Monday, June 25, 2018

The Place to Be This Summer

I had very fond memories of summer break when I was a kid.  I remember playing with neighborhood friends, riding my yellow bike, and going swimming at the city pool.  I also attended a week-long summer camp every year and eventually volunteered to work there when I was old enough to do so.  It was good for me to meet new people, have fun and learn new things.  I miss those summer days.

The school I attended had summer programs available, but they were mostly remedial in nature and were not something that any of my friends or I wanted to go to. Summer school was a requirement for credit recovery or to improve reading skills. These are very good reasons to have summer programs, but the programs were not intended to be fun.

Shenandoah CSD has offered summer programs over the years but has recently expanded and revamped our summer programs into summer camps. Summer camp at Shenandoah Elementary and Middle School looks a little different then the camp I attended as a kid. We do not have cabins, go-karts, horses, or an indoor swimming pool.  However, we do have a broad range of activities for kids to participate in including forensic science, coding, digital scrapbooking, crafts, fitness, zoo animals, legos & games, Ag Art, and camping & cookout.  Reading and math activities are integrated into each of the camps to help kids advance their skills in these areas as well.  The summer programs and camps are designed to be fun, engaging and packed with learning. We want the camps to be the place to be and a highlight of the summer for the kids that participate.

I went to visit our camps on Thursday. I had such a good time I wanted to stay bit longer. It rained so many activities were brought inside.  However, it didn't stop the fun! The energy level was high and quite exciting to be around.

Kellon and Addison shared with me the board games they had created this week.  Just listening to them talk made me smile, laugh, and take note of how they are being creative and learning to plan, organize and produce new ideas.  Addison shared quite the board game that included a monster, a butterfly, and hopscotch.  It was hopscotch with a bit of a twist.

Mrs. Kettwick and her crew were having a grand time making healthy snacks and discussing a new hockey game they learned to play.  Playing? Yes, learning healthy habits at a young age is essential. Kids need to learn the value of exercise and develop an understanding of proper nutrition. It was the perfect opportunity to help our kids grow, play and learn.

I couldn't resist the smell of fresh pancakes so I made a stop by the camp for cooking.  Mrs. Novinger had quite the kitchen crew.  Katie was busy creating a poster and writing directions on how to wash your hands, Grace was washing dishes, and Jacobi was helping make the pancakes.  Grace was excited to show off her new skills and offered to make me a pancake. The kids were excited to learn basic cooking and independent living skills that will help them be successful. Learning life skills helps develop responsibility, builds confidence, and a sense of independence.

Mrs. Karr and Mrs. Blake were generous to spend a few minutes talking with me about their camps. It was good to hear them reflect on what the kids were doing and the teaching methods they were using. Mrs. Karr taught a STEM unit introducing forensic science.  Students were able to take on roles of geologist and toxicologists as they investigated a crime. The student's work involved actually testing with powders, analyzing fibers and completing burn testing.  Mrs. Karr was pleased with the level of student engagement and the ability to facilitate more hands-on learning. Mrs. Blake noted some students experienced success in trying new activities such as digital scrapbooking and stitching and embroidery. She shared that it was nice to see her student's strengths in different areas and noted that the activities had a calming effect on the students.

Some have asked why we invest in extended learning. We do this because it is good for our kids and contributes to their learning. The camps provide learning opportunities for students to be actively engaged in the summer in activities targeted at expanding academic areas such STEM, promoting the overall social, emotional and physical development, and providing them with additional opportunities to explore the community. The camps also keep students actively engaged in activities with appropriate supervision keeping them in a safe, secure environment during times that parents usually are working. It bridges the gap and limits the academic loss that occurs when students are disengaged and are isolated in the summer months. These types of activities help keep kids connected and involved in building positive peer and adult relationships which is good for their social-emotional health. I look forward to seeing this work expand and serving more students. It may appear on the surface to be light work or play, but it is engaging student-centered learning.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Conversations with Leaders Making the Transition

Earlier, I posted a blog titled Trading Places. The blog was about the restructuring of our administrative team and the people behind the change.  I had the opportunity to visit this week with some of the staff who are taking on new roles. We had some great conversations. I thought it might be interesting for you to hear directly from them about how they are preparing for the change.

