It’s hard to believe that soon sunscreen and swimsuits will be replaced by backpacks and sweaters, but fall is on its way, and with it, a return to the classroom for Ankeny students.
Students will have to make the transition back to hitting the books when school begins on Wednesday, Aug. 15. This year parents and students will see some additional changes, including a new elementary school, as Ankeny continues the transition to a two-feeder system. Read on to learn about the new and exciting things that will be happening in the district in 2012-2013.
A new elementary
This year will see the opening of the district’s ninth elementary school, Prairie Trail Elementary, and with it a change in boundaries for elementary students. Elementary schools will now align with secondary boundaries, with students from Ashland Ridge, Northeast, Northwest and Westwood attending north feeder schools and students from Crocker, East, Prairie Trail, Southeast and Terrace attending secondary feeder schools.
The opening of Prairie Trail brings lots of changes for Ankeny’s littlest learners, but Prairie Trail principal Pam Dodge says she’s impressed with the district’s handling of the changes and her own staff’s willingness to make the transition easy and fun for the students.
“It has been an amazing process to watch the building near completion, and I realize daily how fortunate we are in Ankeny to be part of such a great and growing community and school system,” she says.
Dodge has worked in education for more than 20 years, with 13 years in administration. She is no stranger to Ankeny, serving as the principal for Southeast Elementary at one time. She says she is ready to move past the bricks and mortar conversations and begin the teaching and learning process at Prairie Trail.
She’s also excited for the opportunity to work with teachers in professional learning communities and providing the leadership necessary to create and sustain a culture for continuous learning. Collaborative learning spaces were designed and are adjacent to most classrooms, which will be an asset to teachers as they flexibly group students to maximize student learning.
“One of the things I am most excited about is the opportunity I will have to meet new students and their families,” she says. “The students in Ankeny are bright and eager to learn, and our families are supportive, and they understand our goals are focused on academic and social-emotional opportunities for all students.”
Prairie Trail elementary will mean transition for some of the district’s learners, but this year the middle and high schools will see no changes. For grades 6-7, north feeder system students attend Prairie Ridge at the former Northview Building, and south feeder system students attend Parkview Middle School. For grades 8-9, All students attend Northview Middle School at its new location in the former high school building. All 10th graders attend the new Southview Middle School Building. All 11th and 12th graders attend the new Ankeny High School. Next year, students in grades 8-12 will see changes as Ankeny Centennial High School opens.
With all of the transitions continuing, the district has put together a portion of its website to assist parents and students with navigating the changes. The Transition Central section of the website can be accessed from the main page of www.ankenyschools.org, and its main goal is to provide people with up-to-date information regarding boundaries, timelines, student transitions, mascot information, policies and more.
A new superintendent
As changes with facilities continue, Ankeny also welcomes a new superintendent. Dr. Bruce Kimpston is no stranger to the district, serving as a previous assistant superintendent, and he plans to continue the district’s smooth transitions and move it forward in the future.
Kimpston says he has three areas he will be focusing on this year. The first is on student learning, specifically student achievement and ensuring students are receiving a year’s growth. The second is a focus on professional learning communities, so educators will become better at teaching and learning. The third area is a focus on people.
“I believe that everyone in the organization plays a role in our school’s mission, and it’s important that they feel valued and engaged in helping us achieve our goals,” he says. “The focus is on people this year. We know in organizational learning and development that people are the key to success whether it be public or private industries and companies.”
In terms of challenges, Kimpston says one of the biggest Ankeny will experience in the future is the ability to develop a comprehensive technology plan. He also hopes to explore specific areas of study that Ankeny currently doesn’t offer in terms of deciding whether they might be feasible to offer in the future. One of those areas, for example, is the study of foreign language in elementary school.
“We’re deciding with regard to these new initiatives: Where do we want to put our effort and our financial capital?” he says. “If you get outside of Iowa, there are a lot of schools that are engaged in elementary language, but I’m not sure the model we’d follow is the one we see right now because students need to be immersed in that language. The challenge is balancing the implementation of new curriculum, and those are thing we’re exploring.”
Kimpston says in his more than 26 years in education, his leadership style has been described as collaborative. He enjoys engaging a variety of stakeholders as the district continues to make decisions that affect all learners.
