Last month's meeting of the Dade County Board of Education provided a disturbing glimpse into life at Dade Middle School as a parent took the podium to complain of horrendous bullying there. The group's October meeting on Monday night gave DMS's principal--along with his counterpart at Dade High--a chance to offer a much rosier view of school life. Both principals used student-made films from the Dade system's new broadcasting production program to help "tell their stories" to the board.
"Tell our story," explained DMS principal Jamison Griffin (right), is the theme chosen by Dade Middle School students for the 2016-2017 academic year. Griffin during his presentation to the board showed a student production along that motif, in which the youthful filmmakers earnestly explored hidden back-stories--"My dad is in prison"; "We are struggling with infertility"; "My cancer is back"--that might explain puzzling aspects of surface reality.
Griffin also showed a more upbeat and conventional film highlighting academics, athletics and other healthful outdoor activities at his school. "That's what life looks like in the middle school," he concluded.
Griffin found much to brag about at DMS, including the school's athletic training weights room, which he described as one of the best in the country for a middle school, and the new DMS's Farm-to-School Initiative (see Dade Planet story of Oct. 13). He showed photos of cherry tomatoes grown in that program, saying: "It's been a blessing to let the kids get their hands dirty." He said finding what kids like to do and letting them do it is "one of the hooks in learning."
Griffin also showed test and attendance data. DHS's overall academic rating of 74.7, said Griffin, was an 11 percent increase over the year before and represented a proud achievement: that DMS students had scored above the state average in nine out of 12 core academic areas. "This is the highest score that Dade Middle School has ever had," said Griffin.
He described drawings for free milkshakes and ice cream sandwiches in the school's attendance improvement program and efforts DMS has made to improve its climate and culture. "If students like school, their behavior improves," said Griffin.
Up next was Josh Ingle (left), principal of Dade High School, who also showed a student video. The older students had made a more mature promotional film featuring football footage, cheering fans,waving banners, and underlying all the moving theme, "Dade will always be your home."
Ingle also had a goodly list of accomplishments to crow about: The high school had just hosted a College Probe Day that in previous years had been held at Dalton State. The onsite event had brought representatives from nearly 50 colleges to DCS, involving not just the school's seniors but also the junior class. Ingle said the school had already begun investigating how it could bring the event back next year.
He said the high school was due to lose its MOWR (Move on When Ready) instructors provided by the junior colleges--MOWR instructors teach college-level courses to students in a college dual-enrollment program--but hoped to find teachers on its own. "Ultimately we would like to have at least one [MOWR-qualified] teacher in each department," said Ingle.
Dade High is participating in Farm to School with a broader scope than the middle school, with a brand-new agricultural science department and its cafeteria designated a Farm to School test kitchen.
Ingle bragged on DCH's sports teams, band--it will be performing in Chicago this year--chorus--Universal Studios in December--and individual students who had distinguished themselves lately.
The high school principal also had sheets of test scores and percentages to display: DCS's overall rating was 72.9, a 5.3 increase over last year, he said. The graduation rate from 2015 was 86.7 percent, with 50 percent of graduates judged college-ready, but that's better than it was in the past, said Ingle's. Of 2014 graduates, the latest data available, 64 percent were enrolled in post-secondary education such as college or vocational training, he said.
Next month, said Dade Schools Superintendent Dr. Jan Harris, the two county's two elementary school principals will have their place in the limelight.
Associate Superintendent Billy Hooker next gave a rundown of ongoing physical improvements to the system's schools. He said the canopy so long under construction at Davis School was finished and looking good. "I think it even adds to the aesthetics of that building, he said.
Hooker also spoke of the eventual need to renovate the 75-year-old rock portion of Davis, which he assured the board he knew was a local icon. "We're not thinking about knocking down the old rock building," he said. To replace it would cost $2.1 million, he said, but to gut it and replace the insides--the favored option--would run the system about $1.5 million.
Hooker said something eventually needs to be done about the acoustics at the Dade Elementary lower gym, where the noise is so bothersome students can't hear the lesson being taught.
Hooker turned the podium over to architect Ken Cress for an update on design work for
the planned new running track at Dade Middle.
Cress explained that the track had to be kept at an average grade of 5 percent and that planners tried not to go over a maximum of 8 percent. The goal is to provide a two-mile course for middle school meet and a three-mile for high school. The course will require removing some trees and it must cross the school driveway in two places, though these entrances could be gated during meets.
"What we're trying to do is keep it simple as far as the number of laps," he said.
Simple? Everyone had an opinion or a question, lending an unusual amount of life to a board whose members generally adhere to strict institutional rules forbidding them to react to, acknowledge or even visibly register input by the public. Board members Johnny Warren, Jennifer Hartline and David Powell all weighed in, as did Bob Wood,board member-elect, and Principal Griffin.
After the regular meeting, the board withdrew to an executive, or closed-door, session to discuss personnel, and reconvened to announce and approve the following moves:
Hiring Donna Moreland for school nutrition manager, Christina Hamlett as paraprofessional, Carol Lyn Gann Morris as teacher, and David Thompson and Brenda Kay Johnson as custodians;
Accepting as substitute teachers Lisa Arnold, Luke Bradford, Christina Burr, Christy Gilbert Davison, Christy Lynn Espy, Linda Jeffcoats, Christy Madewell, Ronald G. Rench and Matt Wheeler;
Accepting as cafeteria substitutes Debbie Bruce, Regina Cuzzort, Yuteva Mashburn and India White;
Accepting the transfer request of Alan Leverett;
Naming as lay coach Michael Kay;
And allowing Head Coach James Emmett, Assistant Coach David Lyons and Assistant Coach Buddy Durham to share the DMS boys' basketball supplement three ways.
Dr. Harris reminded the board and public that the holiday season will push the last two regular monthly B of E meetings of 2016 out of their accustomed time slot on the third Monday of the month. Instead they will take place on Nov. 14 and Dec. 12, both as usual at 6 p.m. in the Board of Education office on Tradition Drive.