I have been impressed with their commitment to making things come together.  This morning I noted Mr. Munsinger facilitating a great discussion with Mrs. Hughes, an Instructional Coach and teacher leader, and Mrs. Spiegel, the Director of Early Childhood & Extended Learning, about next year.  They are having some great conversations and working together to be ready for the start of the school year.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Trading Places

Several weeks ago Mrs. Hilding announced her retirement. She has been the High School principal for the past ten years.  Mr. Skahill, the District's Transportation Supervisor, also announced his retirement.  Mr. Skahill has been with the district for the past three years.  I hope they can do many of the things on their bucket lists.   I genuinely wish them the best in their retirement.

Finding the right people to fill these positions is an important decision. A principal performs a significant role in the system.  A principal serves as both a leader and manager of the school and works closely with students and staff.  Instructional leadership is a big responsibility and principals who have that make a difference in student achievement.  Providing safe and efficient transportation to and from school for a large number of students each day is also something that takes a bit of work and organization.  We transport nearly 800 students a day and also take students and teams to a variety of student activities.

Our leadership team met to discuss how best to proceed. We came to a consensus that we had the right people, to do the right work here, we were willing to make some changes.  After meeting as a leadership team, talking with staff and various stakeholders, we agreed to move forward with forming a recommendation to the Board to restructure our administrative team.  The Board approved the restructuring plan for implementation at the May 14th Board meeting.

The restructuring plan that was approved included the following changes:

1. Mr. Shaffer, the current Middle School principal, has been transferred to High School principal.

Mr. Shaffer has the right background, experience, and interest to step into the role of our High School principal. I am pleased that he will be making this transition and taking the lead.  I am confident in his ability to do the job well.

2. Mr. Munsinger has been assigned to serve as principal of the K-8 School.

There will be one principal serving both the elementary and middle school rather than having a separate principal for the elementary and middle school.

Mr. Munsinger has the right tools and experience to fill this position. He has experience in a variety of administrative roles that will contribute to his success in this position. One of Mr. Munsinger's noted strengths is his ability to collaborate with others.  This will be an asset as he bridges working with both the elementary and middle school. I am confident in his ability to effectively manage this position and lead the staff in a positive direction.

3. Mrs. Spiegel has been assigned to be the Director of Early Childhood and Extended Learning.

Mrs. Spiegel will be providing a valuable service for the district in this role. The District has made a considerable investment in early childhood programs. The program has expanded the number of children served and added a three-year-old program this year. There is a need to develop the curriculum further and make wrap around services available to families in the program. The District considers early childhood to be preschool through second grade.

Extended learning includes Early Literacy, Title 1, before school, afterschool, summer programs, and other such programs. Our summer programs have grown extensively over the past several years. We now have summer learning "camps" that start in June and extend clear into August. These are great opportunities for our kids as it keeps them actively engaged in learning and the community.

Mrs. Spiegel has been instrumental in helping the district establish the early childhood programs and the extended learning programs that are in place. I know she will do well in this capacity.

 4. A Dean of Students/Transportation Supervisor position was created.

Mr. Weinrich, a current teacher on staff, accepted the role of Dean of Students and Transportation Supervisor.  Seeing these two roles as one position requires a shift in thinking but our team agreed this can work quite well. The Dean of Student will be assigned to work closely with students, families, and student discipline. Currently, the Transportation Supervisor provides and organizes the transportation necessary for students to arrive a school and activities safely and also works closely with principals to work with students who have challenging behaviors.  Mr. Weinrich's understanding of how to work with students, families, and scheduling of activities /transportation from coaching will help him be successful in managing both roles.  He is the right person to make this position work.

5. A Lead Driver position was created for the Transportation Department.

Mrs. Scherff, a current school bus driver, has accepted the role of lead driver.  She will assist with some of the daily management and scheduling of vehicles at the bus barn.  Mrs. Scherff has been a driver for three years in Shenandoah and many years in Fort Dodge.  Mrs. Scherff has the right experience to provide this level of support for the Transportation Department.

Some have inquired, and rightly so, about the Curriculum Director position that Mr. Munsinger has filled.  Mr. Munsinger and Mr. Shaffer will share this responsibility as principals. The District has made a significant commitment to the TAP model and in teacher leaders.  The principals will be able to work effectively with the instructional coaches and mentor teachers to continue to develop the curriculum and provide support for teachers in this area.

