Along with the excitement of a new school year will come some changes to the Winterset Community School District. These include new teachers, a change in school security measures and new technology classes for younger students. Late starts on Wednesday mornings will give teachers more opportunity to collaborate in teams to improve student learning.
The first day of school is Aug. 21, with an estimated enrollment of 1,800 students this year. There are nine new teachers, along with a couple changes in administration, according to Susie Meade, superintendent of Winterset schools. The teachers are:
• Suzy Busta, elementary counselor
• Clinton Gadbury, industrial technology
• Nate Huston, junior high and middle school vocal music
• Jenna Murphy, junior high science
• Mary Overholtzer, junior high and high school talented and gifted
• Jennifer Schiefelbein, third-grade teacher
• Lisa Sonntag, high school math
• Sara King, middle school special education
• Kim Shaw, third-grade teacher
The changes in administration are:
Randy McDonald is moving from activities/athletic director and P.E. teacher to associate principal and activities/athletic director at the high school.
Ann Bartelt is moving from associate principal to assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
New Professional Learning Communities and late starts Wednesdays
For the first time, the district is establishing Professional Learning Communities, or PLCs, where teams of teachers will have specific time set aside in their schedules to collaborate with one another on how to best teach their students.
To facilitate these collaborations, school will begin an hour later every Wednesday (except the first and last Wednesdays of the year). In addition, the elementary and middle schools have devised a schedule where teachers have a common planning time each day to meet.
Because of the late starts, the P.A.W.S. (Partnership at Winterset Schools) afterschool program will be open Wednesday mornings, Meade says. Parents will be able to drop off their kids as early as 6:45 a.m., and breakfast will be available.
In PLCs, teachers are grouped according to their grade level in elementary and middle school, and their subject area in junior and high school, Meade says. There are three pillars to PLCs: First and foremost is a focus on student learning. Second is fostering an environment of collaboration among these communities to work toward common goals. Third is looking at results, ensuring that all students learn the materials and information that educators are intending for them to learn.
The teachers within a team will focus on four critical questions:
• What is it we want all kids to know and be able to do?
• How will we know when students have learned it?
• What do we do for students who did not learn it?
• What do we do for students who already know it?
In June, 22 teachers and administrators attended a training in St. Louis, Mo., providing an introduction to PLCs. Subsequent training for other staff followed.
Teachers say they are excited to take part in PLCs.
“We have not had time built into the school day in the past to do this important work,” says Jason Darling, a fourth-grade teacher whose focus this year will be in math and social studies.
All grade levels at the middle school will have 45 minutes daily of collaboration time, he says.
“During this time, teachers will look at student data to monitor academic progress in order to guide our future instruction, discuss what teaching strategies are working for students, plan for future lessons, etc.,” Darling says.
He says the late starts on Wednesdays will give them the opportunity to continue to learn more active engagement strategies and different formative assessments to gauge student understanding, and to meet within their specific subject departments.
“The main thing about PLCs is that teachers will be working collaboratively, instead of in isolation, towards a common goal for all kids, not just the kids in their classroom,” says kindergarten teacher Amy Hall. “There will be a systematic process in place in order to improve our individual and collective results. In the elementary, we will be collaborating daily so that if a student is not performing where they should be, we will be able to address is instantly.”
Students will benefit from teachers’ “extra boost” of instructional time by helping each individual excel at his or her level, says Jenn Drake. Drake is a Level III special education teacher, who teaches grades four through six.
Students will be taught using a multitude of strategies, she says, taking part daily in learning opportunities that are aligned to their individual skill levels.
“PLCs give teachers the opportunity to relentlessly focus on data and instructional decision making” to benefit students, Drake says.
New technology teacher position
Katie Linde will be the district’s new technology teacher for kindergarten through sixth-grade. She was previously a second-grade teacher with the district, says Bartelt, the school district’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning.
Linde will spend time each week with every class of students, working specifically on technology skills, including how to use a mouse, basic keyboarding and navigating a window.
“Our goal there is to help students become technology literate and also to become good citizens of technology,” Bartelt says. “That’s huge, being able to monitor themselves, the information coming at them, and being able to make good decisions in terms of their technology use.”
These skills will help prepare students as they move into junior and high school, where each student has his or her own laptop, Meade says. This will be the district’s third year of its 1:1 initiative, and about 780 students have laptops.
New safety measures, revised handbook
There will be two changes this year in an effort to improve the safety and security of students and staff.
All visitors coming into any school building during regular business hours must check into the office first. Individuals must show a state-issued identification to check in. Once visitors are cleared, they’ll be issued a visitor badge, which must be worn at all times while in the building.
In addition, all staff will have to wear their staff identification while on any Winterset school campus.
Following last year’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., the school district’s insurance company did a safety audit, Meade says. These two measures were high priorities to address.
The student and parent handbook has been revised this year and will be used district wide, replacing all of the separate building handbooks, Meade says.
“We’re really working on a system in Winterset where no matter what building, we are consistent,” she says.
Literacy a main focus in this year’s curriculum review
The school district has a set schedule for curriculum review. This year, the focus will be on three areas: literacy (reading, writing, language arts); technology skills; and foreign language.
Literacy will be given first priority, Bartelt says, because it is “the core of all learning.”
The district looks at what they are doing to help students prepare for work and education after high school, and that begins at kindergarten, she says.
In the elementary grades, 70 percent of what students read is fiction, and 30 percent is nonfiction. Those numbers are flipped by the students reach high school.
So one focus is to get students to become more comfortable with reading nonfiction and to expand the range of materials they read, in terms of content and text complexity, Bartelt says.
“We will depend upon the Iowa Core (which are state standards for Iowa’s K-12 students) to help us set our targets regarding students’ beginning reading skills, comprehension and vocabulary growth, and writing skills, as well as their speaking and listening skills,” she says. The Iowa Core also addresses literacy in social studies, science and other technical subjects.
Parents and students could be seeing new materials next fall, Barelt says, and there will be parent sessions next spring to acquaint them with the materials.
Vote on Physical Plant and Equipment Levy in September
Voters will be asked on Sept. 10 to reinstate the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), which covers costs including maintenance, technology, repairs and buses in the school district.
The passage of the levy will not increase property taxes, stresses Meade. The district will be diverting current money levied in its management and cash reserves. But voter approval will first be needed in order to do this.
The maximum length of the levy is 10 years, according to the district, and if approved by voters, will generate about $708,000 annually.
“Right now, we generate very few dollars to keep up with our maintenance costs,” Meade says.
If the levy is not passed, there would be another attempt to have it approved, according to the district. Without this funding, maintenance projects would have to be paid for using other options, such as the general fund, which reduces the number of programs available to students.
For more information about PPEL, visit the school district’s website, www.winterset.k12.ia.us, or call the administration office at (515) 462-2718.