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Back to School

Posted August 22, 2012 in Pleasant Hill

From left: MaryJane Oliver, Joseph Oliver, and Stephanie Oliver slipped on their backpacks and headed for another new year of school.

While students enjoyed a long break from classes and learning, school leaders have spent the last few months preparing for the upcoming school year. They have welcomed new teachers, said goodbye to a long-standing principal, bought new equipment and implemented new programs. While many things will stay the same in the 2012-13 academic year, there are also many changes.

Four Mile Elementary
Four Mile Elementary principal, Randy Mohning, is looking forward to his fourth year at the school. He says even though there’s still the beginning-of-the-school-year anxiety that all the staff and students feel, it’s comforting to be familiar with the “culture of the building.”

Four Mile Elementary Principal Randy Mohning is beginning his fourth year at the school.

 Over the summer months, the biggest project was replacing the entire heating and cooling system in the building. It was a much needed improvement, according to Mohning, who says the maintenance team has had a very hard time regulating the temperature throughout the building over the last few years.

“This will provide a much better, more positive environment for learning,” Mohning says.

In what is a first for Mohning, there will be no new teaching staff introduced this year.  He did have to reshuffle some staff to support the ever-changing needs of students, but he says that is a normal part of every school year.

Because there is a larger number of kindergarten students this year, Wendy Dance will be teaching there rather than first grade; Julie Hengstemberg will be a second grade teacher; and Jennifer Rafdal is moving from third to fourth grade.

Continuing their goal of increasing student exposure to new technology, the school will be integrating 50 new iPads into classrooms. The iPads were purchased by PTA and funds from the building activity account. The school is also working on two grants to help increase the number of iPads in the building.

“We’re hoping that all kids will have some access to those,” Mohning says.

Ten classrooms will receive five iPads to be shared with the other classes in their grade level. The teachers had to go through an application process and have training on how to best utilize the equipment before receiving the iPads for their classrooms.

Mohning is also expecting to receive a mobile computer lab from the district, as well as a laptop for each teacher.  “We’re making leads in technology,” he says. “In the world that we live today, that is so vital for kids.”

The Iowa Core Curriculum for Language Arts and Math will be fully implemented this year. Mohning says this will alter some of the way kids learn things, including elimination of some of the overlay that has students learning the same thing from year to year.

“The Iowa Core Curriculum is challenging,” he says, but adds that he feels it better suits newer ways of learning and skills.

This year older students returning to the schoolmay notice a slight change in how they can apply to run for student council. Last year it was a “first come, first serve” type of application process, the first three to apply for a position were the ones allowed to run. However, Mohning says, they realized that some students arrive at the school earlier than others, unintentionally taking some of the students out of the running.

This year all students will be able to do a primary  vote in which all fifth graders interested in running for a position will be allowed to fill out the application. After that the entire fifth grade student body will vote. The three students with the most votes for each position will then be allowed to run for office and will be voted on by second through fifth grade classmates.

Mohning says though he enjoys the downtime of summer break, he’s ready for the staff and kids to come back.

PTA also has many plans for this school year including a Craft Show on Oct. 20 and their Spelling Challenge in February, as well Family Fun Nights and a school carnival.  Parents interested in joining PTA can contact the president, Alicia Corey, or attend a meeting on the second Tuesday of every month at 6:30 p.m.

Pleasant Hill Elementary
Pleasant Hill Elementary principal, Terrie Price, is looking forward to a school year with minimal changes in her building.

Plans for building renovations are in the works and scheduled to begin in April of next year. The elementary also received the Fuel Up 360 grand through the South East Polk School District.

“The grant has to do with increased physical activity and nutrition education,” Price says.

Several new staff members have been added to the building including Scott Wiederstein, who will spend half his time teaching music at Pleasant Hill Elementary and the other half teaching at Phillips Elementary. Karen Buffington, the new school counselor, will also be shared with Stowe half the time. Second grade teacher, Mary “Dee” Cech, is new to the building, as is Tina Fulton who will oversee Reading Recovery and Interventions.

Some teachers have been shifted throughout the building as needed to suit the changing needs of the building. Changes include Karla Wiebers, who is now teaching third grade and will continue to be Dean of Students; Natalie Young is moving to second grade from kindergarten; Stacy Bowman will be moving to kindergarten after teaching pre-school the last two years; and Julie Bulver will go to preschool after teaching second grade for several years.

