With five of the Urbandale Community School District’s eight schools welcoming new principals when classes resume on Aug. 19, perhaps it might be appropriate this year to change the title of our annual back-to-school issue to “Who’s new in school?”
Urbandale High School, Urbandale Middle School and Karen Acres, Olmsted and Valerius Elementary schools are among the buildings that will be under new leadership during the 2013-14 school year after their former principals either retired, resigned or were promoted during a period of 14 months.
Last month, shortly after the July 8 announcement and subsequent approval by the school board of the early retirement of longtime Urbandale High School Principal Richard Hutchinson and before the school board made its recommendations on Aug. 5, Urbandale Living magazine interviewed Urbandale Community School District Superintendent Doug Stilwell to discuss the upcoming school year. The two topics that dominated the conversation were changes in personnel and a new elementary school math program, Everyday Mathematics. Stilwell declined to comment on personnel matters regarding former employees, but spoke openly about the new leadership recently installed.
On July 10, Stilwell announced in an email that current Urbandale High School Associate Principal Dr. Brian Coppess would take the helm of the school for the upcoming school year as interim principal. Coppess has been with the Urbandale district for 15 years, having served the past 11 years as an associate principal and previously worked as the district’s activities director.
Coppess, who earned his doctorate from the University of Northern Iowa and has played a key role in bringing the Character Counts program to the high school, says he hopes to fill the position permanently. He has also been involved in numerous community organizations including the Urbandale Lions Club, Urbandale Little League, the Mayor’s Bike Ride and the Urbandale Fourth of July Committee.
“I’m the principal for now, and I hope that I can continue to be,” he says. “I like the kids, I like the staff, I like the facility. There’s very little that I don’t like about Urbandale High School and the community.”
Coppess says he has received several calls, emails and visits from teachers welcoming him to his interim role.
“I’ve been really flattered by the response from staff so far,” he says.
Coppess says he is looking forward to working with the entire high school staff and district administrators to help improve the quality of education for students and to further align everyone according to the district’s vision. He also plans to work closely with local businesses to help prepare the high school’s approximately 1,275 students for life after college.
“I want to focus on workplace readiness,” he says. “I hear from employers that we should provide opportunities to improve those skills. We want to do this in addition to what students are doing and to make this part of their Jayhawk experience.
“We want them to not only have a good GPA, but to be able to shake hands with people and smile and be ready to go to work every day. It’s part of implementing 21st century skills for kids.”
District officials have had more than one year to fill the post at Urbandale Middle School after Dan Meyer, 56, announced he would retire from the principal’s position at the end of the last school year following 16 years on the job. Loren DeKruyf, who served as dean of students at the middle school last year, will take the helm. Prior to that, he worked as a counselor for four years there.
“He knows where we are headed as a district and is a tremendous leader,” says Stilwell. “We’ll miss Dan Meyer and his experience, but we know that Loren has the ability and the aptitude to be an effective leader at the middle school.”
Another change at Urbandale Middle School is the hiring of Brittnie Coveney as associate principal. Stilwell says she has worked as an elementary school teacher and dean of students and that she is the “perfect fit for middle school kids.”
“She has the right heart and qualifications, and we’re excited for her to be here,” he says.
Meredith Mauro will replace Jill Karch as principal at Valerius Elementary School. Karch, 48, resigned from the position this spring so that she could spend more time with her family. Mauro is a former Dean of Students and middle school literacy teacher at Des Moines Public Schools, who also taught elementary school at Chicago Public Schools.
“We’ll miss Jill Karch, but Meredith will bring a lot of enthusiasm to the job and has a varied background in having worked as an elementary teacher for 10 years and as a Dean of Students for three years,” says Stilwell. “She says that she can’t wait to see the kids.”
Elyse Brimeyer takes over as principal at Olmsted Elementary School. Brimeyer most recently served as the Director of Teaching and Learning with the Perry Community School District where she focused on K-12 curriculum, instruction, assessment and professional development for teachers. Before that, she was a music educator and teacher-leader at Summit Middle School in the Johnston Community School District.
On the school’s website, Brimeyer wrote, “I am very passionate about the academic and personal success of students. As a school administrator, my true motivation comes in working with teachers in how best to meet the needs of all students, no matter what their individual challenges and successes may be.”
Brimeyer noted, “I pride myself in being a lifelong learner,” having earned her master’s in educational administration from Iowa State University in 2013 in addition to holding a master’s of arts in education from Viterbo University and a bachelor of music education degree from ISU. Her husband, Ted, is a music teacher at Urbandale High School.
“Her background as a teacher and in curriculum is an important aspect of her being a building administrator,” says Stilwell.
Julia Taylor, who last year served as principal at both Jensen and Rolling Green Elementary schools, will now serve as principal at Rolling Green. Mark Lane, who was principal last year at Olmsted, will be the principal at Jensen, which is home to about 215 students in grades one through five, and will also serve as director of human resources for Urbandale schools after accepting the promotion.
“We’ll miss the experience, but I look at the people that we have hired and I not only consider their background but their potential. They will bring a different perspective to their building but still work within the parameters of the district’s vision,” says Stilwell. “We want the best people, and I think we got the best.”
Urbandale elementary schools will begin using Everyday Mathematics this fall to teach their students the fundamentals of math. The curriculum, which was first developed by the University of Chicago School Mathematics Project in 1985 and released in 1998, is now published by McGraw-Hill Education. A third edition of the program was released in 2007, and a typical lesson outlined in one of the teacher’s manuals includes three parts: teaching the lesson, which provides main instructional activities; ongoing learning and practice, which supports previously introduced concepts and skills; and differentiation options, which includes options for supporting the needs of all students.
Stilwell says neighboring school districts like West Des Moines have implemented the curriculum in their elementary schools in recent years and found it to be successful.
“They seem to be quite pleased,” he says. “The idea is to build a foundation with concepts and apply it to real world applications. We’re excited about what it will do for the kids.”
Stilwell notes Everyday Mathematics is just one of the many aspects of the district’s curriculum in which students are provided opportunities to take charge of their education.
“We’re constantly looking to improve those opportunities for kids to empower themselves,” he says. “Studies show that kids stop enjoying learning after kindergarden. We say it’s the way that the system is set up, so we’re looking for ways to transform the system, not to reform it. Using Everyday Math is just one of those ways.”