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Back to school

Posted August 13, 2014 in Greene County
Summer reading students hang out in front of the door to Greene County Middle School waiting for the doors to open and class to begin. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

Summer reading students hang out in front of the door to Greene County Middle School waiting for the doors to open and class to begin. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

Students, teachers and administrators are walking into different classrooms, different buildings and a new teacher enrichment program as the Greene County School District opens its doors to a new school year.

This will be the first year East Greene School District is completely absorbed into the Greene County School District.

Superintendent Tim Christensen, along with a couple of other administrators — Scott Johnson, principal of the elementary school and Shawn Zanders from the middle school — talked about a variety of changes for the new school year.

The Grand Junction building, which housed East Greene Elementary School through last school year, is now the intermediate school, housing fourth through sixth grade.

Students in grades seven and eight  are in the middle school in Jefferson, and students in ninth-12th grades are at the Greene County High School, also in Jefferson. Jefferson Elementary will now house pre-kindergarten through third grade.

The three-story elementary school building in Rippey, which wasn’t used last year, will be torn down this fall. The attached gymnasium, however, will be retained, and the gym will continue to be used.

“There have been some moves to different rooms and buildings to accommodate the needs of the district and because of the teacher enrichment leadership program we’ve started,” says Christensen.

District received teacher leadership and compensation grant

The Greene County School District is one of 39 in Iowa included in the first round of Teacher Leadership and Compensation grants to help enhance and grow teachers’ instructional abilities.  The grant received by Greene County Schools is for the leadership component because the district’s salaries are above the $33,500 minimum allowed for the grant.

Students and a teacher use chalk to write and study words on the sidewalk at the Greene County Elementary School. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

Students and a teacher use chalk to write and study words on the sidewalk at the Greene County Elementary School. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

“We had to write our own plan to apply for the grant and come up with our own program,” Christensen says. “We’ll have three teachers, called instructional coaches, who will be out of the classroom for the coming year so they can help implement the program. The biggest aspect to the program is that it puts teachers in leadership positions.”

Teachers were given the opportunity to apply for the various leadership positions.

The three instructional coaches are Shannon Hansen for pre-kindergarten through third grade, Brenda Onken for fourth through eighth grade and Pat Johansen for ninth through 12th grade.

There are also four mentor teachers, 15 model teachers and five curriculum leaders.

“The instructional coaches will be out in the classrooms working one on one with other teachers to help improve their instructional quality,” Christensen says.

These three instructional coaches are resource providers, supplying information and material to help teachers create better lesson plans, for example, or how to better implement technology into the classroom.

Instructional coaches also are considered data coaches, curriculum specialists, instructional specialists, classroom supporters, mentors and school leaders. In those roles, the coaches are expected to be catalysts for change, introducing new ideas, making observations and testing and questioning current practices, according to the district plans.

As data coaches they assist teachers in looking at four types of data: student achievement, perception, demographics and school process data. This data will be used to figure out strengths and weaknesses of students and identify instructional strategies, programs or curriculum to address the need, according to the plans.

As “learners” they are expected to model continuous learning and improvement, as well as attitudes and behaviors teachers need to be successful. They also are expected to take charge of their own learning and use reflection as a process to support learning.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Diane Towers is arranging her room after moving from another room in the Greene County Middle School. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Diane Towers is arranging her room after moving from another room in the Greene County Middle School. Photo by Juli Probasco-Sowers.

The 15 model teachers will go into classrooms and observe other instructors teaching, making suggestions and assisting the teachers, as well as learning from them.

Model teachers are LeeAnna Ausberger, Audrey Hinote, Joey Rasmussen, Maleea Gannon, Annette Meier, Tom Braun, Lauana Buxton, Diane Kunzler, Mavis Sawhill, Carly Tiffany-Brown, Annie Ostendorf, Connie Hoffman, Tammy Brophy, Donna Carhill and Deb Marquardt.

