The Bay-Waveland School District Board of Trustees heard from a local family about the board's recent approval of an administrative retreat to Orange Beach.
At the May 13 meeting, the board approved the "$5,000 retreat" with a 3-2 vote. Trustees Casey Favre, Vicki Arnold, and Ann Lathrop voted "yes." Trustees Mark Kidd and Mike Bell voted "no."
Schyler Wiecek spoke to the board about the matter, the district's overall grade, and the results of the third-grade reading tests.
Wiecek said that although the board already approved the matter, she wanted to share “ what seems to be a pretty common opinion on the matter.”
“I think that when you are working in a state that is 46th in the nation in education and in a district that is 'C' rated and did not even make the top ten for our own state when it came to the percentage of third- graders who passed the reading test, an administrative overnight retreat at a beach hotel using tax-allocated education funds should not even be up for conversation,” she said. “In an email entitled 'admin retreat,' which she (Reed) sent to members of the school board, ‘as you know we have worked hard this year and would like to take the staff to a relaxed setting to work through some of the issues we encountered during the school year.’’’
She added that she “reminded” Ms. Reed about the 46th placement of the state in the nation, the 'C' district rating, and that the “third-grade reading scores had dropped from 91.8 percent passing rate to a staggering 77.9 percent rate in 2019.”
“And I asked her that it is unclear to me and any other parent what exactly it is that we should be rewarding?” Wiecek said. “Ms. Reed responded with, ‘I don’t think we are rewarding anything, and in hindsight, I probably made a mistake in using the word retreat. That probably was not the right word to use. I mean it’s going to be a working leadership-type workshop.’’’
Wiecek said she still questioned why taxpayer dollars needed to be spent on an overnight “beach trip” instead of going “to our children’s education.” Wiecek said she asked Reed why the workshop could not be held in Hancock County.
She said that Reed said, “there’s really not a reason it can’t be held here, I just think it could be done more productively in a setting that will enable administrative staff to have a better working relationship so we can provide the best education possible.”
Wiecek said that, “for the rest of us, including the teachers who are the ones that work very hard every day with our students, want to bond with the people we know and work with, we have to do that using money out of our paychecks and not the hard-earned tax dollars of people in our community.”
“For example, the $11,000 hotel bill that was emailed by her (Reed) to the school board, which Ms. Reed has now told me was just used as a comparable, could be used on hiring a literacy coach to come in during a professional development workshop with the admin here at home to provide them with resources and materials to pass onto to our third grade teachers that would help our children pass the new reading test,” Wiecek said. “Because honestly, the excuse that this is a new test with harder requirements to pass, doesn't really hold for me, when the amendment for the Literacy-Based Promotion that changed our third-grade reading test to what it is today, was done back in 2016. Yet, it took our district two to three years to prepare for this test.”
Wiecek said that the funds could also be used to bring a music program to the elementary schools.
“I think the use of these funds for this purpose is shameful, at best, when we are lacking anything near the academic standards set by other states in our nation who consistently score better than that of the state of Mississippi,” Wiecek said. “This district needs to take a step back and focus on what’s really important here, and that is ensuring these parents and our community, that their children will graduate from our district prepared to take on life and become successful members of society. And I would like to personally thank board member (Mark) Kidd for his transparency.”
During her superintendent’s report, Reed gave a summary of the district’s third-grade reading test results.
“Just as a point of clarification,” she said. “It’s not a new test, it’s the same test, as Mrs. Wiecek mentioned, that was implemented in 2016. The only difference is that in prior years, passing was achieved at a Level 2 and this year the passing rate was raised to a Level 3.”
Reed said there were 32 students who did not pass the first time and said that the state gave the students four days before taking the retest.
“We brought assistants, we brought the teachers from Waveland, we tutored those kids pretty much one-on-one for four days,” Reed said. “The second time that we gave the test, an additional 17 passed. So that left us with 15 third-graders that did not pass. Of the 15, 10 of them will be what we refer to as 'good caused.' In other words, they will be placed in the fourth grade for good cause.”
Nicole Menotti, director of the district’s curriculum and instruction, said good cause references students with disabilities, “which is our main category.”
“And they’ve already been retained and are receiving intervention services,” Menotti said.
Menotti said that the third-graders are in summer school at Waveland Elementary.
“We had three good cause students that passed on their own without us having to good cause them,” she said. “Our thought is, we want to keep working with them to where they do pass on their own.”
Reed said that while good cause is “helpful for some students. You can’t help but get the feeling that when you good cause a student, that you don’t have a lot of confidence in them. That you’re almost telling them ‘we don’t think you can do it, so we’re going to good cause you.’ So we’re going to hold off on that.”
Reed said that there are five more students who will take the second third-grade reading retest and all are enrolled in summer school at Waveland Elementary.
“For the first time, we have a summer school program at Waveland,” she said.
Reed said the district interacted with all the parents of the students who did not pass the first reading test.
“All 32 parents agreed to enroll their child(ren) in summer school,” Reed said. “So we have all 32 students in summer school. Even though 17 of them passed the second time, what that tells us is that if they didn’t pass the first time, but passed the second time, they were very close.”
Reed said the district is currently sitting at a pass rate of “91.2” percent.
“The state average today is 82.8,” Reed said.
Reed also said the district received a $150,000 grant, $50,000 a year for literacy.
“What we’re doing is a literacy-based program at Waveland,” she said. “We’re partnering with INFINITY Science Center and doing a literacy-based program for our K-2 students this summer at Waveland.”
During board comments, Trustee Mike Bell thanked the Wieceks and said that he "shared their sentiments."
Trustee Favre also commented on the Wieceks' statements.
"Regarding the comment, thanking Mr. Kidd for his transparency," Favre said. "What was done on Facebook wasn't transparent. That was a misrepresentation of the facts."
Kidd said that, "it looked like it came straight out of the information that I got from my board book."
Favre told Kidd that he "also had an opportunity to speak and chose not to."
"I can speak whenever I feel like it," Kidd said.
Favre said, "no, it's my turn."
"Regarding his transparency, it was a misinformed document out to the public," Favre said. "The document that was put out to the public was a comparable. It was meant to show that the administrative retreat was, in fact, price-shopped out."
Schyler Wiecek said that she was told it was a comparable when she spoke to Reed.
"So if you put bad information out there, you're putting out complete crap," Favre said. "You're not being transparent, you're stirring the pot for no purpose and no good for the school district."
"I'll do it again," Kidd said.
Schyler Wiecek replied with, "thank you."
"It's not a school board member's job to operationalize the decisions made on the school board,'' Favre said. "It's not their job to put things into place, that's the superintendent's job. To put out misinformation is a gross overstepping of board members and in violation of the board member code of ethics. Before you get up here and assert that so and so is transparent, do some fact-checking."
Schyler Wiecek said, "that's my opinion and I'm an American citizen and I can say what I feel."
"Making the decision to not support an administrative retreat, minutes before that, my board member colleagues tried to hire a construction manager for $70,000, $80,000 over proposed project costs," Favre said. "It's not always about saving the almighty dollar, and if that's the picture they're painting, that's not accurate."
The next board meeting is scheduled for July 8 at 5:30 p.m.