Price encourages parents to check out the school’s PTO website at www.pleasanthillpto.org to stay up to date on what is happening in the school throughout the year.

Spring Creek
Students at Spring Creek can expect a bit more academic time this year according to school principal Nicole Kooiker. Homeroom will be added at the beginning and ending of each day to give students a change to get acclimated to their classroom, but the school is looking at “flex time” a little differently this year.

Spring Creek Principal Nicole Kooiker says the school is focusing on interventions and enrichments this school year.

 “We’re focusing this year on interventions and enrichments,” Kooiker says. This includes professional learning communities in which teachers will evaluate students’ level in language arts and math and place students in smaller groups to help them students who are excelling with “enrichment” activities to challenge them and “intervention” activities to help students who are struggling to get caught up.

“It’s an intense focus on making sure we are moving students forward academically,” Kooiker says. She thinks it will make a big improvement on student achievement.

To coincide with this, Spring Creek is also adding time in the mornings when students can come in to receive assistance on homework or studies that are challenging them.

The school is continuing with after-school clubs. Kooiker says they have been overwhelmingly popular in the past, and she is excited to be adding new clubs to the roster. New this year is the golf club, which will take place after school at Toad Valley. Other options include the Ruff Club for students who like dogs, the science club, volleyball, and health and wellness.

The clubs last a trimester so students can choose several to take part in throughout the year. They offer an opportunity for students to get involved in something they are interested in beyond academics as well as to meet other students who share similar interests.

Julie Dawson and Amanda Christenson will be added to the staff, as well as librarian Trista Slechta. Also new to the building is Nate Smith, formerly from the high school, and Beth Jones from the junior high school.

Kooiker says she uses the school website and infinite campus to share much information for the school and encourages parents to check those sites often.

SEP Junior High School
Starting his second year at Southeast Polk Junior High, principal Mike Daley says he feels settled in and is looking forward to starting the new year.

“I think this year is going to be a neat step for Southeast Polk Junior High,” he says.

The start time at the junior high has been changed to 7:35 a.m., and classes have been shortened by five minutes to add an additional class period to the school day. A flex period has been added to coincide with lunch, so while half the students are eating the other half will be in a class of their choice.

Class options are “enrichment” learning and range from class topics such as fishing, art, Dollars and Sense, and forensic science.

“This will give students an opportunity to do things while they are here during the day while we are here to give them support,” Daley says.

This will also provide the staff a chance to work with students who are unable to stay after school and need academic assistance. Some of the clubs that filled up the quickest were Advanced Photography and Science in the 21st Century.

The flex class topics were based on things the teachers would they’d be interested in teaching.

The junior high will have a combination of staff new to the building, as well as several new to the district.  New to the junior high are Larry Jewel, David Hardie, Cris Kingston, Kristin Joy, Anthony Cipolla, Haley Hockensmitch, AmyButcher, Eric Johnson, Kathleen Gross, Afton Strosahl and Dwayne Miller.

Daley says that, because he was new last year, he didn’t get to spend as much time participating in the extra programs as he would have liked, and one of his personal goals for this year is to catch up with the schools teams events, including Think Bowl.

SEP High School
The biggest change high school students will notice this year is the absence of former principal Chuck Bradlow, who retired at the end of last year. However, the new principal is one students should be well acquainted with. Stepping into the role is former associate principal, Steve Pettit.

Pettit has been at the school for seven years in various positions including dean of students and assistant principal.

“I’m looking forward to getting started,” Pettit says of his new position.

Pettit says the changes this year include the hiring of Tracey Dailey, the new girls’ basketball coach; Brenda Zoble, a new counselor at the school; and Gary Belger, transferring from Spring Creek.

Petitt wants students coming into the high school for the first year to know there a lot of different options for them to get involved.

“Every kid can find their niche in at least one or two areas,” he says. He also wants parents to know there are various support systems at the school for students who need learning assistance. Whether that be with an entire subject or just a chapter, help is available.

“We’re available to support you when things are hard,” he says. “If you don’t get something the first time, there’s always help to get it the second time.”

Most of the clubs will return this year and offer a variety of extra activities. Petitt says if a student has an interest in an area that doesn’t have a club established, he or she can create one by approaching an activities director who will help find a faculty advisor to oversee the club.

“I think every one of our staff members is excited about our kids, to help maximize them to be the best they can be.”

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