For all official district level information
I'm dating myself with this one......
The start of every school year gets me thinking back to my youth and getting ready for that first day of school. Buying the school supplies. The new lunch box and thermos. And those new gym shoes! I remember when I was in elementary we were required to have shoes just for Physical Education. Our "gym" shoes. And there was nothing like having a pair of Red Ball Jets!
Every kid wanted a pair of Red Ball Jets because of the advertisement. It showed kids leaping over wagons, hurtling tall bushes and outrunning big dogs. I still remember the tagline: “Red Ball Jets. They make you run faster and jump higher.” The shoes had supernatural powers. I had to have a pair! The anticipation of school starting grew exponentially at thought of getting wear these shoes in gym class. I was going to be so cool!
Now I get to prepare for the start of school from a whole different vantage point, but no less exciting. This school year marks our first as Alta-Aurelia Community Schools. Ever since the start of the whole grade sharing, we have called ourselves Alta-Aurelia but in reality, there was no legal entity or school district named "Alta-Aurelia." There was the Alta Community School District and the Aurelia Community School District. The two separate districts had simply agreed to share students and activities.
Now, as of July 1st, we are Alta-Aurelia Community School District. A new, legal entity. Pretty exciting! Not as flashy as a new pair of gym shoes, or a new backpack, or the latest trapper-keeper, but exciting none the less. A big pat on the back goes to all involved in making this a smooth transition. Students, staff, parents, and school board members. From the very beginning of the sharing, the positives have far outweighed the few nay-sayers. And even though, unlike the Red Ball Jet ad, we can't proclaim that this new school district will make us more successful, or provide a better education. But we can confidently state that the new opportunities this new reorganization allows for are only limited by ourselves and our imaginations.
I am looking forward to a great start of a new school year and the great start of a new, outstanding school district. It's a great day to be an Alta-Aurelia Warrior!
Iowa law guarantees that every child in the state receives an “equal” amount of money to fund his/her education. A district’s budget is basically derived from the number of children enrolled in the district multiplied by the district’s cost per child. However, economic factors change from year-to-year, and it is up to state lawmakers to decide just how much to increase the cost per child to reflect that change. This increase used to be called “allowable growth" and is now referred to as "State Supplemental Aid Increase."
Patti Schroeder, education finance co-director for the Iowa Association of School Boards, explains the principle this way: “Under the basic finance formula, each district’s spending is based upon a district cost per pupil. The total amount the district is allowed to spend is that per-pupil amount times the number of students enrolled. A district can spend less than the maximum, but cannot spend more.” So in this way, school districts are budget limited in what we can spend. We have limited flexibility to increase revenues and spend authority through the current tax system.
An allowable growth rate is recommended by the Governor and established by the Legislature. The rate is multiplied by the state cost per pupil to calculate an allowable growth amount per pupil. All districts receive the same amount per pupil. Allowable growth per pupil is intended to further provide equity in school districts throughout the state. The legislature set a principle that each child is worth the same amount, no matter where he/she lives. Recently our legislature set an allowable growth rate for school at a 1.0% increase. This equates to an increase of $67 per student.
People often ask, "Why don't we just remove property taxes from the formula entirely?" There are several reasons why this isn’t a wise move.
Considering the aforementioned reasons and the present revenue and political climate, removing property taxes from the school finance formula seems unlikely.
Due to changes in our school district's budgeting practices, whole grade sharing, and operating as lean as possible, we have been able to maximize our local and state funding sources. This, along with increased property valuations, has allowed our local school property taxes in both the Alta and Aurelia school districts to come down over the past 4 years. If the current trend from the capitol to underfund schools continues, taxes will go back up.
No public official, whether our local school board members and administrators or the city and county officials, take the impact of raising property taxes lightly. In most cases, public officials exhaust all other options before asking property taxpayers for more funds. However, when the General Assembly cuts short our state aid and we experience additional, unforeseen expenses such as increased fuel and energy prices, we really have no alternative except to raise local property taxes or reduce expenditures. Seventy-five to 85 percent of school district budgets are comprised of salary and benefit costs, which doesn’t leave much discretionary spending to cut. No one likes property taxes, but they are an essential part of efficient funding of our schools.
Next year's tax rate for Alta taxpayers will be set at $9.69 (a $2.00 reduction from last year). The tax rate for Aurelia taxpayers will be set at $8.52 (a reduction of over $1.00from last year). We are fortunate in the short term that local Alta-Aurelia School District taxes will be reduced. This is a direct product of the school reorganization that will take effect on July 1st. For school's reorganizing, the foundation levy is reduced by the state from $5.40 to $4.40 the first year and gradually increases back to $5.40 over the next three years.
