ABERDEEN – Following a discussion topic from the previous Aberdeen School Board meeting, district superintendent Jeff Clay not only reiterated enrollment trends but pitched a request to the board March 18 to form an advisory committee on the topic to increase the graduation rate.

“What I’d like to do is form a committee of the cross-section of stakeholders in the district and a couple of board members, teachers, administrators. We want to study our dropout rate. It has went up a pretty good bit this year, so we want to make sure we start talking about strategies to make sure that we’re doing a better job of identifying students who are thinking about going that route,” Clay said.

He suggested also studying recruitment and retention of students. School board president Jim Edwards, who suggested forming two committees, asked if it would be good to have a student serve on the committee, and Clay said someone considering dropping out would help uncover why they’re thinking about it.

“I’d like to know if there are certain things. Obviously, we’re not engaging them enough. Do they have family issues that they have to get a job? I think there are ways we can engage kids better,” Clay said.

From Fiscal Year 2015 to FY19, the Aberdeen School District has lost 99 students, or 8.2 percent, decreasing overall enrollment from 1,300 students to 1,201, due to numerous factors.

Clay said he’d like for board secretary Patrick Lockett, who is a site education leader at Tronox, to serve on the recruitment and retention committee to bring strategies from the corporate sector. School board member Rodger Scott asked if members of law enforcement could serve, and Clay said it’s open to willing people from several different business sectors.

After discussion, the school board approved to form advisory committees pertaining to dropouts and to recruitment and retention.

Clay also continued discussion about potential teacher and staff incentive pay raises, a topic he introduced in January. If the school board ultimately approves it, all district teachers, support staff and administrators, with the exception of Clay, will receive pay incentives. The amount stems from increased state accountability ratings from last year’s data and maintaining and/or increasing the scores through future testing.

“This is very similar to what Columbus is doing. It’s something we wanted to put in front of the board and could come back in April and have it as a discussion topic,’” Clay said.

Lockett asked if the teachers have had any input so far, and Clay said they will.

Based on last year’s data, approximately $200,000 would be given in incentive pay. Clay said the funding would be from local sources rather than from Mississippi Adequate Education Program funds.

During acknowledgments, Clay shared the district garnered three Program of Research and Evaluation for Public Schools (PREPS, Inc.) Value Added Awards during February’s 2019 Mississippi Education Partnership Conference. Aberdeen High School was honored for English II, and Aberdeen Elementary School won awards in math and language arts.

In other business, the school board approved a request for proposals to outsource landscaping and lawn care maintenance. District chief operations officer Willie Brandon said two part-time employees, who have day jobs, currently maintain the grounds, and recent rains have made it difficult with their schedules.

Clay also reported WiFi has been installed on four school buses, which are used for activities such as away games. He said the usage rate is unlimited, and the cost is less than a monthly cell phone bill.

In reporting finances, he said the district is a little behind in ad valorem tax collections compared to this time last year. He said the school district may have to be more conservative on its summer project list.

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