New faces, new classrooms, new teachers and new sports team names will greet students attending Greene County’s three community school districts — Jefferson-Scranton, East Greene and Paton-Churdan.
Although each of these school districts retains its own name, all three do some sharing of classes, teachers and sports teams. The new school year, which begins Aug. 23 in all three districts, will continue that sharing, and in some cases strengthen the ties.
Changes for students and parents in the East Greene Community School District include
closing classrooms at Rippey Elementary School and a $1.6 million renovation of what used to be the high school in Grand Junction. It’s all part of beginning whole-grade sharing with the Jefferson-Scranton Community School District, explained East Greene Superintendant Mike Harter.
“We had already been doing some partial-grade sharing, with high school students going to Jefferson Scranton for three classes a day,” he says. Even more sharing became warranted as enrollment in each school district continued to fall over recent years.
“If you go back a few years, Jefferson-Scranton had as many kids enrolled as the two school districts would have together now,” Harter says. Approximately 270 East Greene students are expected to be enrolled when school starts.
Whole-grade sharing provides the opportunity for more class choices for high school students, particularly in the vocational area, as well as classes which can earn them college credit, Harter explained.
The most controversial change at the high school and junior high level has been combining the two schools for sports purposes. That has been the most difficult for parents, he says. The two superintendants were hoping to keep their own district teams for another two to three years, but because of various state rules, they agreed to combine the teams. The sports teams at the high school and junior high levels will change names to the Greene County Rams. The shared teams began this summer with softball and will continue in the fall with the remainder of the sports.
Harter says although no varsity games will be played in Grand Junction, the plan is to schedule some games there at other levels.
Under the new whole-grade sharing, all students in grades seven-12 will attend Jefferson-Scranton, where the name of the high school will change to Greene County High School.
Then, all fifth and sixth graders will come to the newly renovated building in Grand Junction. That portion of the classrooms will be called the Greene County Intermediate School. The Intermediate building will also house the East Greene pre-kindergarten through fourth grade students, classes not shared with Jefferson-Scranton.
Some teachers under an East Greene teaching contract will be teaching in Jefferson-Scranton, while some of Jefferson-Scranton’s teachers will teach in Grand Junction, Harter says.
Bus schedules will most likely change by a few minutes, but have yet to be finalized. For example, all Jefferson-Scranton fifth and sixth graders headed to the Intermediate School in Grand Junction will board the bus in Jefferson in time to leave by 8 a.m., explains Tim Christensen, Jefferson-Scranton Superintendant.
Some people fought hard against the whole-grade sharing, but most have come to the realization it would be beneficial for the students, Harter says.
Retired East Greene teacher Jan Scharingson drops by the Grand Junction school building regularly to see how the renovation is going and to work on projects. “I went to school here and taught here until 2006,” she explained. “Right now I’m helping get school sports uniforms ready to sell. There is a 10-year high school class reunion coming up, and we figure we will be able to sell most of the uniforms.”
“I think these changes are great for many reasons,” Scharingson says. “The biggest reason is the whole-grade sharing will improve the choice in classes for students. And, the Grand Junction building needed upgrading anyway.” Nearly every room in the building has been reconfigured to make additional classrooms and to better fit the needs of the two districts. Several areas of the building are also being made handicap accessible.
Teresa and J.J. Hoyle have four children attending East Greene and are pleased with the changes. “We like the small class sizes, but we also want our kids to have the opportunity to grow into good, working citizens,” Teresa says. “I’ve never had one regret about the changes and that goes for sports as well.”
The one new teacher added in East Greene is Brenda Roberts. Roberts, who had been a teacher’s associate with the district, has received her teaching degree and will become the new K-6 vocal music teacher. Rebecca Johnson has also been hired as a part-time elementary guidance counselor.
Superintendent Tim Christensen is excited about what whole-grade sharing means to sustaining the vocational classes in the Jefferson-Scranton Community School District. The district has been well-known for quality vocational classes as wide ranging as a class where students build a house and another that has students run a restaurant. Other vocational classes include computer-aided drafting, vocational agriculture, baking, auto mechanics, child care with students operating a pre-school and more.
“We need more numbers to sustain those classes at the high school, and the whole-grade sharing helps us do that,” Christensen says.
He noted that with the addition of more students, the district now has the capacity and need to hire a full-time curriculum director and a reading specialist.
The district has about 1,100 of its own students before East Greene students are added in. The district also serves some Paton-Churdan high school students through partial-grade sharing.
New employees in the district include Kelli Burdette as the Middle School special education teacher; Katherine Gravert as the Middle School physical education teacher; Dustin Larsen as the industrial technology teacher; Karen Shannon as a first grade teacher; Dawn Taute as a half-time Middle School and elementary talented and gifted teacher; Whitney Zimmerman as a second grade teacher; Amanda Jones for Middle School science; Bob Baugh as a school bus driver; Justin Guiter as a juvenile court liaison officer; Mary Pedersen as a half-time school nurse.; and Pattie Edwardson as the Middle School language arts teacher.
Annie Smith, pre-Kindergarten through 12th principal at Paton-Churdan Community School District’s one school building in Churdan, is pleased about growing enrollment in the small district of approximately 200 students.
“We are so thrilled we will start this school year with our largest pre-school class in history, with 40 pre-schoolers,” Smith says.
The higher number of students required creating a full-time pre-school position. After years of declining enrollment, the numbers started going up a few years ago, she says. While some of the increase has been driven by new people moving in, much of the increase comes from open-enrollment of students by parents who want smaller class sizes, she says.
Smith, who is beginning her first year as the school’s principal, has worked in various capacities at the school district for 10 years. “I’ve known for a long time that this was a position I wanted to be in someday,” she says. “I liked working in the district in other areas, but in this position I can positively affect all students at all grade levels.”
Paton-Churdan has been doing partial-grade sharing with Jefferson-Scranton at the high school level for a number of years and will continue doing that this school year. They also participate in Jefferson-Scranton sports. “We provide the majority of the core classes in our district for the high school and then the students go to Jefferson-Scranton for other classes, spending part of the day in each school district.”
Smith is also pleased with the instillation this summer of SMART Boards in classrooms. The new boards replace the white boards teachers used to write on with erasable markers. “The boards are interactive and connect to teachers’ computers and the Internet. Students can even do science experiments on them.”
And, she noted, Paton-Churdan has at least one laptop available for every student while the student is at school. Steps are also being taken to offer some classes through virtual learning, Smith says. Students would be on campus, but be able to take classes virtually, such as forensic science or marine biology.
“We have chosen to emphasize technology to enhance learning, not just for the sake of having technology,” Smith says.
The district has been able this year to have full-time teachers in several academic areas that they have had to share with other districts previously.
New teachers include Amanda Tasler for third grade; Hannah Boehmer for middle school reading; Hillary Boogerd for music; Chris Petersen for sociology; Josiah Sweers for science; and Shannon Hobbs for part-time kindergarten through fourth grade music teacher.
“We are doing well, even though we are a small district,” she says. In the last few years, the district has installed a geothermal heating system and new auditorium seating.
“The district has fantastic planning and a super school board whose members are continuingly looking forward, not just at what is going on now,” Smith says.