Superintendent lays out ideas with tax levy in mind

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Neihof asks board to consider new concepts, additional costs before talking taxes next time

By Todd Martin

The Shelby County Board of Education will takes its annual look at the board’s tax rate at its meeting Aug. 23, which will be held at Collins High School at 7 p.m., but before board members do that Superintendent James Neihof wanted to give them something to think about.

Neihof on Thursday presented the board with a “vision” he has in regards to enrichment, a career academy and professional development for teachers. And, although he declined to put dollar values on these topics, he did ask the board for its input so he can show values at the next meeting when they discuss the tax rate.

At that meeting, the district will present the required tax rate to fund the district at the same level it now operates, the cost it would take to fund additional programs the board sees fit and the impact those changes will have on property values.

The current tax levied by the district was raised last year by 2.5 percent to 69.7 cents per $100 of assessed value. That was a 1.9-cent increase plus a .2-cent exoneration allowance.

The district has spent a considerable amount of time and money discussing and working intervention, which deals with the students struggling to meet standards and grade level, and now Neihof said he wants to make sure the same effort is being made to continue the learning and level of learning for students at the top of the academic heap.

Enrichment refers to enhancing the level of learning and opportunities for those students scoring above grade level on student assessments.

“It’s our core belief that every child should have one-year’s [academic] growth in one year’s time, no matter where they start,” he told the board during Thursday’s meeting.

Neihof went on to outline four steps he would like to see taken to enhance and strengthen the enrichment program.

  • Project Lead the Way: The engineering and biomedical programs have been well-received by students, but after year two, grant funding begins to dwindle, meaning the district must pick up the costs.
  • Weekly study sessions for AP and Accelerated Academy students: This was a request made specifically by Accelerated Academy students and one Neihof has taken seriously. This goes along with keeping AP students trained, and Neihof expressed a desire to start paying AP teachers for attending the training, something they have had to do on their own before, although the cost of the training, $1,900, has been picked up by the district.
  • Expanding the Accelerated Academy: Expanding the Academy by adding more middle school science classes, another request from current academy members, also would come at a cost. However, the benefit could be increased scores on the EXPLORE (eighth-grade assessment test) and in more students’ qualifying for the Academy.
  • Talented and Gifted teachers at each elementary school: Currently the elementary schools each share a TAG teacher. Having a teacher at each school would allow the TAG teachers to work more closely with the classroom teachers and allow for better assessments.

Career Academy

The second topic Neihof addressed for the board’s consideration was a Career Academy, much like the Accelerated Academy but for students who aspire to careers instead of college.

“The benchmarks needed to be successful in a career right out of high school, we believe, are the same that are necessary to be successful heading into college,” Neihof said. “You must be able to display mastery in a variety of subjects, like writing and reading, and not just in vocations. We want our students to be the entire package.”

Neihof would like to see the district:

  • Create a Career Academy co-op: The district could be a catalyst by offering part-time employment to students through agriculture for expanding their horticulture/landscaping skills on site, or childcare or food service in the after school daycare programs.
  • Performance-based learning: Customizing a workforce by using a coordinator to oversee the schematic of the program for both schools.
  • Tailoring schedules: Using counselors to work with students to assure their schedules are aligned to their career paths.

Professional development

Finally, to implement many of these items and to continue to improve the ability of the staff, Neihof told the board that he would like to add two days of paid professional development to the teacher’s schedule.

“As new standards continue to be implemented, and the science standards are on the way, we need more time to work with teachers,” he said. “Our goal of expanding Thinking Strategies requires additional teachers to go through training.

“I see a real need for you to consider adding two more professional development days for us to be able to add to our teacher development.”