New teachers, new computers and new computer labs are a few of the things Norwalk students will see when they return to school Aug. 22.
The district is coming off from a big year where several of its employees were recognized as the best in the state and the test scores for the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills and the ACT were at historic highs at the high school level, says Denny Wulf, superintendent of Norwalk schools.
Charity Campbell, a physical education teacher, was Iowa’s Teacher of the Year.
• Dale Barnhill, principal at Norwalk High School, was Iowa’s Principal of the Year.
• Mark Crady, the district’s curriculum director, was Iowa’s Administrator of the Year.
• Tim Geyer, the district’s technology director, was Iowa’s Technology Leader of the Year.
And recently, Al Lammers, the district’s activities director, was named Activities Director of the Year by the Iowa Girls’ High School Athletic Union.
District leaders anticipate changes in state policies to filter down
Wulf says he’s also looking forward to what changes in state education policy will mean for Norwalk schools.
The Iowa Legislature earlier this year approved portions of Gov. Terry Branstad and State Director of Education Jason Glass’ education reform plan, which includes annual performance reviews for veteran teachers, a new teacher compensation system, additional time for teacher professional development, the opening of a statewide reading research center, the creation of a school time task force, and the retention of third-graders who cannot read at grade level by 2017, among numerous other changes.
“I hold a lot of hope for” education reform, says Wulf, who serves on Branstad’s education taskforce. “I’m very hopeful that it holds positive changes for education.”
This will be the third year that the class of 2014 will follow the district’s new set of graduation requirements. They include an electronic portfolio, increased credit requirement and an exit interview.
“So far it’s going very well,” Wulf says. “The students are becoming more aware of how significant it is to be competing nationally and internationally, and they need to be able to demonstrate competency at the Common Core, and being able to prove their competency will make them more competitive with students around the world and students who go straight to work.”
The class of 2014, along with the incoming sophomore and freshman classes, is working toward one of three types of diploma depending on the number of credits they receive during high school, number of college credit courses taken, and portfolio completion, among other requirements.
The diplomas are: the distinguished achievement diploma (49 credits), the achievement diploma (47 credits) and the career diploma (39 credits).
Construction ends as district address regular maintenance
For the first time in at least five years, Norwalk students will not return to any new or remodeled school buildings or facilities.
“We are wrapped up” with construction, says Kate Baldwin, the district’s business manager.
This summer district officials took care of regular maintenance issues on buildings that had previously been delayed in order to address construction issues. A new boiler was installed at the middle school to replace the original one.
Buildings were inspected for radon, which is commonly found in Iowa but is not required to mitigate. Baldwin says district officials found trace amounts of radon at Oviatt Elementary School but had it mitigated this summer.
District officials also bought two Suburbans that will be used to take small activity groups to events rather than school buses in order to cut down on gasoline and travel costs, Baldwin says. The district’s special education population continues to increase, and as a result, officials also purchased a new school bus to serve those students.
Enrollment stays steady
Last year, Norwalk school officials had expected to have a record number of kindergarten students. That did not hold true, and officials expect this year’s kindergarten class to be about average.
There are usually about 180 kindergartners; thus far, 162 are registered, Baldwin says.
Overall, district officials estimate there will be an overall enrollment increase of between 10 and 15 students. In the past there have been between 24 and 35 new students, but Baldwin says the slowdown in the housing market and the type of new housing in Norwalk have contributed to the slower increase in student enrollment.
“Our enrollment numbers are holding steady on a K – 12 basis, but we’re not showing any kind of record increase,” she says.
The school district will welcome 10 new faces. All of the positions are to fill resignations except for the expansion of a math and science teaching position at the ninth-grade level from one position to two full-time positions.
The new teachers are:
• Julie Heckart, middle school industrial technology
• Christie Ostlund, high school family and consumer science
• Marcy Roff, middle school science
• Nick Dau, middle school family and consumer science
• Jake Nimrod, middle school health
• Stephanie Watson, Eastview language arts
• Kara Jones, high school science
• Andrew Messer, secondary math
• Kelli Bass, health sciences
• Megan Schmelzer, sixth-grade English
Roff, who will teach middle school science, says she’s excited about coming to the Norwalk district, which is where her own children attend school. She previously taught science to grades 7 through 12 at the Martensdale-St. Marys District.
“Middle school is my area that I enjoy the most,” says Roff, who also taught from 1998 to 2003 in Knoxville and then taught college classes before going to Martensdale.
School, city officials collaborate on technology
Also this year, Norwalk school and city officials have begun their collaboration in the area of technology. The two have joined to have a fiber optic cable installed underground along the stretch of North Avenue between the high school and the city’s public safety building, which also serves as the district’s bus barn. The line also connects to the city library and City Hall and to the water tower located west of Norwalk. Additionally, the city will tap into some of the cable the district also has near the Public Safety building along Highway 28.
Tim Geyer, the district’s technology director, also is serving in the same capacity for the city of Norwalk. Geyer says he hopes this collaboration will create a joint city-wide technology system that will benefit both the district and the city and save taxpayers’ money.
The fiber optic project is being paid for by the city. Putting Geyer in charge of technology for both the district and the city will allow the two to “consolidate costs as time goes on,” he says.
For example, the district and city currently have independent Internet connections and servers. Through collaboration, they will join together to share IT costs and purchase a shared serve and other equipment that will allow them to save money, Geyer says.
The fiber optic cable project also will allow school officials to work more closely with the city’s police department. School officials installed more surveillance cameras in district buildings this summer, specifically at Oviatt, which previously did not have cameras.
“It’s something we’ve been doing over the past few years,” Geyer says.
He says cameras were placed at the doors among other places to ensure that unwanted people do not enter the building and that young students are not leaving the building. The cameras feed to a monitor located inside the school office.
With the collaboration with the city, Geyer says if there were an incident at a school where someone was trying to get into the building or there was another emergency or if a school employee could not monitor the cameras, school officials could contact the police department for assistance in viewing the monitors from the public safety building.
Also this year, district officials purchased new computers for the middle school and created a total of five computer labs. Geyer says each building receives new computers on a five-year cycle.
District officials spent about $124,000 for 287 computers, a combination of laptops and desktops for the middle school. Old computers are recycled and sold, the proceeds of which go toward the purchase of the new computers.
“We look forward to another successful academic year and in activities,” Wulf says. “Go, Warriors!”