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School board gets lesson in belt-tightening

Marietta City School Board members got a few pats on the back while learning what they could do to make the district more fiscally streamlined.

Stephen Frank with Education Resource Strategies spoke to the board for about an hour, explaining what the nonprofit has done so far to determine how to best maximize resources.

The project is funded by federal Race to the Top grant money Marietta City Schools received last year.

“We are learning a lot from Marietta,” Frank said. “There are some tremendous strengths here.”

He said this is the first time that his Watertown, Mass.-based organization has worked with a district as small as Marietta. Most of their clients are large urban districts like Los Angeles or Washington, D.C.

Frank said he was impressed with the financial status of Marietta, saying “You make the most of what you have.”

He applauded their small central office budget.

“Kudos … You are asking (Marietta Superintendent Dr. Emily ) Lembeck to do a lot on a very tight budget,” he said.

After one year of studying the district, Frank did have a few suggestions, specifically regarding its teacher quality and how they can increase that.

“You want to ensure that all students have excellent teachers,” he said. “You also need to determine how you can retain and leverage the most effective teachers.”

Frank said his organization loves the idea of adding coaches at school to create this environment but was worried because Marietta didn’t have enough.

“Take resources from elsewhere and add more coaches … you must improve that instructional quality,” he said. “It’s not about keeping the same level of instruction, but making it better.”

Lembeck asked the board Tuesday night to consider an option that might address Frank’s recommendation.

She asked that the board replace nine paraprofessionals with three and a half literacy specialists.

It was approved 4-0-1, with Brett Bittner abstaining.

There is only one elementary level reading coach at this time, and this proposal would allow for there to be specialists to work with students in kindergarten through eighth grades at seven elementary schools and the coach to work with fourth and fifth-graders.

She asked for approval during this week’s meeting so that the district could go ahead and begin training the new hires over the summer.

“We also want to recruit from within (the district) our strongest candidates,” she said.

Purchases or district changes approved

The board approved about $526,600 in technology purchases, including a pilot program called Project Engage, during its combined work session and regular meeting as well.

The first investment into Project Engage will cost the district $45,000 in desktop computers, software and furniture to benefit 50 seventh-grade students to implement.

The program was designed for specific students who are interested in learning both online and in a traditional classroom setting with a teacher.

Board member Tony Fasola said the board is energized about the opportunity for its middle school students.

“I think it’s great!” he said.

Fasola also agreed with Marietta Middle Principal Tim Jones about having students write essays to determine if it’s a good fit for their learning styles.

Irene Berens asked about what type of students would qualify for this program, and Jones said that it will be open to high and low performing students.

“We are hoping to maybe encourage the less discouraged student,” said Associate Superintendent Dayton Hibbs.

The board also approved buying a $227,309.78 DELL Blade Center System, which is a computer server with storage space; purchasing 350 laptops with three-year warranties from DELL for $242,550 for A.L. Burruss, Dunleith, Lockheed, Park Street and West Side elementary schools, Marietta Middle School and Marietta High School; and a $12,800 contract to buy an iPad system for West Side Elementary School, which includes a learning lab with 20 iPads, other equipment and insurance.

Read the online version of the story here.

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