For students, no doubt, it may seem like yesterday when the previous school year ended as their summer vacation flew by like the breeze. But they are not the only ones who may feel that way.
Talk to some of the administrators of the three schools located in Windsor Heights, as we did for our annual “Back to School” issue, and they will likely tell you that their summer vacations were cut short as they spent time familiarizing themselves with new jobs, or learning new curriculum, or staying busy with building updates.
School begins Aug. 22 at Windsor Elementary and Cowles Montessori schools, both of which are served by the Des Moines Independent Community School District. Classes resume on Aug. 20 at Clive Elementary School, which is part of the West Des Moines Community School District. The following is a preview of what is new at each school for the upcoming academic year.
Windsor Elementary School
What a difference a year has made for Scott Nichols.
On Aug. 9, 2012, Nichols was named principal at Windsor Elementary School, a mere two weeks before the start of the last school year. This time around, he says he has more time to prepare for the upcoming school year, but still has no time to waste regarding his duties in assisting staff and students at Windsor throughout the school year.
One of the many tasks facing Nichols this year is the ongoing work with teachers to form data teams and to assist teachers with solutions on how to better educate their students. The principal says he will meet weekly with teachers to analyze district test scores and teaching methods.
“It means we will have to be a little creative with our schedules this year, but it’s something new this year and a work in progress,” he says. “We’re trying to personalize it so we can determine what works for us at Windsor. The more minds involved, the better.”
Nichols says Windsor will employ two part-time instructional coaches to assist teachers in their professional development in the teaching of math and reading. He says he plans to be involved with the program, though not on a daily basis.
“This school is not about me; it’s about the teachers and them sharing their knowledge with students,” says Nichols. “We’ll implement the program in about the third week of school after everyone gets settled into the new year.”
Settling into new roles will be a theme at Windsor this year as Nichols says that a number of teachers changed roles and that the school will welcome a handful of new teachers from within the district. Among the staff new to the building are guidance counselor John Hickling, who previously worked at McKinley Elementary; third grade teacher Amy Nichol from Edmunds Elementary School; music teacher Lauren Wilson from Garton Elementary; and Justin Ballard who will serve as a fifth grade teacher and non-released dean after having worked at Morris Elementary. The school will also welcome a new PTA president, Melody Fischbacher.
Nichols says he is eager to see teachers excel in their new roles, including those who changed jobs during the summer but are returning to Windsor.
“I told teachers last year that if they wanted to try something new to go ahead and do so. I want the staff to be happy. When teachers are happy, they do a better job, and the kids like it, too,” he says.
The principal says there are no changes in curriculum, other than a few minor adjustments made last year in math and reading, which will allow teachers to make adaptations as needed this year.
“You always want to go with the current best practices,” he says.
He also wants students and parents to understand the value of early dismissals each Wednesday at 1:50 p.m. for professional development for staff. (Of note, the first day of school is on a Thursday, but classes will dismiss early on that day, too, at 1:50 p.m.) He says the first Wednesday of each month will be devoted to learning about the district, followed the next week by building directives in which teachers will discuss learning strategies. Teachers will also be allowed one Wednesday per month to catch up on their own classroom work.
“We want to empower teachers to take a look at things differently and to see what else is out there when it comes to teaching methods,” Nichols says. “It’s not just them; administrators will be doing the same thing.”
Finding new and better ways to educate approximately 420 students at Windsor, many of whom are English Language Learners (ELL) and speak more than 30 foreign languages at the school, is a never-ending process, says Nichols. It’s also one of the many things he enjoys about his job as principal there.
“I love the sense of community at Windsor. A lot of that is brought on by our staff,” he says. “We have a nice mix of veteran and new teachers of all ages. We also have an ELL population of about 40 to 45 percent, which makes it so much fun because they bring a broad range of cultures to Windsor and you can learn so much from those kids. It’s fun to see the light bulbs go off in their minds on a daily basis.”
From welcoming a new principal, to enjoying newly expanded classroom space, students at Cowles Montessori will notice a few changes this upcoming school year when classes resume on Aug. 22.
Gregory Grylls, who has worked in the Des Moines school district for 14 years, was hired in February to be the new principal at Cowles. He has worked as an administrator for six years, most recently as a school improvement leader.
“I’m very excited to be principal at Cowles,” says Grylls. “I couldn’t be more happy. I think it’s a fantastic school.”
Students and parents will get the opportunity to meet Grylls on Aug. 21 when the school hosts an open house from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Grylls says he is happy to talk to anyone who is willing to listen to his plans for the school this year as well as his belief in the Montessori method of teaching for students ages 3 years old through eighth grade.
“It’s something I strongly believe in, which is why I have aligned myself with the Montessori method, which teaches students of multiple ages together. It lends itself to being student-centered so that you can differentiate the instruction with each student to a greater degree,” he says. “It’s about students and their self motivation and not putting limits on their education.”
Grylls says he expects approximately 425 students to enroll by choice at Cowles this school year. When they return, they will notice six newly expanded classrooms on the second floor that were previously occupied by the Focus Program served by the Des Moines school district.
“We shared that space with them, but now that they have relocated to Hoyt Middle School we’re expanding the classrooms upstairs to their original size. With our expanding student numbers, we need the space,” says Grylls.
The school has also hired an additional teacher, a trend that Grylls expects to continue for the next few years. It has also created a new website (www.cowles.dmschools.org) to better inform parents and students and to attract potential students.
“I’m excited to have the entire building and to making the school become more efficient and aligning itself more with the common core of Montessori schools,” says Grylls. “I hope to integrate more professional development during the school year to help us achieve that.”
Clive Elementary School Principal Brandon Pierce says only a few changes await students and staff this fall.
Like other schools in the West Des Moines School District, Clive Elementary will implement a new reading curriculum entitled “Benchmark Literacy.” It will also welcome five new classroom teachers.
“I’m excited for the new reading program and for the new staff coming onboard,” he says.
Pierce says Clive is also part of a group of schools that received a grant from the United Way to assist students and their families in the development of their English vocabulary. Though the program targets any student and family in need of assistance, it primarily is geared to help those in which English is a second language.
“It’s a great program for anyone who needs it,” says Pierce.