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 Grimes students. They’ll have to make the transition back to hitting the books when school begins on Aug. 19. The year promises a lot of new excitement with new spaces, new technological tools and more.
Grimes littlest learners continue to grow in number, and his year is no exception. South Prairie principal Ann Bass says they’re gearing up for a busy year with a lot of kids to teach. This year Dallas Center-Grimes will see its largest incoming kindergarten class between the two elementary schools with more than 200 kindergartens starting school.
Bass says they are also adding a fifth section of optional kindergarten this year. Teachers at South Prairie are also working to expand technology in the classroom, and students will see more iPads at work this year.
At North Ridge, April Heitland will serve as principal for the 2013-14 school year. She says students will see some changes in staff, as some teachers shift around and new teachers have been added.
The school’s preschool teachers have stayed the same, and there will be two classrooms at South Prairie and two classes at North Ridge, as well as one at Brighter Beginnings at the Presbyterian church and one at Kids Corner in Dallas Center. Preschool teachers are working to implement early childhood PBIS which focuses on positive things the students are doing.
The staff at North Ridge will focus on professional development this year with a focus on math. Heitland says teachers are doing a lot to ensure what they are doing is aligned with the common core, and they have been using professional learning communities as the foundation to make sure all students are learning.
“North Ridge will be in our second year of Connecting with Character,” Heitland says. “It’s a program through Character Counts of Iowa, and we’re on second year of implementation of that. We want to focus on positive things students are doing, especially respect and responsibility.”
There will also be an increase in technology as North Ridge receives another bundle of iPads. Teachers will work on how to integrate technology into their lessons.
Middle school news
Meadows principal Lori Phillips says one big thing that will change this year is that Meadows will see some new faces.
“We have 10 new teachers,” she says. “Some because of growth and teachers shifting spots, and they will bring in a whole new passionate energy and excitement.”
Meadows students have also been involved in the Character Counts program, and some students presented to Michael Josephson, the head of Character Counts nationwide. Phillips says that Meadows was the only school in Iowa asked to present, and the students spoke about what they’re doing.
“Josephson challenged them to take all the things they are doing out to other schools,” Phillips says. “Our challenge is now to share and help others become great, and we want to continue pushing for excellence and share with others how we got there.”
Phillips said another focus this year is on assessment and technology. All eighth and ninth graders will have a laptop computer to use this year. Students will be able to go back and watch videos of a lecture if they feel they missed something. Students can access textbooks and assignments from the computer, and they can take them home as well. Meadows also has a new position, a part-time technology integrationist. That person will help the teachers further integrate technology in the classroom.
Phillips says they want to reach higher levels of thinking and analyzing and problem solving instead of just general recall. Everyone can search the Internet, but they want students to be able to utilize technology on a deeper level.
“Also the biggest surprise was that students would report bullying because they could email me; they didn’t want to be seen going to the office before,” Phillips says. “Having more communication with the kids has been so helpful. We all use Google calendar, and teachers can collaborate and make sure they don’t have tests on the same day.”
This year Jerry Hlas will start his second year as principal at the six-seven building. He says the building has seen a leveling off of enrollment, and he’s ready to welcome new sixth graders. Open houses for Dallas Center schools will be Aug. 14 from 6:30 – 6:30 p.m. Open houses for Grimes schools will be Aug. 15 at the same time.
High school happenings
The high school will be a busy place this year. Enrollment continues to increase with about 550 students in grades 10-12 calling the school home. That’s about the size that the high school was just a few years ago with four grades.
Principal Cary Justmann will begin his second year as principal, and he says the school will also welcome eight new staff members.
Justmann says one of the biggest changes students will see this year is during their advisory periods. While they used to have advisory four times a week, they will now have it two times a week to add in a new intervention time.
“After attending a Professional Learning Communities conference, we decided that we wanted to better serve students through interventions. We will put some intervention time into school day because we think all kids can benefit. For those who are struggling, it gives them more one on one time with teachers, and for those taking more rigorous courses, it gives them more study time.”
He says it was important to add this time to the school schedule because students are so busy. Because the intervention time will replace some of the advisory time, it won’t take away from instructional time.
While Meadows has alleviated some of the pressure the district has with regards to overcrowding at the high school, it won’t be a long-term solution either. With the high school back up to 550-560 students with the increase in elementary students moving up in grade levels, space will continue to be evaluated each year.
A parent’s perspective
Parent Adam Jones has a unique perspective; the dad to three DCG students — Jackson 4th grade, Jaden 2nd grade, Tessa optional kindergarten — is also the guidance counselor at North Ridge. He says he’s happy to be in the district as a parent and an employee.
“I think that the staff puts in a lot of time and effort,” he says. “Every teacher our kids have had has the kids’ best interests at heart. They are caring and want to make the experience good for the kids.”
DeEtta Rosa has also been happy with the experience her kids have had. She is mom to twin girls, Lexi and Addy, who will be juniors this year and to eighth-grader Kade. She says when they moved to Grimes in 1995, the school district was a huge consideration.
“We checked out lots of areas around Des Moines, and we wanted something small,” she says. “I really like the friendliness of the people, not just the school but the town as a whole. Even though it’s getting bigger, it has a small school feel to it.”
Her kids are very involved in sports, and she says their experiences playing soccer, baseball, softball, volleyball, football and basketball have all been great. When the kids were younger, Rosa was also involved in PTO. She says she’s always felt that everyone had her kids’ best interests in mind.
“I just feel it’s a good place to be,” she says. “If you’re thinking about DCG, I highly recommend it. When comparing schools, take a tour and talk to people. We’ve been extremely happy here.”