School supplies. Check. New school clothes. Check. Another summer vacation gone by in the wink of an eye. Check.
Welcome to our annual back to school issue in which we check in with Clive Elementary, Windsor Elementary and Cowles Montessori schools to get an update on what’s new this fall regarding changes in staff, curriculum and building renovations. School starts Aug. 21 at Clive Elementary, which is part of the West Des Moines Community School District, while the doors open on Aug. 22 at Cowles Montessori and Windsor, both of which are served by the Des Moines Independent Community School District.
Windsor Elementary School
The first thing the students, staff and parents might notice when they walk through the doors at Windsor Elementary School this fall will be the new principal.
Barry Jones, who served as principal at Windsor for eight years, accepted an offer in July to become Director of Elementary School Services for Des Moines Public Schools. The search for his replacement was underway at press time but was expected to conclude shortly before the beginning of the school year.
“I’m going to miss working with the students, staff and parents at Windsor on a daily basis and the relationships I built there over the years with the community, but I’ll still get to see them,” says Jones, whose new job includes supporting the students and staff at 38 elementary public schools throughout Des Moines.
In the interim, David Sharkey, a fourth grade teacher and the Dean of Students, has been overseeing the daily operations at Windsor. Sharkey, now in his eighth year there and a candidate for the principal’s position, says a few additional changes are in store this year. They include four new teachers, a new reading curriculum, the full implementation of an English language program and new laptop computers for all teachers at Windsor.
Sharkey says Windsor students will benefit from using the latest version of the “Houghton Mifflin Journeys” reading program this year. Teachers attended three-hour seminars in the summer to learn how to use the curriculum, which is designed to improve reading comprehension through small and whole group settings.
“A big part of it is emphasizing reading more non-fiction than what students have before. It’s part of meeting the standards of the Iowa Core,” Sharkey says. “The materials arrived on six pallets, and the teachers have been going through them learning how to use them.”
Last year, English language learners at Windsor began using the “Imagine Learning” program, which will be made available to all students this year as another way to improve their language skills. The interactive computer program allows students to speak into a microphone to build their vocabulary while monitoring their progress throughout the school year.
“It’s a great program that was developed in Utah, and Des Moines is the first to try it,” Sharkey says. “It’s amazing.”
Jones says about 30 students used the pilot program last year, and he anticipates about 150 students using it this year.
“What’s great about it is that the teachers don’t have to gather the data, which gives them more time to teach. Then they can show the data to parents so they can track their child’s progress,” he says. “Last year we created a lab at Windsor where students used the program for a half-hour each day and the lab was being used all day long, and we saw improvements in reading comprehension, phonics and vocabulary.
“It was neat for Windsor to do something innovative like that in piloting the program. The district looked at the impact it had and decided to have other schools use it. It’s great to see others following Windsor’s lead and using the program this year.”
Sharkey says he is looking forward to using the school’s new Hewlett-Packard laptops that arrived last month.
“We have 35 teachers, and I can assure you that all of them will be excited to get new laptops,” he says. “The ones we had were about six years old, and they were a bit sluggish.”
Jones says it should be an exciting time for Windsor as it welcomes a new principal.
“What’s nice about having a new principal is collecting input from parents and staff and all the people involved in making decisions, including the community, and continuing those conversations,” he says. “I don’t know who the new principal will be, but David has been a big part of the success at Windsor. I also know that if someone else gets the job, he will be a big help to the new administration. It’s set up for success whoever takes over as principal. It’s a special place, and it was my privilege to serve the students, parents and staff there for the last eight years.”
Sharkey says Jones helped to foster an environment of teamwork in which everyone is pulling from the same rope to work for the betterment of the students.
“The staff really works well together. Everything is about the kids. Everybody here does what they can for the children,” he says.
Clive Elementary School
No doubt that when the students at Clive Elementary School tell their parents about their first day of school they will likely mention the new playground equipment they encountered during recess.
Nearly two years in the making, the new playground equipment was installed in early August with the help of volunteers including members of the PTO and City of Windsor Heights. The 36-by-51-foot playground set includes a climbing structure, a slide and swings.
“The PTO voted in November 2010 to donate money for the playground equipment, but it took a while to decide what kind of equipment to get and to get it installed,” says Stephanie VandeBerg, president of the school’s PTO. “The old wooden structure had a lot of splinters, and the new set is versatile for kids of all ages.”
New wood mulch has been poured under the new and existing equipment on the playground, and two benches and a much-needed trashcan has been added to the play area. City employees volunteered to remove the old equipment and set up the new playground, as well as remove the old rock flooring and regrade the ground.
“It’s so exciting,” says VandeBerg. “I know a lot of people in the neighborhood also see the playground as a park and will enjoy using the new equipment.”
VandeBerg, now in her second year as president of the school’s PTO, says she is proud of the outpouring of support from parents and volunteers to help make the project possible.
“I think it shows that parents have pride in the school because a lot of people worked hard on this project and gave generously of their time,” she says. “A lot of kids use it three times a day, so it’s important to have safe and fun equipment to play on.”
What’s new at Cowles Montessori in Windsor Heights, the only public Montessori in the state? For starters, a new principal, Tina Langston.
Langston, an Ames native and graduate of Creighton University, returns to central Iowa after serving as principal at a Montessori school in Kansas City. This fall marks her 13th year of work as a school administrator, and she says she is looking forward to leading the students and staff at Cowles.
“I’m excited to work there,” she says. “The school is amazing, its culture, its tone. The parents are active, and the students are engaged, and the staff is terrific. I’m really honored to work there, and I’m happy to be close to family in Iowa.”
Langston says her goal for the new school year is simply to help students and staff.
“I want to support them in their professional development in respect to the Montessori methods and to be sure that they are adhering to Montessori standards and principles. They have some great initiatives they are working on at the school that they can be proud of, and I want to help them in their efforts,” she says.
Langston says Cowles will be the first Montessori school where she will work with students in seventh and eighth grades, in addition to elementary age students.
“The other schools I worked at went to sixth grade, so it will be new for me, but I’ve always wanted to work with seventh and eighth grade students,” she says.
Langston says she has spent the last few weeks moving to Windsor Heights, where she bought a home, and is preparing for the school year.
“I’m extremely excited about my new job,” she says. “I’m looking forward to being part of Windsor Heights. You might see me walking back and forth to school.”