Talawanda leaders give update on support programs, athletics and staffing

OXFORD — An update on activities at Talawanda Middle School and a report on the district’s diversity/equality committee were both presented at the December meeting of the Talawanda Board of Education by the administrators at the middle school.

Principal Mike Malone and Assistant Principal Stephanie Aerni made the two presentations to the board.

The middle school update included short videos from each grade level of the school with positive student comments about their classes and teachers.

“As we recorded this, it was cool they called out specific teachers. It was all in one single day, very hands-on,” Aerni said.

She also spoke about the school’s Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program, saying they identify students who are economically disadvantaged and provide alternatives to discipline, which includes behavior contacts with students as part of individualized behavior plans.

“It allows teachers to focus more on expectations,” she said.

The P.B.I.S. program, in general, is designed help students change negative behaviors and to understand discipline and consequences of their behavior.

It is described as:

· Expanding our alternatives to discipline

· Implementing more individualized behavior plans for students

· PBIS team of teachers working to have a meaningful reward system for our students, working to recognize those students meeting expectations

Malone said the school staff is working to consider electives being offered and to get more STEM classes into the curriculum. That has led to revamping the digital media course in an attempt to bridge the gap between elementary and high school learning.

STEM 6 and STEM 7 will be required courses beginning with the 2022-2023 school year, Malone said.

Mental Health concerns are receiving increased attention, the principal said, with increasing service from St. Aloysius. He said Day Treatment in the school is near capacity with 10 students currently and additional work in progress. There is a full-time counselor at TMS who sees students in Day Treatment as well as a full caseload. An additional counselor will begin soon to be at TMS three times per week.

“This year we have increased our parent meetings to offer support to families,” Malone said.

He also included an update on athletic participation at the school, highlighting the eighth-grade volleyball team which won the Southwest Ohio Conference championship for the second year as they were undefeated both years.

There were also SWOC championships in boys’ cross country with the league individual champion Garrison Franks and in girls’ cross country, also with the individual champion Abra Mills. The girls’ team was team runner up at the state championship and Mills was the individual state champion.

The school had 122 students involved in athletics for the fall season and 27 of them made the 4.0 honor roll with another 40 on the 3.5-3.9 honor roll list in the first quarter. There are 84 athletes involved in winter sports with the school’s wrestling program enjoying increased numbers.

Asked about the school’s biggest challenge, Malone referred to the scheduling issues and uncertainty caused by the pandemic and replied, “Students struggle to get back into daily routines.”

Their report on the diversity/equity committee’s work began with Malone saying they began their work 18 months ago and have been developing a team to do the work, still trying to get representatives from all areas of the district.

With regard to staff, he said, “People want to stay here once they come here. That’s a really good place to be.”

Another phase of their work is to develop a new series of screeners as well as making connections with resources at Miami University for hiring and retention to prepare for when openings do occur in the staff.

They aim to increase the cultural proficiency of teachers, administrators and staff.

“District committee members have pulled resources from a variety of sources to develop a ‘catalog’ for Professional Development. Professional Development has been introduced that directly connects to the areas within the new teacher evaluation system,” he said.

He said they also look at outreach to the community for engagement with parent/caregivers and community members of diverse backgrounds. Their current goal is making all district communication and forms accessible in additional languages as well as ongoing work to develop catalog of resources for new families in the district. He said they want to work with the Family Resource Center to be more welcoming to new district families.

Another goal is to foster student engagement in the diversity-change process.

“There has been a push to include all Talawanda students (grades K-12) in leadership roles and provide opportunities to be active participants in their learning around all areas of diversity,” Malone said.

He told the board they plan to make another presentation at the March board meeting to showcase current work on the plan as well as the changes implemented since new plan was adopted.

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