Murray County Schools middle schools officials look to maximize instruction time

CHATSWORTH — Murray County Schools middle schools officials have made several changes this school year to ensure students and staff are using instruction time wisely and productively.

At Bagley Middle School, students may use cellphones only during lunch and recess breaks, they can't listen to music in class, and teachers can't play music during class, Assistant Principal Greg Welch explained during a Murray County Board of Education work session last week.

Movies in class aren't allowed unless tied to content, approved by an administrator and viewed during an elective course, extra recess isn't permitted and "free time" in class is banned.

Students with missing assignments will stay inside with teachers during recess breaks up to twice a week until they're caught up, and students "in need of an attitude adjustment" assigned to break/recess detention will write maturity papers, said Principal Shalina Stone.

Corrective Reading will take place during the elective periods of students, who will participate in their elective for the first 20 minutes, then do their Corrective Reading, and a similar model will be followed for students in need of Corrective Math.

Students who are "big missers" with lots of lost school time can be sent to study hall during their elective periods to complete missing assignments, Welch said. In addition, consistently tardy students have been placed in electives their first period, so "if they miss something, it's something they'd" rather not miss.

Stone and Welch will meet weekly with teachers during teacher planning periods to discuss their weekly walk-through visits, student data and many other matters, Stone said. Bagley will also utilize outstanding teachers to mentor others — for example, each English Language Arts teacher in grades seven and eight will co-teach one class period weekly with Stacy Roland.

"She's a phenomenal (English Language Arts) teacher, (so) they'll have an excellent role model," Stone said. "We hope this" will lead to improved scores from students.

It's important for schools to "take those who are really good" and allow teachers who are "weaker to learn from them," said Superintendent Steve Loughridge. "The difference is the teacher in that classroom."

The latest test scores were "not where they need to be" for Gladden Middle School on the Georgia Milestones, but administrators have put in place a five-step process for improvement, said Principal Daphne Winkler. That includes "providing true PLCs (Professional Learning Communities) for" English Learners and Exceptional Student Services teachers in reading and math, having those educators keep their lesson plans in data notebooks and "we'll do five-minute check-ins twice a week in those classrooms, too."

The school is shifting from a five-period day to six periods to provide more time for interventions with students, she said. With a new schedule, "we'll have time to catch kids up who are behind."

Students who don't need intervention will enjoy two electives, but those in need of intervention will have only one elective, she said.

"I'm not a fan of taking all electives away from kids."

Teachers will post at least one grade for students each week on Infinite Campus, she said. That way, parents will know if a child is struggling and may need additional help.

Robocalls, as well as personal calls from a front office staff member, will be used to deal with students chronically absent, and "we're going to get the counselor (and/or) social worker more involved," said Assistant Principal Matt Bryson. "We have a really difficult time with our student attendance at Gladden."

Students who are present will be eligible for rewards, Winkler said.

"We're going to have to incentivize to improve attendance."

Winkler and her team have also devised a list of "focus students," those who are very close to moving from one level on Georgia Milestones to another, like from a 3 (proficient) to a 4 (distinguished) in a content area, she said.

"I'm going to know their names, every one of them."

"We only need like 30 kids to move from a 2 to a 3 to hit our goals," she said. "We've got to move these kids, and we can do it."

Of course, "we have to keep our 3's and 4's there, too," she said. "We can't let them slide, (either)."

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