By STEVEN NALLEY
Margie Pulley wasted no time getting down to business.
The new semester marks the beginning of Pulley’s tenure as Oktibbeha County School District conservator. In a Monday meeting with faculty and staff across all four OCSD schools, she placed a premium on lesson planning, and she said she wanted them to begin planning lessons immediately for the first day of school Tuesday.
“I don’t mean (for you to) come in tomorrow and let them tell you about what they did for Christmas,” Pulley said. “That’s not what the lesson should be tomorrow. We should have meaningful instruction in every class in this school district tomorrow and thereafter. There is no time to play.”
Pulley set forth clear, targeted expectations in the staff meeting Monday at the Starkville Sportsplex, addressing not only the academic issues and accreditation standard shortfalls that led the state to take over the OCSD, but also specific principles aimed at helping the district improve.
Pulley emphasized interdependence in her address to faculty and staff; she repeatedly said she came to work with employees and placed emphasis on the word “with.”
Turning around the OCSD’s record is a task the conservator and OCSD employees must tackle together, she said.
“If you don’t remember anything else I say ... (remember to) do your job,” Pulley said. “I am going to work; I am going to expect you will work. The boys and girls of Oktibbeha County schools deserve the best education possible. If you (were to) treat them as if they were Malia and Sasha Obama, there’s no doubt that they would be getting the best education. (The OCSD’s) children are just as important.”
Teaching and learning must become top priorities for the OCSD, Pulley said, because of the academic performance issues the district faces, particularly at the high schools. In the 2012 state assessments, West Oktibbeha County High School received a QDI of 101 and a “low-performing” designation, and East Oktibbeha County High School received a QDI of 94 and its third annual “failing” designation in a row.
Pulley said she would accept no excuses for such low performance.
Before becoming conservator, Pulley had retired as superintendent of the Greenwood Public School District, leaving it as a “successful” school district three years in a row. She said the OCSD’s resource limitations are not an excuse for failure. Pulley had an estimated 3,000 students, 450-500 employees, and an annual budget of $26-30 million in the GPSD, she said, and the OCSD has about 950 students, about 200 employees and an annual budget of about $11 million.
“I am a very serious about the education of boys and girls,” Pulley said. “I don’t like being at the bottom. It’s crowded at the bottom.”
To address these academic issues, Pulley set forth eight expectations for teachers, chief among them a set of district-wide assessments every four weeks and every nine weeks, as well as weekly student assessments that mirror state tests. Other expectations Pulley gave included differentiating instruction for different students, giving weekly assessments that mirror state tests, using Larry Bell’s “12 Powerful Words” to ensure children understand test questions and following state pacing guides and curriculum frameworks.
Finally, she said she expects teachers to turn in lesson plans to their principals on a weekly basis.
“One of the issues that I read in the report (was that when state accreditation officials) were here, they asked for lesson plans,” Pulley said. “From the whole district, they got 10. That is not acceptable.”
Pulley’s expectations extended beyond academics into categories pertaining to all employees. She said she expects employees to be on time for work, to notify supervisors if they will be absent, to refrain from using cell phones in students’ presence, to dress professionally and above all, to do their jobs.
She said she specifically does not want employees wearing blue jeans, and she wants all employees to recognize the importance of their jobs, including bus drivers, cafeteria workers and custodians.
“If the bus (routes) don’t run and the students don’t get to school, then we’ve got a problem,” Pulley said. “I expect the buildings to be clean every single day. You cannot learn in an environment that’s not conducive.”
Amid these expectations, Pulley also said she did not come to the OCSD to punish employees. When outgoing OCSD Conservator Jayne Sargent introduced Pulley in December, Sargent said she was holding off on terminating employees to avoid disrupting OCSD classes, leaving those decisions in Pulley’s hands. Pulley said she does not want to have to use this power.
“I didn’t come here to fire folks; you can forget that. When we meet here next year, everybody (who is here today) ought to be here (again),” Pulley said. “I don’t know anyone. That’s a good thing. Everybody’s got an A, just like your students when you walk in (at the beginning of the academic year). Now, it depends on what happens whether you keep that A.”
Pulley said she also believes in rewarding successful students and teachers. The GPSD gave monetary awards to both when she was superintendent there, she said, and several other school districts have begun doing the same. She did not specify whether such monetary incentives would come to the OCSD.
“That may be something we need to look at,” Pulley said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. (When I was GPSD superintendent), the teacher with the highest (classroom) QDI in the district was given a $1,500 stipend. You teachers are just like students. You want to be patted on the back, too. You just have to do what it takes in this ever-changing environment. We have to change with the times.”