Summer is nearing an end, and families all over town are preparing to start a new school year. From building remodels to a new principal, some big changes are happening in Pleasant Hill schools.
One of the big changes that has been completed district wide during the summer is improved school security. Each Southeast Polk school now how a secured entry, and visitors must press a button to request entry into the building. The button will let office staff verify the visitor’s identity prior to unlocking the doors. Along with the new security system, intruder/lockdown drills will be added to the already scheduled emergency drills the students practice.
A lot of these changes are a direct result of the Sandy Hook shooting from December 2012.
“It made us really revisit our safety and security throughout the district and what some of the best practices would be to create a safer learning environment,” Randy Mohning, Four Mile Elementary principal, says.
Southeast Polk High School principal, Steve Pettit, says, “Instead of being a free flow in and out, now we can control who comes in (to the building). It’s important for parents to know if they show up, they can’t just walk in.”
Pleasant Hill Elementary
At Pleasant Hill Elementary School, Principal Terri Price has spent the summer working out of other offices, including Stowe Elementary, while her building received a complete overhaul.
The construction on the building actually began in small phases during the last school year, but on the last day of school, students and teachers alike left the building in the hands of the crew.
“It’s going to look all different,” Price says. “It’s a very contemporary look.”
Price says there were some challenges with the sunken media area, so a lift was added to assist in the moving of equipment. An elevator was also added to make the school completely handicap accessible.
Some new furniture will come in, but many of the old desks will be used.
Along with the new building, the school received new playground equipment that is safer and falls within newer guidelines for school equipment.
“Our PTO will continue to fundraise to add additional pieces to the playground,” Price says.
Some staff members have left the building, while others have come in to fill their places. New to third grade is Ivan Guerra, and this will be his first year of teaching. Jodi Fenton will be the new art instructor. She was previously a first grade teacher. Brett Whittle will be the new guidance counselor at the school. This will be Whittle’s first year teaching.
In addition, congratulations are in order for Ms. Parker, who was married over the summer and is now Mrs. Coates.
One thing students can look forward to in the fall is the opening of a time capsule that had been placed when the old school playground was built in the early 1990s. Price says the capsule has a little water in it, so they are hoping the contents are still good.
Changes in the instruction of math are ongoing as Pleasant Hill Elementary teachers continue implementation of cognitive guided math instruction, which teaches conceptual knowledge prior to showing them algorithms.
Price says parents should keep a close eye on their email accounts to get updates on what is going on with the school. She also encourages parents to utilize Infinite Campus as a way to monitor what their students are doing and any changes at the school.
“Our motto continues to be what’s best for kids, whatever it takes,” Price says.
Four Mile Elementary
The changes aren’t quite as drastic at Four Mile Elementary, but the building did receive new carpet and phone systems over the summer.
Changes in staff have occurred as well. A kindergarten section has been added, and with that Jamie Sanders will be joining the staff. First grade has increased to four sections, and Madison Fontana will be teaching at that level. Katie King will be working in the behavioral disorders class. New to the office staff is Joanne Workman as a part-time administrative assistant.
“This is the biggest number of new staff we’ve brought in since I’ve been here,” Mohning says.
Mohning is anticipating a decrease in new technology as that has been the focus of growth the last few years, but the school will be bringing in additional iPads for students via a grant from Prairie Meadows.
Students who intend to serve on the Student Council will have added responsibilities throughout the school, including working in the library. While many things have changed at Four Mile, many more have stayed the same.
“We’re excited to get the students back to school,” Mohning says.
Spring Creek Sixth Grade Center
Over at Spring Creek Sixth Grade Center, the biggest change is the school’s new principal. New to the district from Davis County, Ryan Woods is stepping into the position vacated by Nicole Kooiker.
This is Woods’ first time in the role as principal, but in previous years, he was the assistant principal at Davis County Middle School and a baseball coach for the district.
The school also has a new dean of students, Jeff Rueber, who was formerly a fifth grade teacher.
“Jeff and I have been working to learn the system and the building and how it all works,” Woods said of his new position.
