It’s hard to believe that soon sunscreen and swimsuits will be replaced by mittens and sweaters, but fall is on its way, and with it, a return to the classroom for Grimes students. They’ll have to make the transition back to hitting the books when school begins on Aug. 20. The year promises a lot of new excitement with new spaces, new technological tools and more.
Grimes littlest learners continue to grow in number, and this year is no exception. South Prairie principal Ann Bass says they’re gearing up for a busy year with a lot of kids to teach.
“We will have more than 500 optional kindergarten through second graders and another 55 preschoolers, and it’s growing every day,” she says. “The reason we’re seeing the growth is the new apartments in Grimes, and also the opening of new housing developments. It’s unknown what is coming, but we are ready. We are ready to be busy, so a good year should be had.”
Due to the growth, this year preschoolers will be split between two buildings — South Prairie and North Ridge. Also, students in grades kindergarten through second grade who open enrolled to the district during the summer have been placed at Dallas Center Elementary due to space concerns at South Prairie.
This year students will also see a few new faces at South Prairie, including Stephanie Schultes in kindergarten, Mindy Schoop in second grade and preschool teacher Elisha Suchy.
Last year the school piloted the new Words Their Way spelling and phonics program, and this year all teachers will implement it. All grades will also have 15 laptops to share in the classroom per grade level. Classes can also check them out, and the entire class can use them for reading support and different math and reading skills.
At North Ridge, the biggest news this year is the departure of former principal and long-time district employee Lea Davidson who will be leaving to take a position with the department of education. For this year, superintendent Dr. Scott Grimes will serve as interim principal, and South Prairie preschool director April Heitland will serve as assistant principal.
Middle school news
The biggest news at the middle school is the opening of a new building adjacent to the high school for eighth and ninth grade students this year. The new building, called Meadows, will alleviate crowing at both the middle school and the high school.
“It’s a beautiful building, and it has lots of places for outdoor learning and places to be able to do small groups,” says principal Lori Phillips. “We have lots of new kids since the community is growing. It’s nice for the new kids that there aren’t just one or two, and we want to bring them into the community and make them feel a part of things.”
Phillips said another focus this year is on assessment and technology. All eighth graders will have a computer to use this year, and then it will move to ninth grade next year, and then all 8-9 graders will have a computer. Students will be able to go back and watch videos of a lecture if they feel they missed something.
“Students can access textbooks and assignments from the computer, and they can take them home with them as well,” Phillips says.
Meadows is also exploring the idea of a flipped classroom, where students will watch a lecture or lesson plan at home on their computers, then do their homework in class where the teachers are there to talk through issues and answer questions. Overall, Meadows will be a more electronic place, with lesson plans and grades available online.
“All classrooms have interactive white boards, projectors and overheads, and it’s all wired for any kind of tech support that they would need,” Phillips says. “All their computers will have cameras on them as well and have access to the Internet, and everything they need will be right there. It’s such an exciting opportunity to be there and be a part of it.”
Administrators and teachers are also reviewing expectations and assessment procedures. Grading will be more consistent across the board.
“If a student is taking science in one classroom, you will see the same assessment as the teacher down the hall,” Phillips says. “We want to grade on what they know instead of behavior, like did they turn their homework in?”
This year former assistant principal Jerry Hlas will take over as principal at the 6-7 building.
High school happenings
The high school will be a busy place this year. Though enrollment will drop from more than 600 students last year, grades are still getting bigger with about 500 students in grades 10-12 calling it home. That’s the size the high school was five years ago with four grades.
This year the high school also has a new principal, Cary Justmann, former assistant principal.
“In this position, I can hopefully be more of coach to the teachers yet still maintain relationships with our students, helping them through their high school years,” he says. “We’ll be exploring the professional learning communities this year, where they’re working together to provide the best environment for learning and making sure that what we’re doing is working.”
Justmann says one of the biggest changes students will see this year is during their advisory periods. While they used to have advisory three times a week, they will now have it four times a week and it will include a mixed grade level group of students.
“It gives them an opportunity to make a connections with someone in the building,” he says. “This year, there will be kids from all three grades meeting together, and it will start some sort of mentoring program where students can help each other in selecting classes, and it will be a big change hopefully for the positive.”
While the new building will alleviate some of the pressure the district has with regards to overcrowding, it won’t be a long-term solution either. Estimates show that within about two to three years, the high school will be back up to 550-560 students with the increase in elementary students moving up in grade levels. Space will continue to be evaluated each year.
A parent’s perspective
Paula Wilson has been part of the Dallas Center Grimes district for many years. Her oldest daughter Ashley graduated from the district, Kavi will be a ninth-grader and Katia will be a sixth-grader this year. She says she’s been thrilled with the education her girls have received.
“I grew up in a small town and wanted that environment for my kids, and this district has nothing but raves as far as the administrators and education and teachers and opportunities,” she says. “I’m from a family of educators, so I have a perspective where I get it, and I support teachers in any way I can.”
Wilson appreciates the small class sizes and opportunities for her kids to participate in a wide range of activities. She’s also impressed with the district’s ability to stay up to date on the latest technology and make things as easy as possible on parents.
“I use Infinite Campus all the time,” she says. “I can check at 2 a.m. if I want. The convenience is great, and I can send emails and the communication with teachers and administrators is timely. From an access standpoint, it’s the best.”
For Wilson, the biggest plus has been the level of communication from administrators and staff. They have always been straightforward and open, she says.
Jamie Sump is another mom who isn’t new to the district. She has a daughter who has graduated and three more who will be in school this year — Abbey will be a junior, Carson will be a fourth-grader, and Emma will be in second grade.
“My husband Dana and I both grew up in northwest Iowa from small towns,” she says. “I graduated with only 12 people in high school. We knew when we moved from South Dakota, the size would be a driving factor in choosing where to settle.”
Sump loves the close-knit community, and the size makes it possible for her to feel like she knows everyone her kids will come into contact with. The day class lists come out, her Facebook feed goes crazy. People swap stories and information about teachers, and kids get excited to see who will be in their class this year.
Despite the small size, Sump doesn’t think that limits the district’s offerings at all. Carson has needed speech therapy, and teachers have been there, willing to help out. Her kids have been involved in all sorts of activities — both sports and fine arts, so she’s seen all the district has to offer.
“You can’t ask the wrong question, and you can get them answered quickly,” she says. “Everyone always has your kids’ best interests at heart. With the smaller size, they can try new things and find out what their passions are. They get that one on one attention even though it’s growing.”