Picayune school board tours campuses

Published 1:06 am Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fast ForWord, the reading software that the Picayune Municipal Separate School district purchased and began using at last January, the start of the second semester of the 2007-2008 school year, drew a lot of attention from Picayune school board members as they toured the district’s campuses on Tuesday.

The district has the software program, which cost $450,000 for the lifetime site licenses, installed at every campus in the district. It is available to all students at Picayune Junior High School and at all five elementary schools. The district’s use of the program was scrutinized last week by a California school district that is interested in how the district is using the program to achieve the results students are getting from it.

Instructors in the junior high Fast ForWord spoke of two students who have improved their reading levels by four or more years. Tina Moody told of a student whose reading level went from third grade to eighth grade, while Patty Gasper spoke of a student whose reading level improved from eighth grade to eleventh grade.

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School board chairman Ginny Dodd said she would like for the district to expand the use of the program at Picayune Memorial High School so that all students have access to it, and would even like to see it put on high school library computers so that students could work on it on their own time if they wanted to do so.

“I want this available to all our students,” Dodd said.

Superintendent Dean Shaw said that all students from kindergarten through eighth grade are now using the software to improve their reading and concentration skills.

“It rewires your brain so you can focus better,” Dodd said. “I would like to get on it myself.”

The district toured the Fast ForWord labs at most of the schools, watching children at work on the computers equipped with it, including a kindergarten class at West Side Elementary that was getting its first exposure to the program as the school board members watched.

Board members also saw Audrey Lander’s physics students at the high school display their Rube Goldberg machines that use physics principles. Lander allows the students to build the machines in lieu of an exam to demonstrate that they do understand the machine principles that they have studied in her class.

Rube Goldberg was a middle 20th Century American cartoonist whose cartoons displayed outlandish inventions designed to do the simplest tasks, such as pouring a glass of water from a pitcher or turning on a light switch.

Police Chief Jim Luke also showed off two new Dodge Charger police cars provided to the school security officers. The cars are painted a little differently than the city’s other police cars by having some maroon coloring in the mix and decals boosting the Maroon Tide sports teams.

“These cars are the envy of every other school district. I tell the superintendents that they were bought with drug money and didn’t cost the City of Picayune anything. Any time you see a new (police) car or motorcycle in Picayune, it has been purchased with money from drug dealers we have arrested (and whose property is confiscated under federal drug laws),” Luke said.

Prior to beginning the tour, the board members discussed a spring trip to Las Vegas, Nev., that the board had approved at its last meeting for exceptional education instructors for training on national legal issues concerning exceptional education.

Board member Duane Wheat, who missed the discussion, wanted the matter revisited and the board agreed to put it back on the agenda for its next meeting, which will be in January.