Marlin ISD’s state-appointed board of managers is starting its first full school year by putting improvement plans in place to keep the district moving toward passing state accountability ratings, which the district has failed for six years.

The board, put it place in February, signed off on four improvement plans during a meeting Tuesday night, one for each campus and one for the whole district. In support of the plans, the board also approved $53,289 in new Chromebook computers for middle school students, reviewed a safety audit report and approved a new contract with the Region 12 Education Service Center for more professional development and training opportunities.

According to the districtwide improvement plan, Marlin ISD officials will focus on improving state assessment scores by at least 4 percent across the board.

“I think right now the TEA is in a comfortable spot with Marlin. How long will it stay comfortable? I don’t know,” Superintendent Michael Seabolt said after the meeting. “(Board president) Kevin Benjamin got a call from AJ Crabill (TEA’s Deputy Commissioner of Governance) as did I that he was impressed with the gains we made this last year. … AJ’s thing is it doesn’t matter if it takes three years, four years or five years. What does matter is we’re making the progress we’re saying we’re going to make.”

While the district made its most significant gains since 2013 on state standardized testing scores this past year. It wasn’t enough to pull the district off of the state’s improvement required list, but the high school even earned its first distinction designation when preliminary state accountability ratings were released this summer. It was the school’s third consecutive year to meet state standard, while the middle and elementary campuses fell short.

The district is the only one in the state that has been on the improvement-required list for six years, according to TEA documents. Its accreditation status will be set in the spring, TEA officials said in August.

At the middle school, the district is focused on improving science, math, reading and writing scores by implementing Texas Education Knowledge and Skills resource system curriculum, according to the plan. The district will give assessments based on the curriculum every three weeks, monitor student progress, report corrective plans to principals and have administrators identify instructional strengths and weaknesses.

The district’s new class sets of Chromebooks will also help students focus more on reading and math, Technology Director Adam LeJeune said.

At the elementary level, the district is focusing on math, reading and writing using similar methods.

The district also plans to boost positive behavior intervention strategies on all campuses to help minimize misbehavior and discipline referrals. The goal is to reduce discipline referrals by 20 percent or more, and the district will devise a simple set of classroom rules and expectations, the plan states.

But because of the way teachers have interacted with students previously, teachers will be held accountable, too, Seabolt said. Teachers who are frequently observed using excessive negative, punitive or humiliating forms of student discipline will be required to submit a corrective action plan to the campus principal, the plan states.

Individual campus improvement plans focus on more specific goals and increasing parent interaction.

As the district pursues its goals, the state’s accountability system is expected to change this school year, Seabolt said. The change makes it hard to predict how this year will go because no one fully understands the new system yet, he said.

While not directly connected, the improvement goals correlate to recommendations auditors provided in the safety and security report about the district’s learning environment, Seabolt said.

“We’re trying to go for an on-campus intervention system with discipline rather than suspension,” Seabolt said. “That certainly ties into that. We’re moving toward a more conscious discipline model, and that’s what we’re talking about. That goes toward creating an environment in the classroom that’s safe for everybody.”

Overall, auditors found few, if any, accidents occur in or around schools, and most potential student-to-student altercations are avoided because of close monitoring by staff. Any staff-to-student altercations are dealt with swiftly and fairly, according to the report.

“Multiple high-profile visitors have remarked on the general orderliness and friendliness of both our staff and students, including orderliness of class changes, quietness of the halls during class, general attitude of students, especially when compared with cohort schools,” the report states. “Our schools are safe and clean.”

A staff cyber-bullying identification program is already in place and will be expanded, according to the report.

The audit recommends some added student training.

“Several programs are in place to increase the positivity and physical and mental safety of each campus. … Regular student training programs for positive social skills, violence prevention, conflict resolution and decision-making should be increased,” the report states.

Shelly Conlon has covered K-12 education for the Tribune-Herald since July 2016. Prior to the Tribune-Herald, she was the managing editor for the Waxahachie Daily Light, and an intern for the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

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