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Kansas State Board of Education November highlights: Board members tour Coffeyville USD 445

Posted: Nov 19, 2018
Author: Ann Bush

COFFEYVILLE – The Kansas State Board of Education met at Coffeyville Unified School District 445’s District Office for its November meeting and to begin a tour of the Mercury 7 district.

The board received amendments to licensure regulations from Kansas State Department of Education staff members and heard reports from board chairman Jim Porter and Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson. Board members then had an executive session for the purpose of discussing evaluations of nonelected personnel.

Board members in the afternoon visited Roosevelt Middle School and Field Kindley High School.

Cameron Quarles wasn't a typical student last year at Roosevelt Middle School. He disliked school and spent a lot of time in the principal's office. Cameron wanted to drop out of school as soon as he was old enough. His grades were low and he had outbursts of anger and numerous behavioral issues.

"It was constant phone calls all of the time," said Cameron's mom, Kim Quarles. "I had to leave my job to get Cameron. "That went on for nine years. We thought there was a pretty good chance that he had trauma when he was 4 ... We kinda came into this year like, 'We just want to get past this semester, and then you can go to another school.'"

Even the first day of this school year, Cameron had 15 office referrals.

"I was trying to find a way to get out of school," he said.

However, the school hired a new counselor - Jennifer Foraker - that Cameron likes. And the school's focus on trauma-informed care and social-emotional growth have really made a difference for this student.

"Well, since that time, Cameron has really changed. He has really started to grow," Kim Quarles said. "The trauma-based training and things they do here with him has really made him a different kid, even at home. This was a kid who never wanted to go to college. He wanted to drop out of school at 15 years of age. This year, he looks forward to coming to school."

Cameron's story is just one of many success stories the Kansas State Board of Education and a handful of Kansas State Department of Education employees heard while touring Coffeyville Unified School District 445 schools during the board's November meeting.

Board members had a meeting the morning of Tuesday, Nov. 13, at the Coffeyville District Office. That afternoon, they toured Roosevelt Middle School and Field Kindley High. The district is one of the Kansans Can School Redesign Project: Mercury 7 districts. They began implementing pilot programs last year and put many of those programs in place at the beginning of this school year.

From 2012-2013 to 2017-2018, Roosevelt Middle School has seen a 47 percent decrease in behavior referrals; a 55 percent decrease in tardies; an 84 percent reduction in unexcused absences; and an 80 percent decrease in out-of-school suspensions. Staff credits this to the school's trauma-informed plan.

Roosevelt Middle School recently added a Storm Shelter to the building. It is a place where students can go to calm down, process emotions, destress or relax. The lights are dimmed and strands of soft, white light surround the room. There is a couch, an art area where students can express their emotions and even a trampoline if they need to move. It is a place that Cameron often went at the beginning of the school year. Once there, he could talk through his feelings with Foraker and process the trauma he had experienced.

"I'm so glad the state is doing this," Kim Quarles said about the redesign project. "This is answers to the prayers I've had for the last nine years."

Board members credited the district and its staff members for the hard work.

"We're attacking social-emotional just like we do reading and math," said Jeff Pegues, principal of Roosevelt.

Board members also toured Field Kindley High School, which is located in the same block as the middle school. Brendan Murdock, a business teacher at the high school, showed board members Storenado, a student-led store where students not only learn about marketing and retail, but also learn about designing and creating products that are sold. It is a collaborative effort between the business and graphics departments at the high school.

The high school houses a Community Health Center of Southeast Kansas clinic where students, staff members and the community can go for primary medical, dental, behavioral health and school nurse services. There also are similar clinics at the Dr. Jerry Hamm Early Learning Center and Community Elementary School. Coffeyville USD 445 contracts at an annual rate of $35,000 for school nurse services and also provides in-kind space, covers utilities in the clinics and provides a supply budget for each site. The health center invests about $500,000 annually for staff, equipment and supplies.

The high school also offers 11 different career and technical education pathways and has a project-based learning facility where students can earn credits in multiple areas using a curriculum adapted to individual student interests.

On Wednesday morning, board members visited the Jerry Hamm Early Learning Center, which has a mission of supporting and nurturing the growth of "the whole child, including a child's social-emotional, cognitive, physical and creative development," according to the center's website. There is an emphasis of social and emotional competencies through play in the early preschool years. 

Like students at the elementary, middle and high schools in Coffeyville, preschool students are able to share their emotions using "zones of regulation." Preschool children can select a color to represent their feelings at the beginning of each day. A student uses a clothespin to mark different feelings, such as sad or mad. This helps the teacher and support staff know that the student may need a little extra attention or to discuss feelings.

Coffeyville Community College, the school district and the Early Learning Center have partnered so that parents of students attending the center are eligible to receive a tuition or technical scholarship to assist them in obtaining an associate's degree or technical certificate.

After a stop to play with some of the preschool students in a large open room, board members, the Kansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Randy Watson and KSDE employees toured Community Elementary School.

The elementary school houses 1,000 students, making it the largest elementary school in the state. Like the other schools and the Early Learning Center, there is a large focus on social-emotional growth and self-regulation. Community Elementary features Twister Family Talk Times; Twister Career Pathways; service-learning projects for students; and community mentoring, said Jennifer Bright, the school's principal.

A panel consisting of students, teachers and community members shared their thoughts on the school's redesign.

Students explained the difference that Twister Time has had in their lives. Small groups of nine to 10 students are assigned a specific teacher. These groups meet every Monday to talk about emotions, practice communications skills and problem-solve.

"It's like a family in school," Keondrick Seanior, a sixth-grade student, told board members.

Teachers and assistants also enjoy the time getting to know students.

"Every single student deserves to be valued by somebody," said Donna Howard, a teacher assistant at the school.

Board members also had an opportunity to visit a classroom. In Koren Alliston's first-grade classroom, students shared their emotions and talked about the zones of regulation during story time. They also read a book that focused on emotions.

After the visit to Community Elementary, board members wrapped up their tour by visiting the Age-to-Age program at Windsor Place Nursing Home. This partnership between Coffeyville USD 445 and Windsor Place began in 2008. The intergenerational environment pairs kindergarten students with residents, also known as "grandmas and grandpas," who have years of life experience to share. Students read to the residents and vice versa.

Sherri Chittum serves as the Age-to-Age kindergarten teacher for 20 students. She said when the program first started, the district worried that there wouldn't be enough interest. Now, students are chosen through a "lottery system."

State board members had an opportunity at the end of the tour on Wednesday to ask questions about the district and its programs. Board members and KSDE staff members thanked Coffeyville for hosting the tours and commented on the great things happening in USD 445.

The next board meeting will take place Dec. 11-12 in Topeka.

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