before that, he had served as junior high principal, athletic director and assistant superintendent.
In other business during last week’s meeting, the board took the first step toward providing one-to-one devices for students. Board members approved Graham’s recommendation to purchase 300 Asus touchscreen laptops to share between junior high and high school.
The laptops will cost $375 each, making the total purchase $112,500. The district will also order 10 carts with charging stations.
“After over a year of debate, the laptop is a good investment,” Graham said. “I think it’s time. This should be a neat, 21st century learning environment.”
Graham had earlier considered Chromebooks but decided on the Asus laptops because they are Windows based and provide more options for students.
Technology director Gayland Hopper said the wi-fi network at junior high and high school will be able to accommodate the extra usage from the new laptops.
The district pays $10,000 a year for Microsoft operating licenses, including Office. The cost covers every computer in the district, Hopper said. The new laptops “will integrate well with what we already have. The Chromebook has its niche, but Windows 8 is right for us.”
Laptops will also be purchased for primary and elementary school. Both campuses will receive money from the Arkansas Department of Education as a reward for improved student achievement, and the funds will be used for laptops. The two schools together will receive about $47,000 from the state.
Nashville is among the schools selected to pilot the new PARCC testing program this spring. Testing will be done online instead of with a pencil and bubble-in answer sheet. The new computers will be used to administer the tests, and Graham wants students and teachers to become familiar with them before testing begins.
“If we put them in students’ hands for the test without using them before, we’re looking at a train wreck,” Graham said.
Literacy Coach Vickie Beene presented the board’s monthly inservice program. She said literacy teachers hold monthly meetings during which “they spend all day working on Common Core lessons. The teachers love it.” Sessions are held for grades 4-6, 7-9 and 10-12. Elementary Principal Latito Williams introduced Beene to livebinders.com, a website which allows teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and ideas for their classrooms.
Fourth grade teachers recently received a Rockefeller Foundation grant for $1,573 to use for a Common Core module on the American Revolution. Beene plans to apply for grants for other grades in coming months.
Beene recently attended Spelling Bees at elementary and junior high. “I was amazed. Those kids weren’t told to do it. They just kept coming. About 50 competed,” she said.
Nashville students participated in a reading fair through the De Queen/Mena Educational Co-operative.
Common Core “is taking a hit in the media lately,” Beene said. “People are saying negative things and don’t know anything about it.”
Beene said it been “a privilege to serve in this role. I’m enjoying being in classrooms with our teachers. They’re not afraid to jump out and try new things.”
Graham said the district has received the preliminary exit report on its audit. “The good news is that it’s one of the cleanest we’ve ever had. There were no major findings,” he said. “The bad news is that there are too many free and reduced lunch applications with mistakes on them. This is the second year in a row we’ve been cited for that. We will have to write an improvement plan.” Building principals will work with food services director Tina Conzel to deal with the problem, according to Graham.
“We don’t want a repeat finding on the audit.”
Principals are working on student badges, Graham said. “I want to identify every student” as a security precaution. “We will have them for Nashville students on our campuses. Visitors will be easily identified. I want to have faculty and student badges in place as soon as possible. I want us to be as safe as we can be.”
Lifetouch Photography offers the ID badge service, Graham said. Lifetouch is the district’s photography company.
In a personnel matter at last week’s meeting, the board accepted the resignation of technology director Gayland Hopper effective March 31. Hopper began working in the district in 1996, Graham said. “He’s a familiar face. The district has seen information technology come a million miles. We’re going to miss him,” Graham said.
The district will advertise the position.