This year former principal at Northview Middle School, Jill Urich, takes over the position of assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. This year students will see new curriculum in the areas of social students and music. This year the district also has the goal of continuing to align the national core curriculum into its standards. Teachers are also continuing to adopt the national literacy standards, which will be taught across the board.
“You can walk into a social studies classroom and see that literacy implementation added to that,” she says. “The idea behind it is as a language arts teacher, I’m not solely responsible for teaching students literacy. We are all responsible. Ankeny has done a great job of embedding that literacy professional development for teachers so they have the skills to implement that in the classroom.”
Urich says the district administration will be working with Kimpston to implement his goals. This means focusing on professional learning communities for teachers. Teachers will explore four questions: What do we want students to know? How will we know if they’ve learned it? What will we do if they haven’t learned it? What will we do if they already know it?
“Basically if you have a building with four math teachers in ninth grade, for example, those teachers work as a team, share data, and learn together,” she says. “We have talented teachers in Ankeny, so if we give them the time and structure and support they need, they can be really good at professional learning communities.”
Another focus is on people. If Ankeny is a great place to work and to learn, and teachers are given all the tools they need, the administration believes that the third priority — learning — will naturally happen.
Kimpston says Ankeny is finally experiencing what he calls 21st century learning. Instead of preparing students for a specific job or a specific skill set, now they’re preparing them to be problem solvers and creative thinkers, attributes that will serve them well in a global economy.
Urich sees Ankeny’s present curriculum implementation like hang gliding.
“There’s the time when you’re running really fast, and Ankeny has been running and been very rigorous in putting curriculum in place, and this year we’re taking that step off the cliff and flying. Now we’ll start soaring.”
A parent’s perspective
Ankeny parent Alicia Eichmeier — mom to Avery, 8, Blake, 5 and Reid, 2 — says she’s had a really positive experience with Ankeny schools. Alicia and her husband, Zach, grew up in northwest Iowa, but when they moved to the metro, they decided to settle in Ankeny in part because of the strength of the school district.
“We moved to Ankeny because it was growing, and at that time we had heard enough word of mouth good things about the school system,” she says. “We wanted to have kids, and this is where we could put down roots.”
Eichmeier says she’s happy they made the decision they did because she feels Ankeny’s first priority is on education. While there are numerous opportunities for kids to get involved with sports and other activities, she feels they haven’t lost sight of their most important mission.
This year the Eichmeiers will be affected by the change in boundary lines. Avery has attended Southeast Elementary, but this year she will move to Prairie Trail with her brother Blake, who will start kindergarten.
“We feel comfortable with the transition and the fact that there has been a good emphasis and the new principal. Dr. Dodge has sent out communications to all the parents of the kids going to PT. She went to the new PTO meeting and it has been up and running so she could answer questions, even little things like where will drop off be. She might not have had all the answers, but she was having a good idea of what it would take to make things run smoothly.”
Eichmeier says her kids are excited to be a part of a brand new building and make some new friends. She encourages parents who might be new to the district to get involved, whether it’s a lot of time or a little, so they can really stay engaged.
“It doesn’t have to be anything large,” she says. “Check to see if your school has a PTO or talk to the teacher and stay informed. The biggest thing in Ankeny is making that network so you feel you’re connected to the community. Find a way that works for you, because you can have experiences from something time consuming to something really easy, but it will make a difference in how informed and connected you feel.”
Ankeny mom Julie Hiney has two boys who will be at Ashland Ridge elementary this year: Zach in fifth grade and Nicholas in first grade. Hiney’s husband graduated from Ankeny, and they’re both pleased with the direction that the district has gone. She’s glad two feeders have been established and class sizes have been held in check.
Hiney also works with the PTO at Ashland Ridge, and she echoes Eichmeier’s sentiments about getting involved.
“A lot of people are scared about it and figure they’re going to be obligated, but we want people to just come and hear what’s going on,” she says. “The principal is at almost every meeting and shares news. I work full time, but since Zach was in kindergarten, I find a way to volunteer in the class. I go in and read books or help with school parties. Or even just go have lunch with your kid and see them in that environment.”