Administrators at Cuba Schools have positive feelings about where the school district is headed. While the slow growth of the local economy continues to be an area of concern, the district is currently in a sound financial position and it appears that the overall school population is getting larger.
“Our enrollment seems to be growing, although we’re still closely studying that to see if it’s a short-term or long-term type of trend,” said Superintendent Johnny Thompson. He noted that the incoming kindergarten classes at Crawford County R-2 Schools over the past three years have been larger than normal. There is more analysis to be done to determine if the trend will likely continue, but if it does, then the district may need to expand its building facilities in the future to accommodate greater enrollment numbers.
Seeing growth in student enrollment is a good thing overall, Thompson pointed out, because the district’s funding is directly tied to the number of students attending classes. But it requires some juggling on the part of administrators to ensure that class sizes, particularly at the lower elementary levels, are being kept manageable. So far, that hasn’t been a major problem for Cuba Schools, but the teacher-student ratio is something that the administration must monitor from year to year. As the larger kindergarten classes move up through the elementary system, their greater class size will have to be accounted for. It could require adding teachers or even classrooms. The board of education is currently going through a process of contracting with a new architectural firm that will help provide a master plan for the district. That plan will look ahead five to ten years to better estimate what will be needed from a facilities standpoint.
“There’s the possibility that we may need to look ahead to a building project. It’s too early to say what that might be, but the board is exploring that idea,” explained Superintendent Thompson. “We need to better understand our enrollment expectations and then look at the facilities that will be needed to accommodate those additional classes. Having a master plan in place will help us see the bigger picture of what will eventually be needed at all three buildings, if indeed we keep growing with future kindergarten class sizes.”
Thompson said choosing an architect is the first step in putting together a long-term plan for the district. “We want to make sure that what we do is in the best interest of the community,” he said. “We want to be certain this birth spurt isn’t just a fluke, because the last thing we’d want to do is build additional classroom space and then not have classes to go in it.”
Over the past couple of years, the district has expanded in a number of areas and programs. Several teachers have been added in the area of special education, helping students with special needs to get specialized attention and maintain a positive learning environment. The addition of a Life Skills class in the middle school has helped begin teaching these students the basic skills like cooking and cleaning that they can apply in their everyday lives, and at an earlier age.
Technology is the one area in the district that is kept under constant maintenance and review. Improvements in technology are required from year to year, and administrators have been working hard to put together a plan for the future. That includes a recent decision by the board of education to implement a campus-wide wireless system that will allow for WiFi hot spot coverage in all three buildings.
The project requires a great deal of system upgrades in order to bring the district’s wiring and connections up to date for the wireless implementation. The cost isn’t cheap, about a $200,000 investment, but the administration has been planning for the project with money set aside in the budget.
“We’ve got to keep our system up to date as we move forward. We don’t want to be at the back end of technology movement,” stated Superintendent Thompson. He said a wireless system will allow for mobile computer labs and the use of tablet or other electronic devices in classrooms, if and when the district is ready for that type of hardware.
“Electronic textbooks, tablets, laptops, smart phones: These things are certainly the wave of the future and we have to begin preparing for that,” added Assistant Superintendent Kim Robinson. “We are preparing kids for jobs that have not yet been created, and we want them to be using the electronic devices that they’ll need later on in college or the workplace.”
Other areas that have been addressed already include the purchase of electronic SMART boards for every class in the elementary and middle schools. There are over 700 computers district-wide that must be maintained and often upgraded to keep up with advancements in software. The district’s server system was found to be outdated, and it was replaced with a newer, more powerful and advanced hardware system.
The district has moved to a cloud-based computing system that lets students with an Internet connection log into the cloud and use shared software programs for composing documents or working on visual projects. Having their work saved on the cloud means it can be accessed anywhere at any time with an Internet connection. Teachers can prepare their lessons at home on the cloud server and then retrieve them later in the classroom. Other programs designed to instill better behavior in students or to bring teachers and students closer together have also been a success at Cuba Schools. The PBS (Positive Behavior Support) program at the middle school has been a great way to reward good behavior among students and to create a better learning environment for all.
Professional Learning Communities (PLC) has likewise made great strides in bringing teachers together to better know their own students. Robinson said that when teachers know each and every student in the building—at least something about them—it makes stronger connections among the staff and student body. And that leads to students taking a deeper interest in their school, having greater pride in themselves, and improving attendance, test scores, behavior patterns, and more.
“We’ve had a lot of success with these types of programs,” said Robinson, “and we will continue to explore and support the programs that work for our district and make it a better place. We want our students to be proud of their school, as well as the teachers and the community.”
Standardized test measurements continue to be an area that staff pays great attention to. The district met each of its math and communication arts goals during the last round of MAP testing, but there is always room for improvement. Attendance, while showing marked improvements at all three buildings, is something that can never be neglected.
For the past two years, the district’s bus fleet has received a 100 percent review upon inspection, including a surprise inspection during the first semester of the current school year. The perfect score has been attained for three out of the past four years, and Robinson said the administration takes great pride in the quality of its transportation department. “We have 20 buses in our fleet, driving over 1,000 miles of road every single day,” she said. “Our transportation director and our bus drivers do a wonderful job of maintaining those buses and keeping them in tip-top shape. The board has done a good job of replacing two buses every year, to keep that fleet up to date—and that’s a huge financial commitment on their part. But the quality of our buses is something we can all take pride in.”
The R-2 District is always moving forward, looking back at past accomplishments but also looking ahead to the future and what lies ahead. “We have a great school district—wonderful students, great teachers, all the way down to our janitorial staff. We have a community that is very supportive of its school, and for that I’m thankful,” said Superintendent Thompson. “The administration will continue to work hard to provide the best possible learning environment for our children.”