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 Waukee students. They’ll have to make the transition back to hitting the books since school began on Aug. 14. The year promises a lot of new excitement with new spaces, new faces and more.
Waukee continues to be the fastest growing school district in the state of Iowa, averaging 450 new students per year for the past 10 years. In 1993, the district served slightly more than 1,100 students and had a graduating class that spring of 68. A decade later, the district serves more than 8,000 students with a senior class of 466 and first grade at 777.
Superintendent David Wilkerson has been in the district for the last 10 years, seeing this growth in enrollment, staff and facilities. He says though much will be new and exciting, some things will be the same.
“As we enter the new school year, much will be the same: a strong educational program to teach our students; teachers committed to our children, challenging every one to be the best they can be; a community that supports our schools,” Wilkerson says.
Wilkerson says administrators continue to look to the educational future and to research and study how to best prepare students for life in the 21st century. They will be working ambitiously to implement the requirements of the recently passed education reform legislation, although many items in the legislation are already in place in Waukee.
School Board elections around the state will be held on Sept. 10. Wilkerson says the challenge for the successful board candidates in Waukee and the rest of Iowa will be to continue to look at the research, best practice and innovation in education and to have the courage to continue to move forward.
“That change can be uncomfortable, and there will be times when not everyone will agree,” he says. “It’s incumbent upon us all to work together, to ask questions in a civil manner, and to realize that education in the 21st century needs to look much different than in the past. That includes instructional practice, curriculum and yes even how we report and communicate student progress to parents.”
Ultimately, though, Wilkerson says administrators, teachers and staff are looking forward to another great year in the growing district with lots of learners entering the classroom this fall.
Waukee’s littlest learners continue to grow in number, and this year is no exception, as Waukee opens its seventh elementary school, Woodland Hills Elementary. Woodland Hills welcomes approximately 445 students, families and staff. The building is located at 1120 South 95th St. in West Des Moines.
Woodland Hills has ample classroom space to allow for future growth. The building layout is similar to the current Maple Grove, Shuler and Waukee Elementary Schools and will serve students preschool through fifth grade.
Principal Scott Shumaker says that he is excited to serve as building principal, and he expects that students will see some familiar faces from within the district as well as new hires. He says he’s very happy with the team that will be serving students this year.
“From my experiences as a classroom teacher and assistant principal in the district, I have learned that great people can be found everywhere,” he says. “I believe it is the relationships formed and collaboration between the students, families and staff that makes a building special. I look forward to playing a role in fostering a learning environment conducive to high-levels of learning at Woodland Hills.”
As it is in all of the elementary schools, student learning and helping children reach their full potential is the school’s primary focus. In addition to strong core academic, social and emotional programs, Woodland Hills will offer additional support services in the areas of Reading Lab, Special Education, Extended Learning and English as a Second Language. It also has a strong emphasis on meeting the needs of all students through differentiated instruction and research-based practices.
“At Woodland Hills, you will find a collaborative school culture that is focused on, and dedicated to, the learning of each student, and a professional staff that works tirelessly to ensure the success of all of its students,” Shumaker says. “We are committed to academic, social and emotional success for all of our students.”
Middle school news
This year administrators and teachers at the two middle schools will be working to make student achievement their focus. Last year, they spent a lot of time defining student achievement, and they arrived at this definition: Student achievement occurs when a student shows initiative to grow socially, academically, and behaviorally in regards to applying content knowledge and 21st century skills to the real world.
“We had kids create their own ideas around that and asked them to think about something that would symbolize growth and create a version of that,” says South Middle School principal Chris Bergman. “We want to make one into an art piece and logo so that it can be seen around the school and keep that as our focus.”
Bergman says teachers will continue to highlight that work mindset, which means helping students believe they can grow and learn and expand their knowledge in any endeavor. Last year the staff held a parent class for more than 90 parents to learn about the mindset and how it was applied throughout the students’ day.
Students will also get the chance to explore the seven habits of highly effective people, which will be weaved into their advisory periods.
At Prairieview School, teachers will now have the assistance of an instructional coach, which principal Juley Murphy-Tiernan says will be an invaluable asset.
“The coach is a certified teacher who will go into the classrooms and help teachers plan the absolute best lesson they can plan and it’s amazing,” she says. “That person helps me deliver professional development. It’s good good stuff. They’re a collaborative partner, a resource for teachers, supports and encourages teachers, helps them be reflective, does research for the building, acts as a liaison between teams, and models best instructional practices in the classroom.”
Jill Kasparbauer is the new instructional coach at Prairieview. She says she’s excited about the role, and she’s ready to get started working with Prairieview teachers.
“I am going to be working with the teachers to make sure the strategies they’re using are high impact and the resources are the best ones we can find,” she says. “I’ll be making sure the students’ teachers are the best they can be.”
High school happenings
Construction at the high school is now complete, and the actual facility has expanded through additions to maximize its size on its current property. Principal Kirk Johnson says students and staff are very happy with the new addition, and the improved athletic spaces have been a great benefit for those programs.
This year the high school adds four new teachers and several additional associates. Enrollment continues to climb. Last year the school had nearly 1,300 students, but this year around 1,475 students will hit the front doors every day.
“We had four national AP scholars last year, which means that student took eight or more AP exams and had an average above 4 in those exams,” Johnson says. “That’s an amazing achievement. The last time we had a national AP scholar was in 2004.”
A parent’s perspective
Julie Jacobi is mom to three kids, two of which are students in the Waukee district, and one of which graduated last year. She says when they moved to Waukee from Illinois, they were immediately attracted to the schools.
“When we were looking, Waukee was quite a bit smaller when we moved here, and that was one reason we chose it, and we laugh about it now,” she says. “As it’s grown, it’s been a good experience. It’s just different than what we had growing up.”
Jacobi says one huge benefit with a bigger district, though, is more opportunities for students. She’s been impressed with the academic offerings as well as programs like fine arts and sports.
Best of all, despite its growth, Jacobi says you don’t have the feeling that you’re just a number. Waukee has kept its small-town feel with big-city benefits.
“The kids start out in kindergarten here, and you don’t know any difference between a big school and smaller school,” she says. “You can’t beat the staff here. I think the teachers are awesome, and they really keep the kids engaged and had tremendous experiences with teachers.