Some have also asked if the K-8 school is too large of an assignment for one person. It is a broader assignment. However, with this plan, there will be three administrators serving the building instead of two. We believe adding the additional position and reassigning the roles of the administrators will contribute to making this change work.

Some changes are being made, and people are trading places. I am pleased with how the restructuring plan is coming together and the people who are filling these roles.  As our team discussed, the rationale for doing this is we have the right people on staff to effectively lead in these new assignments and positions.  The plan will also result in a general cost savings of approximately $50,000.00 which is a substantial sum of money to consider as it can help us avoid the need to make reductions in the future.

The plan is different than how things have been done in the past. I do believe there is a strong potential for this change to be successful as the people who have accepted these roles are experienced and committed to making things work. I am looking forward to seeing this plan in action and then seeing the results across the system.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

A Lot of Action

On Monday night the Board of Education met in regular session to discuss a fairly lengthy agenda and take action on several matters of business.  Thankfully, we wrapped up business just before the storm.  

Mr. Munsinger presented an update on the 2018 Iowa Assessment results for the Board.  There was some good discussion about areas of progress and also some areas for improvement.  This chart includes the proficiency levels of our students for 2017-2018.

Third and Fourth Grade
Reading ProficiencyMath Proficiency
Fifth through Eighth Grade
Reading ProficiencyMath Proficiency
Eleventh Grade
Reading ProficiencyMath Proficiency

There are some solid gains in proficiency noted. The Iowa Assessment is a required assessment. It is a snapshot of student performance, but it is not the only indicator of student success.  Other assessments such as iReady, ACT, and FASTT are also used to help complete the picture of how students perform.  This information will be presented at a different time.

Mrs. Furst shared about the expansion of the summer meal program to serve in locations off campus such as Sportsman's Park, the Shenandoah Library, and in Farragut.  There was later discussion about the need to slightly modify our meal charge policy to comply with new requirements from the State.  We are looking at revisions to the policy that would include language that ensures students are not publicly embarrassed or shamed due to low balances or negative accounts.

We also discussed the need to review the district's safety plan and emergency response protocols.  While the District does use the A.L.I.C.E. model, it is important to review our safety practices and consider how we can work in collaboration with law enforcement, emergency responders, and other community agencies to improve the plans. We have scheduled a date in July to start this discussion.

It was great to see four of our staff members promoted to leadership positions. Jon Weinrich was accepted as the Dean of Students/ Transportation Supervisor and Holly Scherff was approved for the Lead Driver position. Sarah F. Martin and Traci Toms were appointed as mentor teachers. They will serve our staff and students well.

I am pleased the Board agreed to purchase two new buses, a new truck, and tractor. These purchases will upgrade our bus fleet and allow us to retire some buses that have been well used. The new truck and tractor will help the maintenance department do their work more efficiently.

Additional bids were approved for the Food Service Department and repairs for the Tennis Courts.  The Tennis Court repair will seal the existing cracks and coat the court.  Some consideration was given to replacing the courts, but it is not realistic to complete this project at this time.  Replacing the courts is something we will need to consider in the future. We need to do some planning to identify how to pay for the project as the replacement is an expensive project to complete.

The Board did agree to enter into an agreement with the City of Shenandoah to use the Bricker Botanical Center. Being able to use the greenhouse will be an excellent opportunity for our agriculture and FFA students.  It will also allow our students to participate in growing food that can be used in the District's food service program. I am pleased the greenhouse will remain at the current location. It will allow our students to participate in work-based learning experiences and be visible in the community.

The On the Job Training contract with Iowa Western Community College was also approved. This contract will allow the District to be reimbursed for part of our new Information Technology Assistant's salary.  This is a great opportunity for the District, Iowa Western Community College, and Mr. Scanlan our new Information Technology Assistant.

The Board discussed possible updates to the meal charge policy, IASB Legislative Priorities, Flex Funding options, and visiting career technical education centers in Nebraska.  After some discussion, the Board decided to replace the lighting in the High School gym with LED lights. The cost of the project is estimated to be under $11,000 with the rebates that are available.

The Board had some good discussion and was able to come to consensus quickly to make these decisions.  I appreciate their effort to participate as volunteers to come together and do good work for the District.

Joining Our Team & Some Board News

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