Woods anticipates the focus of next year to be on student achievement. He says the uniqueness of working at Spring Creek, a sixth grade only building, is going to give him and his staff a great opportunity to keep kids focused on academics as well as easing the transition into middle school.
“I’m not sure people know where they fit, as far as elementary or middle school, so I think we are going to lean more towards a junior high,” Woods says.
New to the schedule for sixth grade is a 60-minute flex period during the day that will allow for building staff to work with students including those struggling with school performance as well as those who are accelerating.
Woods says this will be modeled after the flex period already instilled at the junior high school, and he is looking forward to preparing sixth graders for their time in the upper level buildings.
“Some of the expectations will be the same,” Woods says, “so they (students) won’t have to relearn the game again and again. That will be nice.”
Many of the afterschool activities will remain the same but are subject to change as the school year begins and students show interest in other areas.
Southeast Polk Junior High School
At Southeast Polk Junior High School, principal Mike Dailey is looking forward to another successful year. The incoming seventh grade class is the largest the school has seen, according to Dailey, so they have added and additional sections of science and social studies.
To assist with this growth, Lauren Morgan, a University of Northern Iowa graduate and first year teacher, has been added to the staff. Additional staff changes include Amy Root in eighth grade science, Michelle Hukvary in the library, Cam Wendt in social studies, Dwayne Miller in health, Lee Raine Randall in music, and Terri Wells in PE.
“We are excited by the growth,” he says.
The school will be utilizing a flex class for the second year in a row. This will be a time for enhanced learning with a variety of options for students to choose from. Dailey says he feels the staff is becoming more familiar with the flex class and is better prepared to take full advantage of the time this year.
Also in its second year is the Rams Against Bullying program. This program reaches out to students to inform them of the long lasting and deep impact bullying can have on their peers. Students research the adverse effects of the issue and create presentations.
“Not that we are excited about that, but we know it needs to be addressed,” Dailey says. “We hope the kids are growing from it.”
Several seventh grade sports are being considered to be brought back to the school environment. The focus is on sports that don’t have a strong community club for kids to utilize outside of the school.
This past spring saw the first school musical, and it was met with much success. Dailey says he is interested to see what the music department comes up with for this year.
“We were full, probably 500- plus people every night,” Dailey says of the production. “It was neat to see our kids perform on our stage.”
The students will again be hands-on in the school including the Ram Squad, a technological program that will allow them to be the first step in troubleshooting computer issues within the building as well as website development.
“There’s always tweaks and turns,” he says, “but that’s what it’s about.”
Southeast Polk High School
Southeast Polk High School students will be in for a great surprise when they find additional parking in the junior and senior parking lot.
Principal Steve Pettit says nearly 200 additional spots have been added for the upperclassmen, and visitor parking will be expanded. A map of the new parking lot, as well as the new one-way traffic pattern, is available at the district website. www.southeastpolk.org.
“It’s been a problem for a while,” Pettit says of parking, particularly visitor parking with college students utilizing the school for their practicum.
There will be a slight change in the school schedule with classes extending by several minutes to accommodate an increase in late start days. The new schedule and late start schedule are also available online. This particular change is to accommodate state-required teacher professional development time.
“This allows our teachers to coordinate lessons so if one student knows something and one doesn’t, we don’t have to teach you the same thing twice,” Pettit says.
It also allows for changes in the scheduling of advisement days, which will now coincide with late start days.
As far as the staff changes, the high school has many. Mark Busch and Melanie Shaw have been added to the science department, and Shannon Boshart and Kayla Borseth are new to English. Boshart will also be advisor on the school newspaper. Bettina Khanthongdy will teach Spanish full time and Mary Johnson will be a half-time Spanish instructor. Michelle Hukvari will be new to the library and shared with other schools, and Emma Palmer will teach family and consumer science. Several internal shifts have happened as well, with staff moving from one position to another.
“We’re excited for the new year to start,” Pettit says. “It’s another opportunity to make a lasting impact on our students.