It’s hard to believe that soon sunscreen and swimsuits will be replaced by backpacks and sweaters, but fall is on its way, and with it, a return to school for Waukee students. Students have already had to make the transition back to the classroom this year. As the year continues, Waukee parents and students will see increased growth and some additional construction as the district keeps preparing for the future. Read on to learn all the new and exciting things that will be happening in the district in 2012-2013.
Two years ago, the district saw the opening of three new buildings — Shuler Elementary, Waukee Elementary and South Middle School. This year there aren’t any new buildings opening, but the new large addition to the high school will be completed in time for classes. The district is also preparing for increased growth with the addition of two new buildings.
Superintendent David Wilkerson says the district broke ground on a new elementary school in West Des Moines called Woodland Hills Elementary, which is slated to open in 2013. This spring, ground was also broken on a new middle school. The new school, yet to be named, will open in 2014. The middle school will serve students in grades eight and nine, and the idea is to get the district back to a configuration of K-5 elementary, 6-7 middle, 8-9 middle, and 10-12 high school.
“It appears we’re going to have our largest enrollment growth ever this year with somewhere between 550-600 new students,” Wilkerson says. “We’ll also be adding about 60 new teaching staff to the district.”
Wilkerson says the district will use its sales tax revenue for the new buildings. A bond issue will not come up until — if and when — the district adds a second high school, and the public will have to vote on that.
Achievement in the district continues to be high, and with it, additional course offerings. At the high school, students can take advantage of expanded dual credit and AP level classes. The new addition also features a media production facility where students can do A/V media productions. At elementary level, the district continues to focus on programming.
“We continue to see our students excel,” he said. “We are very pleased with math and reading achievements and the gains our students are making there. There are lots of good things going on.”
High school happenings
High school principal Kirk Johnson is ready for the start of school and the opening of a new large addition to the building. The school has been under construction for the last year, so everyone is ready for things to be done and ready to go.
“With the addition, the school will be at max capacity, and right now that’s about 2,000 kids,” Johnston says. “We believe we’ll be around 1,300 this year. This gives us room to grow.”
Since the old high school was able to accommodate about 1,200 students, the addition will open some much needed space.
The addition consists of a single-story wing coming out to the south that is all classrooms and labs with a two-story library in the middle. It will connect the old YMCA to the existing high school building and include a new competition gym, new wrestling room, locker room and offices. The new gym will seat about 2,500.
Staff-wise, the high school will have a number of new faces. Nearly a quarter of the high school’s staff will be new to the building, either new to the district or transferring within the district. Johnson says they’re ready to work through all the transitions that the year will bring.
“What I look forward to, it never changes for me,” he says. “I look forward to students getting back because there are so many elements to our jobs that are so business-like when they aren’t here, and I want to help students maximize their potential and learn and grow.”
Middle school news
South Middle School opens its doors for its third year this year. Principal Michelle Lettington is glad the transitions have gone smoothly, and things at the new school have settled down. She and her staff anticipate another great year.
This year the middle school will focus on student leadership, opening up a number of different opportunities for students who have expressed an interest to take on leadership roles in the building. All of the groups will meet during advisory time with a teacher who facilitates the group. Students going into seventh and eighth grades were able to apply in the spring for one of the leadership positions.
“We have student ambassadors who give new tours to families before open house,” Lettington says. “We have what we call PBIS (positive behavior interventions and supports) ambassadors, and sometimes they’ll teach lessons to other groups of students. We have a student support group that does things like recycling, and this year we’ve added a technology group. We want kids who want to do that be able to have those opportunities.
There are six new teachers at South this year — two special education teachers, two language arts teachers, a Spanish teacher and a new student services advisor.
The staff also worked on professional development and building goals, deciding a major goal this year is reading comprehension for kids moving to seventh grade.
“Another goal is our positive behavior piece, and we want to talk to those kids who have referrals to the office for classroom behavior,” Lettington says.
This year one elementary will have a new principal. Walnut Hill Elementary welcomes Lyndsay Marron, former assistant principal at Walnut Hills and most recently Shuler and Maple Grove.
Marron says this year the elementary will have a special emphasis on reading, and the staff is working hard to plan events and activities that will stimulate reading ability and comprehension.
“Our new reading incentive team will be looking at different ways to celebrate reading each month,” she says. “We have an author visiting in October, and we are hoping to do a family night where kids and parents can wear their pajamas and enjoy books at school. We might ask guest speakers to come in and read to our students. We want to do all sorts of fun and new things to celebrate reading during the school year.”
The two building goals at Walnut Hills are in reading and also on classroom behavior. Marron says her staff will work to decrease classroom disruptions to all students can get the most out of their academic days.
Brookview Elementary principal Terry Hurlburt says growth has become the norm in Waukee, and they’re preparing for another big year. Brookview will also be the pilot school for a new program called The Leader in Me.
“It’s based on Stephen Covey’s ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,’ and it’s about building a school community where we instill those habits in kids as young as kindergarten and help them instill a sense of leadership.”
The training for the program is intensive, requiring 16 hours for adult staff, which will be done during professional development times. The program will then be rolled out to the students next semester and next school year.
There are only a few schools in Iowa that have implemented the program, but Hurlburt says they’ve seen very positive change from it.
“We’re not sure yet how we will design it, but it might be something all the elementaries adopt at some point,” he says. “The training is pretty intensive, and so it’s something we’d have to phase in. We might not be able to hit every building in one year.”
A parent’s perspective
Wendy Liskey — mom to Katie, 10, and Claire, 8 — says they’ve been extremely happy with their experiences in the Waukee school district. The family moved to the metro from Kansas City. They didn’t know anyone, but they heard great things about the schools in town.
“We got good reports from a lot of people who were familiar with the Des Moines area about the Waukee school district,” she says. “We’ve very glad to be in Waukee.”
Liskey got involved with the girls’ classes soon after each started school, and she’s been involved with the PTO at Brookview. She’s been impressed with the staff and teachers she’s encountered.
“I was volunteering up at school and just started getting to know the staff and appreciating what an amazing staff we have at Brookview,” she says. “They are so talented and take so much time for the students.”
Her girls have made great friends, and she’s excited to see what life beyond elementary school will bring. They’ve started attending some sporting events, like football games, as a family, and the girls have loved it.
“We have friends all across the district, so my girls have some of their best fiends not even at Brookview, but they’ll be together when they’re in high school,” she says. “It’ll be really fun for them to go to school together with their best friends.”
Kerry Scott has one daughter, first-grader Kennedy Haag, who is currently a student in the district, but Kennedy has two older siblings who graduated from Waukee, so Scott knew it was a great place to be.
“They had a great experience, and they started school when Waukee was really starting to boom,” she says. “I saw them thrive, and I knew Kennedy would thrive, too.”
Scott says the leadership in the district has made sure growth is well-planned, and she’s impressed with the level of parental involvement. She encourages parents who might be new to the district to get involved in some way — even if it’s just introducing yourself to the principal and getting to know your child’s teacher.
“Take advantage of some of the fun nights and different activities that go on at the elementary level,” she says. “It’s hard to volunteer when you have a demanding job, but I spent one morning in the classroom helping the kindergarten teacher, and I got to know her friends. It’s so important.”