School Board Struggles Over At-Risk Students/Teacher Vacancies

The School Board agenda items from the Oct. 21 meeting were not without issue, especially when Chief Academic Officer James Mills took the podium. Probably the largest item of contention Mills faced was the hiring of an RTI Facilitator for the Central School.
Mills was requesting permission to advertise for a RTI (Response to Intervention) Specialist for the Central School whose main job would be to help create and manage an early warning system for students struggling in school and to assist teachers and staff in providing services for those at-risk students in order for them to achieve academic success.
Schools who use an RTI program are able to help students who are struggling by implementing a multi-tiered system, normally divided into three tiers. The first tier is the core curriculum, made up of instruction all students receive and is usually effective for 80 to 90 percent of students. With an RTI Specialist in place, testing and monitoring would occur that would help those students not responding to the first tier. A second tier would then catch some of those students, normally five to 15 percent, who need more than the core curriculum and whose instruction would be supplemented with additional or different teaching methods. In the second tier, students’ progress would also be monitored on a more regular basis. Studies show that one to five percent of students still remain unreached on the second tier, requiring intensive intervention. Under an RTI system, those students fall into a third tier and may require more frequent or smaller group instruction or may need programs helping with a specific skill.
Benefits of using RTI techniques are students not being incorrectly identified or labeled as having a disability or behavioral issue, and are receiving support and instruction matched to their level of need. Most importantly, RTI eliminates a “wait to fail” situation due to upfront testing and monitoring of student progress. A side benefit for parents is that students involved in RTI receive team instruction, involving parents in student progress.
Along with his request to the board, Mills gave evidence of the need for RTI at MCCS using statistics taken from the 2013-2014 school year. He believes these statistics reflect at-risk students who could benefit from the program. Statistics given to Board Members include:
*Students with less than 90 percent attendance – 223
*Office Discipline Referrals – 1,118
*In School Suspensions – 4,910 days, 220 students
*Out of School Suspensions – 5,180 days, 196 students
*Level 1 or Level 2 FCAT Reading and/or Math – 563 students
*Failing Grades – 99 students
The immediate response from Board Members VeEtta Hagan and Kenny Hall was concerning the vacancy of regular classroom teachers and what was being done to fill those positions. Chief Operating Officer Willie Williams informed the board where he had posted the vacancies and had no answers for the long-term unfilled positions. Superintendent Doug Brown joined the conversation in support of the RTI position for the middle school and felt change was needed in order to draw teachers to the county and also cited a study showing the number of people going into teaching was dropping nationwide and in order to draw people into Madison County, they need to learn incentives to attract, sustain and support quality teachers. Brown also suggested he felt the number of vacancies in the schools could climb if the RTI position was not approved.
The board however refused to be swayed and in the end, it was decided an RTI Facilitator would not be advertised for the Central School until all regular classroom teacher positions in the county were filled. This seems unlikely however due to the next agenda item considered was personnel changes, with the board being informed of one more soon-to-be vacancy, taking the number from eight open teaching positions to nine.
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Rose Klein

Written by Rose Klein