ABERDEEN – During Oct. 24’s Aberdeen School Board meeting, two principals shared their strategies and challenges to improve student performance. The common thread between Aberdeen High School and Belle-Shivers Middle School hinged on teachers.

AHS is following a statewide trend of a teacher shortfall reflective through some math and science courses.

“I know that our data is reflective of the fact that we have one math teacher, two part-time math teachers and an open math position, and we have an open biology position and then the other biology teacher is an associate teacher. We have huge holes in our teaching staff,” said the school’s principal, Dr. Dana Bullard, who has been actively trying to recruit math and biology teachers.

She said Starkville and Columbus high schools offer supplements to entice math and science teachers, and a first-year teacher she has interviewed seemed to be interesting in taking a position at Columbus High School.

Bullard is hopeful of writing into a STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] grant the need for a supplement program.

In conversations with other professionals in the education field, Bullard said Mississippi’s teacher shortfall has increased from 4,000 to 4,500, adding the number of math and biology endorsement teachers have continuously decreased each year.

“We don’t have those teachers out there. That’s why those supplements are there, even for that first-year teacher,” she said.

Aberdeen School District Superintendent Jeff Clay said Ole Miss recently had one graduate in science education.

“Unfortunately, there’s a shortage and when you start talking about shortages, before you know it, science teachers are going to drive the market,” he said.

AHS has done away with intro to biology and foundations of algebra classes due to lack of teachers.

“If we put them in a class where they don’t have an adequate teacher, then next year they’re going to be one more year removed from real algebra teaching and the same with biology,” Bullard said.

She is still weighing options to serve the students, including teaching a couple of periods of biology herself.

In recapping other data, she said U.S. history and English II results are strong.

BSMS Principal Karen Howard said October ’19 case data versus October ‘18 indicated slight proficiency increases in some areas, mostly math, and decreases in others, most significantly in the fifth grade.

Overall, the data indicates improvements at most grade levels.

“We always focus on the students needing intervention, but what I learned and decided is we don’t give the teachers the intervention and support that they need. If we don’t get teachers capacity, we’ll never get students to where they need to be. My focus is to build teacher capacity,” Howard said.

The school has academic coaches determining what individual teachers need to teach standards at the level students can be successful.

“If we don’t teach the standards with the rigor that you’re going to see on that test, the data is going to look worse all the time,” Howard said.

School board member Tonny Oliver asked if she needs additional teachers or if she needs to better prepare teachers, and Howard said the teachers need support.

Each teacher has been observed through an administrative team, and Howard will give expectations of what needs to be seen in the classrooms through tier 1 quality classroom observation forms.

“Sometimes as a teacher, it takes time to build your skills and sometimes you don’t have the support or the help and you don’t understand that,” Howard said.

District representatives will present a report to the Mississippi Department of Education in early November about Aberdeen Elementary School, which is listed as a comprehensive support and intervention school. School board member Rodger Scott volunteered to represent the board.

Aberdeen Parent Center Director Sheraton Crosby spoke on behalf of the BSMS Parent Teacher Organization about the desire to have tutor sessions for the school’s students.

“The parents want to get involved, and they’re pushing for tutoring,” she said. “We’re going to do one group at a time and we’re hoping to get some volunteer teachers. We may try to get some high schoolers who are advanced and proficient to come over to help tutor for volunteer hours.”

The first tutoring session for the school will be Nov. 4, and school officials are identifying the students with the most needs. Crosby said the proposed three-and-a-half-hour sessions may take place twice a month.

“We need to get some type of structure so we won’t confuse the children,” said school board member Sandra Peoples.

Clay mentioned the need for a strategy session for parents.

BSMS is a starting point, as school officials are hopeful for more tutoring sessions throughout the district.

In other business, the school board approved a request for McNeil/Rhodes to conduct an energy audit of the district regarding changes that could conserve electricity and save on utility costs.

“They’ll conduct the audit and come back in to give us their findings on the places we can save money, whether it be lighting, HVAC, water conservation and we’ve talked about the possibility of athletic lighting. They will put all of this together and make a proposal to the board,” Clay said.

School board vice president Patrick Lockett suggested an evaluation of parking lot lighting as well.

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