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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Citizen airs security concerns at Salem School Board meeting

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Salem School Board held its annual public meeting on Monday, Sept. 17 to give citizens a report on the school district's progress and plans for the new school year. While only four people and a reporter attended the meeting, one man raised a question that many have discussed, since the August arrest of a Salem graduate, who allegedly threatened to return to the high school for violent acts - are Salem students secure as they go about their school days?

"Not long ago, some young man made some stupid statements, and he got arrested for those. But those (violent acts) can happen. People do those things, unfortunately," Tony Stillwell said of 24-year old Joseph Morley who was arrested for falsely making terroristic threats.

Stillwell, who is retired from the military and said he has worked as a substitute teacher, suggested there are inexpensive steps that can be taken to improve security at local schools, beginning with locking all exterior doors once school begins to better control who is allowed to enter the buildings.

Superintendent Rich acknowledged that he has recently had discussions with people concerned about school security. According to Rich, the district has proceedures in place to try to head off problems, or react if problems occur, including security cameras which monitor public areas inside schools and on the school grounds. Rich explained that the elementary school has only one entrance, the entrance near the office, open to the public during the school day. He added, restricting access at the high school is more difficult since the school has been added on to over the years, requiring more exterior doors to be used.

Stillwell suggested that the constant monitoring of security cameras is one way to improve security.

"Unless we want to put a large security fence around our facilities with a guard at the gate...to me that's not the type of school environment we want to have," Rich said.

Stillwell said he was just making suggestions. He was not criticizing the school district for lax security but improving security "are concerns we should have."

Student achievement high

During his presentation, Rich said Salem students continue to excell in the classroom. "Of the 16 schools in the (regional school) cooperative, Salem ranked number one in the past year," Rich said. "We are very proud to say that 85 percent of our students at Salem passed their (state) exams last year."

Accountability complications

According to Rich, while the school district still must prepare students for state testing, it is also having to phase in Common Core standards, that will have all states focusing on the same standards, to try to insure that all students are learning skills needed in the modern marketplace. If that's not enough, a new system to evaluate teachers is on the way, and schools are having to adapt to changes in the way the state looks at individual school accountability.

Arkansas is one of the states who have obtained a waiver from following the federal No Child Left Behind program. The program set a goal that every child in the U.S. be judged proficient in literacy and math by the 2013-2014 school year. Under the program, schools were expected to show Average Yearly Progress, and were in competition with each other to progress toward the proficiency goal.

Arkansas received its waiver by proposing a new approach. Schools will identify what groups of students are lagging behind, and work to reduce the achievement gap between them and proficient students. Instead of competing with other schools, schools will now identify strategies to reduce the gap, and demonstrate progress through new Annual Measurable Objectives.

Rich explained Salem schools are fortunate to have such a large number of students at or near proficiency. Since 85 percent passed state exams, only 15 percent need to be raised to proficiency, but those students, with disabilities or economic disadvantages are the most difficult to raise up to the desired level of knowledge.

I-pads an elementary hit

Elementary Principal Corey Johnson said elementary students hit new highs in state Benchmark testing last year, as more than 90 percent of students in grades three through six scored well above state averages. "I kept looking (at the results) and thinking, "We're in the 90s in everything. I don't remember being in the 90s, in every grade and every subject." So I'm very proud of that."

Johnson said there was a lot of excitement in the school this year as more students to to use I-pads purchased toward the end of last school year. "The teachers are really getting used to using them now in the classroom, and students are actually teaching the teachers about them. Put an I-pad in front of a kid and they can show you how to use them, from kindergarten on up."

According to Johnson, his staff is already discussing how to close the achievement gap

in the Targeted Achievement Gap Group (TAGG), and to meet the new Annual Measurable Objectives that will be set for the school. Johnson is also busy implementing Common Core Standards in grades K to six, and plans to stay number one in the co-op.

New high school classes

High School Principal Wayne Guiltner said his staff would be working this year on continuing to improve math, literacy and science skills, especially concentrating on seventh grade math and eleventh grade literacy and biology.

Guiltner discussed two new classes. Entrepreneurial Experience is a class designed to give students real world experience in starting and running a company. The company chosen, The Greyhound Cafe, is preparing a special lunch once a week for teachers. Besides making the food, students have to market the $5 lunches, and keep track of expenses. Each year, the class members will decide what type of business to open.

I think it's going to be very worthwile because we're going to have a lot of students who will start their own businesses down the road, and this will give them some experience," Guiltner said.

Another new class is a biology class with a lab. The school was able to add the class since the teacher, Rachael Faulkner, has a masters degree in biology.

While Salem students have been able to take 37 online classes that earn them college credit, as they also get a high school grade, Guiltner said the number of online classes available is about to skyrocked. Beginning next semester, Ozarka will allow Salem students to take any of its classes online. Those which count toward high school requirements will be available for $135, half of the $270 regular price.

Graduation date set

In action taken by the school board, set Thursday, May 17 for graduation ceremonies. The date was set after looking at the state education activities calendar and determining that the May 17 date will not conflict with state baseball and softball tournaments, which are played in mid-May, before school lets out. In a change, the graduation ceremony will begin at 7:00 p.m., instead of the 8:00 p.m. starting time used in years past.

While the Salem School Board is required to hold a yearly public meeting, all board sessions are open to the public. The next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 15 at 7:00 p.m., in the Central Office on campus.

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