Petal School Board hears final reports of school year


Members of the Petal School District Board of Trustees heard the last four annual reports of the school year during last week’s board meeting, wrapping up a round of updates from every school in the district.

The reports – which were delivered by Petal Primary School Principal Tessa Trimm, Petal Elementary School Principal Wyn Mims, Petal Upper Elementary School Principal Emily Branch and Dede Smith, director of the Coleman Center for Families and Children – outline such issues as attendance, new procedures and testing scores and updates. These four most recent reports follow last month’s board meeting, where board members heard from representatives from Petal Middle School, Petal High School and Special Services.

Petal Primary School

Student attendance at the primary school is trending much the same way it has over the last several years, while teacher attendance is right at 95 percent. Trimm said the few teacher absences are mostly because of seven teachers who have had children during the school year, as well as two teachers who have been out on extended leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“The fact that our attendance is where it is, is pretty phenomenal,” she said. “Everybody else has really picked up the slack and showed up.”

The school received a score of 751 on the Mississippi K-3 Assessment, 14 points lower than last year’s score of 765. The score on the assessment can range from 300 to 900 points, with 300 being the equivalent of a 3-year-old and 900 designating the level of a 9-year-old. 

School officials are focusing on several measures, such as purchasing toys for the students, to enrich the environment and encourage discipline among the children.

“So our kindergartners start the day off playing very purposefully with their teachers, and they take that into some writing, and they’ve created some free-writing centers based on that,” Trimm said. “Let’s say we’re doing a truck unit – we’ll start the day off playing with some trucks, then they’re going into those free-writing centers and writing about it.

“So we’re definitely seeing the gains from that – our discipline numbers have dropped tremendously in kindergarten, so it’s definitely been successful.”

Petal Elementary School

At the beginning of the school year, elementary school officials set a student attendance goal of 97 percent, which is slightly higher than the attendance average during the past four years. Although the school fell a little short of that goal, the average is about the same as it was last year.

“So we’ve put some things into place, as far as an attendance support plan and those kinds of things that (the school counselor) tracks,” Mims said. “We have mentors for our students, and then we do make phone calls to students who have excessive absences.”

Teacher attendance is above 95 percent for the school year.

“So we are proud of that,” Mims said. “That is another focus that we’ve had over the year – just making ourselves aware of how much we are out.”

Preliminary results from the most recent MKAS 3rd Grade Reading Gate show that out of 301 elementary school students who were tested, 33 – or 10.9 percent – failed the assessment. Mims said that, in part, was because the passing requirement for that assessment has been increased from a Performance Level 2 to a Performance Level 3.

“At first you see that and it (looks bad), but then you break it down and know that we did have to have a PL3 to pass,” she said. “We had 22 students who did receive a Good Cause Exemption – those are students who are (special needs) and who receive intensive remediation for two years, and they’ve been previously retained in either kindergarten, first second or third grades.

“Of those 33 students (who failed), 11 did not qualify for the Good Cause Exemption. They are re-taking those assessments, and we’re re-testing six of the students who qualified for the Good Cause Exemption because we feel like they are very close to passing.”

Petal Upper Elementary School

Student attendance at the upper elementary also is about the same as it has been over the past four years, which Branch credited to the teachers working with the students on the importance of the matter.

“We stay on the phones, calling parents and checking on kids when they’re not there, and working with those kids who are chronically absent,” she said. “We have noticed that in sixth grade, you can see attendance problems begin to rise.

“Students are beginning to hit their middle school years at that point, so we’re working with parents so they understand that every time their kid says they don’t feel good, it’s a little bit different now.”

Results from the Northwest Evaluation Association show that the school had growth in each of its grade levels. Branch said officials had been concerned with sixth grade English and Language Arts going into the school year, as last year’s accountability scores showed a small dip in that area.

“So we really re-worked some things and concentrated there, and they had a 15-point growth this year,” she said. “We think that’s the best that we’ve ever had, so we’re really proud of the work those teachers have done with those kids.”

Coleman Center for Families and Children

Thanks to the center’s partnership with the Early Childhood Academy at Pearl River Community College, two new professional development coaches were added to the staff.

“So they have been very helpful, and it’s just added another layer to our services,” Smith said. “As a part of that, they’ve purchased a number of new resources for us, and we’ve been able to enjoy those in various settings.”

Recently, Smith and Mary Cirino, who serves as coordinator for Parents as Teachers at the center, were able to participate in a National Early Learning Cohort offered by the American Association of School Administrators. As part of the cohort, Smith and Cirino took a fall visit to Park City, Utah, followed by a spring visit to Tampa, Florida.

“Both of those were very meaningful, but our main takeaway was that in many cases, these school districts have not even touched early childhood education as part of their district-level work,” Smith said. “It was just a huge reminder to me of how long we’ve been doing this work, and how much it’s integrated into the culture of the Petal School District.”