Curriculum leaders have more expertise in core curriculum, Christiansen says.
Curriculum leaders are LeeAnna Ausberger, Stormy Fish, Kathy Dobney and Julie Kennedy.

“To help facilitate the plan, we took the teacher leaders and administrators to a conference in Minnesota dealing with professional learning communities,” Christensen says. “This program is obviously a shift from what we have done in the past, and I think it will take some time and relationship building.”

Christensen notes that he is an optimist and believes there will be some results that will be seen almost immediately, while other outcomes will take time to recognize.

He says there are seven or eight new teachers, hired in part to replace the teachers coming out of the classroom.

Changes for elementary students
The biggest change for elementary students will be where rooms are located, says Elementary Principal Scott Johnson.

“We’ve gone from a pre-k to fourth-grade building to a 3-year-old preschool to third grade-building,” he explains. “We moved room assignments around so we could cluster the classrooms and teachers.”

Even with all the changes and absorbing the elementary school students from Grand Junction — expecting from 400-450 students — no new teachers had to be hired for the upcoming school year.

“We had some teachers who came over from the East Greene School District and so we didn’t need to hire more,” Johnson says. “I’m really looking forward to the new school year.”

P.E. gets a makeover
Physical education is getting new respect at Greene County Middle School.

Principal Sawn Zanders says the newly hired physical education teacher, Ryan Eberly, is helping expand P.E. so each student is in a physical education class every day.

“We hired him right out of Buena Vista University where he graduated this spring,” Zanders says. “He has a lot of really good ideas for the P.E. curriculum. We are learning more and more about learning. Some studies show that having some physical activity every day engages the brain in terms of processing information and learning.”

Other new teachers at middle school
Christine Crohn is arriving at Greene County Middle School after teaching eight or nine years at St. Patrick’s Catholic School in Perry. She is the new special education teacher. She has focused in the English Language area and is working on a special education degree.

“Her reading education and experience gives us flexibility in helping our kids learn reading and do some instruction in other areas as well,” Zanders says.

He noted that the most important aspect to hiring new staff is to hire people who have the skills and expertise to be good teachers.

“We have a very good middle school staff, and the new additions this year will help us move forward,” he says.

Another new hire is Abbey Gerzema. She comes from the Perry School District where she taught for five years. She has taught language arts and writing.

“I intend to pair her with the reading and language arts teachers Tammy Mohr and Tammy Brophy,” Zanders says.

Zanders explains that there will be a lot more team teaching. There will be a number of students assigned for a period of time with the team. All students in the middle school will have an hour at some point during the day to spend with the team.

Hanna Sundburg just graduated from Iowa State University. She will be the new instrumental music teacher at the middle school.

“We are very excited about her role here. She has had very good student teaching experiences,” Zanders says.

New Wednesday clubs for all students
New this year will be the creation of a number of clubs open to all students at the middle school.

“There will be between 12 and 15 clubs to choose from,” Zanders says. “We believe that connection to school is very important, and offering more ways for students to be involved and connected is one way to do that.”

No decision has been made on all the clubs, but so far they include cooking and baking, reading, outdoor activities, world sports (like soccer), a fantasy football club and a service club.

“We surveyed the students to see what they were interested in, and they came up with around 30 club ideas,” Zanders says. “Our goal is 100 percent participation so every student can say he or she is a member of a club.”

There are various clubs and sports teams middle school students can join, but not all students are interested in athletics, he says.

Every Wednesday, when class gets out early for teacher in-service, the students will gather to eat lunch together as a club, then spend the next 30-35 minutes in the club activity. That will leave them about 30 minutes of study hall before they head home for the day.

But before all that can begin, administrators, staff and teachers are unpacking boxes, cleaning up offices and figuring out class schedules.

Pre-kindergarten teacher Diana Towers surveyed the jumbled packages, boxes, totes and stacks of puzzles in her new room.

“I’m in the same building, but a different room,” she says. “I’ve got some work to do to get organized.”

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