It’s hard to believe that sunscreen and swimsuits will soon be replaced by mittens and sweaters, but fall is on its way, and with it, a return to the classroom for Ankeny students. They’ll have to make the transition back to hitting the books when school begins on Aug. 15. The year promises a lot of new excitement with new faces and upcoming new spaces, most notably the complete transition to a two-feeder school district. Read on to hear how district professionals are making the transition a smooth one.
A new high school
The biggest news this year is that Ankeny will finish its transition to two feeder schools, which is several years in the making. Ankeny Centennial High School will open its doors for north side students in grades 10-12, and the second phase of Southview Middle School has also been completed to accommodate south side students in grades eight and nine.
Jarrett Peterson, coordinator of communications for the district, says that the staff and administration is ready, and he feels parents and students are as well.
“At this point, I think everyone has become more comfortable with the idea, and we’re hearing fewer questions about where we will go to school and more questions about this year,” he says. “It’s changed a bit from two or three years ago. There is a lot to do for the staff in the first year of dividing into two systems. They have been working very heavily in the last year to put systems in place and get ready.”
Dr. Jen Lindaman will serve as the principal at ACHS. She has been in the district for 16 years, spending 11 of those years as the associate principal at Ankeny High School before becoming the executive director of secondary education for the district. She says she’s happy to start her 17th year in Ankeny at ACHS.
“Everything is new and exciting here,” she says. “We are just very, very excited to get the kids in here. I’d say generally the kids are very excited, too, because they’ve been a part of the transition. This is the last step, and we’re finally here.”
Teachers have been able to get into the building and get classrooms set up since June 15. Lindaman says there have been camps at the high school, and students and parents have been visiting the building to pick up parking passes and other information. Because of the unique situation with two high schools this year, there are a few things in place to make the transition an easy one.
Lindaman says, of course, there are students who worry about the affect the change will have on friendships, but the administrations are finding ways to partner. Student councils will collaborate across buildings and work on some joint projects. For the senior class, there will be one joint prom this year.
This year students will also meet up in other ways — on the field, as many of the sports teams at both AHS and ACHS play each other. In fact, the first football game of the season features ASH against ACHS, and everyone is ready to celebrate the first Jag-Hawk Bowl in Ankeny history.
The game will take place at Ankeny Stadium, and it features a tailgate, special coin flip using a commemorative coin, both marching bands performing, and copies of the lyrics for both school songs distributed to fans. The special commemorative coins will be sold in advance at both high schools for $10, with proceeds going to the schools’ athletic departments.
“We’re finding ways to honor the kids who have been a part of the transition,” Lindaman says. “The other thing that’s cool is I’ve had a team of Jag students working this last year make a lot of decisions. They’ve worked on the letter jackets, the school song and the Jaguar creed. I joke about them being founding fathers of ACHS. Those things will forever be a part of this school, and it’s not very often you can do that.”
This year parents and students will see some changes in how building security is addressed, including the addition of a buzzer system at each school. All exterior doors will be locked during school hours, including the front entryway. Visitors will be “buzzed” into the building through a single access point, via use of a new video phone doorbell and buzzer system.
Staff members will enter buildings via personalized key cards that can be deactivated if lost. The district will retrofit a number of existing buildings with entryway features that initially direct visitors through the main office. Upon entry, visitors will still be required to present a photo ID for scanning through the Raptor system, and will need to receive a printed ID badge to wear inside the building.
“I realize this may cause some inconveniences, but in weighing all of the information, I have decided the ability to provide a higher level of security for students outweighs the annoyances we may collectively face,” said superintendent Bruce Kimpston in a letter to parents. “We will work to continue to provide a welcoming atmosphere within the context of a safe environment for students.”
Peterson says that in addition to the new system, the district has decided to employ someone full time to manage matters of safety and security, and to investigate and implement new safety procedures. Chad Bentzinger will fulfill that role, and he says he’s glad to be on board.
“When you think of safety, the scope is pretty vast,” he says. “It touches a lot of parts from the buildings to transportation, but for the district to have someone focusing on those interests is important. I’ve seen and audited districts where they don’t, and it gets dumped on different departments, and where there isn’t a clear communication, things get skewed.”
Bentzinger says his main goal will be to work with administrators and staff to share information and to get everyone on the same page when it comes to safety issues. He wants everyone to consider the “what if?” scenarios that can present themselves and figurewww out ways to react.
“When there’s any large crisis, everyone says, ‘We never thought it would happen here,’ and Ankeny is acknowledging that we want to be prepared and proactive in our response,” he says. “We want to empower our students and staff to react and identify risks and vulnerabilities, and it’s as simple as sharing information and making sure everyone is working together.”
A parent’s perspective
As Ankeny teachers are getting ready to welcome back students, parents are getting ready to send them off for another first day of school as summer winds down. Ankeny mom Jane Reysack has three students who will enter Ankeny Centennial High School this year, triplets Hannah, Sydney and Michael, 15.
The family moved to the district when the kids were going into third grade, and Reysack says the school district was the reason that they chose Ankeny. The kids went to Crocker and Westwood Elementaries, and now they’ll be in the first class to enter ACHS as sophomores.
Reysack says the transition to two feeder schools hasn’t been without its issues for her kids. Though they used to live on the south side of town, Reysack says they have moved north so the students can stay with their friends.
“We saw how much it was affecting them, and we had already decided we were going to build an empty nester home, so we decided to do it a couple years early on the north side,” she says. “We made the decision to move, and it’s been the best decision ever. We love this side of town, and all their friends are here.”
Despite the challenges, she says there is nowhere else she’d rather be than Ankeny. She believes her kids are getting the best education possible, and they’ve been exposed to so many great programs and people.
“We moved here for the district, and we have not been let down,” she says. “We’ve been very pleased with the educators and what they’re exposed to, and I just feel like this is the place to be. We could have gone to Waukee or Valley, but I feel like this is the place for us.”