STARKVILLE — A new opportunity for employment to help children with reading impairments was officially approved Tuesday at Starkville-Oktibbeha Consolidated School District’s regular board meeting.
Trustees unanimously voted to create a certified academic language therapist (CALT) position to assist students with reading impairments, most commonly dyslexia.
Assistant Superintendent Anna Guntharp, who has a focus on federal programs and special education, found funds for the position within the district’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief II designation. The position will help give students a more focused approach to read proficiently.
“(A CALT has) a particular skill set, which is to provide multisensory instruction for students with learning differences,” Guntharp said. “It basically integrates auditory, visual and kinesthetic channels into a structured small group or one-on-one intervention. … Our hope is to start with this one CALT who can really work with our students who have pronounced academic needs across the district. We have about 20 students at the moment diagnosed with dyslexia, but some of those students have a more pronounced academic need than others.”
Though the district will look to hire one CALT for the time being, there is a larger plan in place to send 14 teachers within the district to become CALTs beginning in the fall. By the end of their training in two years, they will only be six hours away from having a full master’s degree, and there will be opportunities provided to those teachers to complete those six hours.
“They will start cohort in the fall and it’s based out of the North Mississippi Education Consortium,” Guntharp said. “The training and certification process actually comes out of the Scottish Rite Hospital in Texas. They come to Oxford, and our staff members would go to Oxford for that training. At the end of the two years, they will have all but six hours of a master’s degree and those six hours can be done online at a 30 percent discounted tuition at Dallas Baptist University. They basically would provide those staff members with a master’s degree.”
Guntharp said administrators are giving recommendations on which teachers would be a good fit for the opportunity, and after a survey 21 staff members showed interest in learning about the program.
The cost for the first year will be covered by $94,598 in ESSER II funds. The cost for the second year is $73,878. Guntharp is hoping ESSER III funds will help cover the cost for the final year, but she is waiting on final bids to come in before seeing where the district sits with ESSER III funds.
The pay for this position will be based off of the teacher pay scale the legislation passed in March, with additional pay from the district as all certified teachers receive, according to SOCSD public information officer Nicole Thomas.
Board president Wes Gordon said he is excited about the new position and the opportunities the new position provides for the staff and students. The board will also look at what can be legally done to make sure those teachers chosen to become CALTs stay in the district for a while.
“We wanted to make sure that we are doing everything we can so that every student that comes through our doors is helped and this is a big step,” Gordon said. “We only have a few schools, so to have several in each school is super exciting. There’s probably tons of students who don’t have the resources to go to Memphis and get (the opportunities a CALT provides). This is great for teachers, and it’s even better for students. … I don’t know what the number (of years to keep the CALTs in the district) is yet, but we’re going to sit down with our board attorney and figure out the balance of being fair to the teacher. Life changes, people get married, people get sick and they have to move, so we want to be as considerate as we can of that, but we do want a return on the investment we’re putting in.”
By the 2024-25 school year, the district will have 15 CALTs, after the 14 attend training. The position will be posted as soon as possible, and the district is looking to hire someone for the initial position before the start of school in July.
Universal dress code
Students in pre-kindergarten through seventh grade are no longer required to wear uniforms, and they will now fall under the same dress code as those at the junior high and high school.
Superintendent Eddie Peasant advised the board to look at differences the dress code has for older students and how to address that for younger students, and he said since 2020 the uniform policy has not really been enforced.
“This is a good time to remove the uniform requirement, that would be my recommendation,” Peasant said. “It’s a time when there are many other things people are dealing with as far as financially.”
The board unanimously approved getting rid of the uniform requirement for younger students before parents started purchasing uniforms for the new school year.
Peasant said his formal goodbyes to the board and his colleagues for the last four years on Tuesday. Peasant will be replaced by Tony McGee, who was in the audience and who Peasant addressed as well.
“I just wanted to express my appreciation to all of you, all of our faculty and staff and administration and our community for accepting me and giving me this opportunity to serve here,” Peasant said. “It’s been a really great experience for me in my professional growth and also in my personal growth. … Starkville will always matter to me, the success the district continues to have, and I’ll continue to follow and support in any way. I feel like it’s my baby, and I feel like I’m handing over my family to another man.”