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School Smarts

Posted August 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

As part of an inservice on the Everyday Math program, teaches Mindy Handsaker, Michael Ross, Michelle Eimers, and Jeff Lyons work with geometric shapes.

Kids wish it could go on forever.  Parents whose kids are declaring, “I’m bored,” are relieved it’s come to an end. Summer is winding down, and it’s time for the new school year to begin.

Considerable work and preparation take place behind the scenes over the summer as school staff members ready themselves to debut new surroundings, equipment, curriculums and materials.

Diane Doering, Administrative Assistant to Superintendent Mike Sherwood, and Lynn Neibergall, Student Registrar, spend most of their summer at the Administration Building planning for the new school year, and a big part of that is registration. Doering and Neibergall do the registration of all students, either by mail or online. All information packets and registration materials mailed out to parents/guardians in mid-July and all registrations are due in their office Aug. 1.

“Probably our biggest challenge is getting registration information back on time,” Doering says. “The most exciting thing with registration/student information this year is that some student information/records can be sent electronically and also transcripts of students can be sent to colleges through the Iowa Transcript Center.”

Managing the student information data system, Infinite Campus, is Neibergall’s main job. She inputs all student data. Numerous reports for the state are taken from Infinite Campus. “One of the neat things about Infinite Campus is that parents can request a Parent Portal, and then they have access to everything from attendance, grades and even lunch account balances of their child/children,” Neibergall says.

Doering mentioned another online feature the school system has is the Pay Schools family accounts for various fees.

“It’s a convenience to parents, I think, that through Pay Schools payments can be made for lunch accounts, yearbooks, activity tickets, etc., online,” she says.

School secretaries in each of the other buildings come back the first part of August and are also responsible for getting things ready in their respective buildings. At Sunset Heights, that’s Carolyn Day and Ramona Olmstead; at Pleasant View Elementary, it’s Meredith Mickelson and Luann Tanner; Barb Halsne and Mary Ellen Draeger manage the Middle School; and Sue Jaycox, Denice Meyer and Chris Kastler keep the high school office running smoothly.

Some other “behind the scenes” groundwork that was completed over the summer was improvements to the system’s technology. Mark Murphy, Director of Technology, and Joe Wakeman, Information Technology Specialist, outline the updates they’ve made to systems over the summer.

Students can expand their video production skills in the new WCTV control room at the high school.

“We have installed seven HD cameras in the high school gym that tie into our WCTV control room. This will allow for more opportunities for students to expand their video production skills. The video from those cameras can also be seen on the video board in the new gym,” Murphy explains. “We are in the process of adding security cameras to the new gym, high school parking lots, and a couple additional security cameras in the high school. A little later, we will be working at the other buildings to do some maintenance of those security camera systems.”

The recent installation of a district-wide wireless network is a big advancement for the school system. This will allow students and staff to connect to the school network using their wireless devices. The core networking switch has been upgraded, and several building switches have been added to handle the new wireless network.

“We have redone the High School Project Lead the Way (PLTW) classroom with 25 new computer workstations,” Murphy says. PLTW prepares students to be leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We have replaced and upgraded our battery backup system. That system keeps our data center running in case of power issues. We have also redone the technology offices and the ICN room to make better use of our space.”

In addition, a new Smartboard interactive whiteboard has been installed at Pleasant View for the new school year.

“We’ve got a Technology Committee of about 25 staff members on the committee meeting to work on what we’re going to do with technology down the road,” Sherwood adds. He said discussions are revolving around implementation of personal devices for learning such as tablets, iPads and iMacs. “Questions we’re trying to answer are, What device do we use? How do we roll it out? How do we fund it? How do we change instruction to make full use of that technology?

“We had two staff members go a technology fair in Chicago, and we had a number of staff go to the AEA technology workshop in Storm Lake this summer. So we’ve got a lot going on in that area, trying to prepare ourselves if we’re going to invest the kind of money we’re going to have to invest. Putting a device in someone’s hand is really going to change the way we teach and how we deliver instruction,” Sherwood explains.

“We’ll decide as a team what is the best device for students,” adds Linda Williams, Director of Curriculum.

Probably the most visible improvement in the Webster City school district is the newly-completed competition gymnasium and entrance to Prem Sahai auditorium at Webster City High School. After several years of planning and preparation, and groundbreaking in October 2010, the new facility premiered at a community open house Aug. 5. The building addition features the new gym, locker rooms, auditorium lobby, offices, classrooms and a state-of-the-art sound and video system.

The parking lot outside the gymnasium and near the track and ball fields was re-done as part of the project.

“The new parking lot at WCHS has been a very nice addition. We have close to 600 stalls. The addition of the parking lot down by the ball fields, then the addition from the entrance off Elm Street was a good thing,” says Superintendent Sherwood.

Nearby, new high school tennis courts were constructed as a joint project with the city. “They provided quite a bit of manpower and some funding, and we partnered with them; it worked out very well,” he says.

Another noticeable school/city improvement project is the street repair in front of Sunset Heights.

“Those streets were closed all summer to do a complete street repair and improve sidewalks and parking lot,” Sherwood explains.

Planned development for next round of construction will soon begin, Sherwood says, as they look at renovation within the elementary buildings.

“That was the purpose of all the asbestos removal this summer; we can’t remodel those buildings until that’s done. We’re getting all that done so we can come back next summer and start remodeling.”

About 29 classrooms were done this summer, with more slated for next summer. Most of buildings requiring asbestos removal were built in 1950s and 1960s, according to Sherwood.

“We just completed our first year with a new grading and assessment policy, and we did quite a bit with staff development over the summer,” says Sherwood.

Work continued on curriculum development over the summer with 30 staff members traveling to Orlando, Fla., for the Model Schools Conference.

“We’ve now had nearly 98 percent of our staff attending professional learning institutes,” says Williams.  She relates that the coming year will bring a continued focus on effective assessments and learning targets.

Several learning opportunities are scheduled as instructors will participate in staff development days with nationally-known speakers.

“In September, Mike Mattos, consultant with Solution Tree, will be discussing ‘Response to Intervention’ and a variety of interventions to apply in the classroom,” Williams says. “This will be attended by other school districts from Northeast Hamilton, Eagle Grove, Clarion-Goldfield, Algona and AEA representatives.”

Sue Gendron, of the International Center for Leadership in Education, will provide an overview of common core and next generation assessments in October.

“She works for Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium, and other schools will be joining us for the presentation as well,” says Williams.

Cassandra Erkens, Consultant with Solution Tree professional development, will continue working with staff on formative and summative assessments.

A busy morning at school can make students hungry. Providing healthy and appetizing lunches that appeal to kids is the continual challenge facing Food Service Director Todd Hartnett.  Federal guidelines are the basis for the school menus, and sometimes provide obstacles when planning and preparing meals.

“The sodium count has been changed according to each grade, and saturated fats have to be 10 percent or less for all grades,” Hartnett explains. “We need to keep in mind that kids and their parents will need to stay positive about these changes. We are also changing the portion sizes, and it’s for the better,” he says.

Several new faces will greet students on the first day of school.

“We’ve got quite a few new staff members that we’re excited about. We’ve got a great mix of experienced and new, and we’ve hired several with master’s degrees and a fair amount of experience,” Sherwood says.

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