Currently, 70% of the total Alta-Aurelia levy rate is determined by the State's school funding formula. 15% of the total levy rate is voter controlled and 15% is controlled by the school board. The
Homework is an important part of the educational process. Learning to manage time and prioritizing activities are important life-lessons. High-quality homework reinforces the curriculum, offers enrichment activities, and can help engage the parents in their child’s learning. The third quarter of any school year can be a difficult time to keep students motivated on homework completion. The winter weather tends to wear on all of us and the activity schedules are very busy right after the holiday break. Finding the time, or the proper place, to complete homework is a challenge. Students can get stressed over their time commitments and getting homework assignments completed
Students aren't the only ones concerned with homework - parents are also eager to help their children master assignments. It's important to make homework time a productive time. Parents need to learn how to support their children in doing homework without feeling like they are doing it for them. Doing so isn't as hard as it sounds, with the help of a few tips:
Set up the right environment. Parents can provide children with a place to get homework done. This should be a quiet, clean, organized and not cluttered spot. While many kids may thrive under complete silence, some experts recommend quietly playing classical music in the background, citing surveys that tout increased productivity in homework while listening.
Don't be afraid not to know all the answers. Even the best parent may be stumped by long division or the meaning of "Moby Dick" at times. It's OK not to know because what school is all about is instilling the desire to learn. Be willing to look up the answers along with your child to help foster his or her love for learning.
John Dewey said, "Education is not preparation for life. Education is life."
There are few professions where you can see the impact of your work so vividly. There aren't many jobs where hero, friend and mentor are part of the job description. There are few careers that have such a lasting impact on an entire generation.
I like teaching. I like learning about teaching. And I especially like reading others' teaching philosophies. I love it when teachers select analogies, such as, “teaching is like lighting a bonfire”, or “teaching is like giving students wings”, that explain, instruct and inspire.
For me, teaching is a little like stuffing a backpack. You know the ones I mean, the heavy-duty, oversize backpacks that students shoulder down the halls of our schools. In these metaphorical backpacks, students carry with them the knowledge and skills they will need for their journey through life. When students enter our classrooms, their backpacks have already been partially filled by families, life experiences and other instructors. The backpacks are deep and sometimes it's hard to see what they are carrying in there.
Through our teaching, we attempt to place items in our student' backpacks. All children do not arrive to school with a backpack full of the same experiences, nor are they all equally full. When students first enter our classrooms, we must determine what is in the backpack and begin filling from there. We add the foundations of language, reading, mathematics, the mechanics of writing and skill development. We pack in sharing and caring, character development, listening skills. Art, music and physical wellness are placed in the pack as well.
By this time, the students' backpacks are pretty full, but we're not done yet. Our next job is to expand their backpacks so that more will fit in them. We do this by asking them to analyze, question and think.
As children grow and mature, we ask them to look at what is in their backpacks and apply the items to real world situations. Sometimes, we can actually see their backpacks grow during class as they experience new ways of thinking about an issue. And sometimes students have to discard something from the bottom of their backpacks that has lain there, unexamined, for many years to make room for a new idea.
The good thing about stuffing a backpack is that it’s a lot of fun! We also know that as soon as students are out of our sight, they dump things out of the backpack to lighten the load. With these characteristics in mind, we can't just force items into the backpack. We have to get students to want to carry our backpack stuffers around. So we try new things in teaching. What do students discard? How can we get items to stick around longer in the backpack? Will this exercise expand that backpack or not? Mistakes are okay, because we can always try again. In addition, we find that the students might not notice how heavy the backpack has become if the stuffing process is interesting and even entertaining.
As students move through our school system, eventually they leave us. Hopefully, they take with them backpacks that are full of all the tools they need for a fulfilling life. Our sincere desire is that they journey farther than we have, see more, and achieve more. And somewhere along the way, they'll pull something out of their backpacks and think of a teacher who placed it there.
As a school administrator, I’ve seen and been involved with a lot of different parent-teacher conferences. Teachers are encouraged to contact parents for both positive and negative reasons and nothing replaces a face-to-face conversation. In my experience, often times parents are uncomfortable in a parent/teacher conference setting. Most want to be a positive and productive part the discussion, but are unsure how to approach the meeting. Below, are a few tips that will help you navigate your child’s parent-teacher conference and make it a more positive experience.
Know who your child’s teachers are. This one seems fairly simple and straight forward, yet there are parents that are unsure about whom their children’s teachers are. This is somewhat understandable with children changing grade levels and new staff being hired over the summer. It is important for parents to get to know their children’s teachers. Many teachers send home weekly newsletters in elementary, and all teachers are to have a teacher page on the school’s website. These are places to start to get to know the teachers prior to that first parent/teacher conference.
Don’t drop in unexpected. Teachers are professionals, just like doctors, lawyers, ect... Unfortunately, they are not often given the same privileges or courtesies. If a teacher has an opportunity to prepare for the meeting, it will make the actual conference go much more smoothly. This is why we have scheduled parent/teacher conferences throughout the school year. This way parents and teachers can have uninterrupted time to talk about your child’s education and progress. If, for some reason you were unable to schedule a time for your child’s parent/teacher conference, please contact the office and the building secretary can help you set one up. Our goal is always 100% attendance. It is that important to us as a school district.
Encourage your child to take ownership. Nothing is more detrimental to a conference than to have discussions about parent and teacher responsibilities without discussing the child’s responsibilities. I look at learning as a triangle: it cannot be complete without all three—the teacher, the parent(s), and the child—doing their part. The habits that children establish in school will follow them into college and beyond.
Don’t focus solely on the grade. Straight A’s seem ideal, but the letter grade may not reflect whether or not your child is getting everything out of school that he or she can. Is there something more they can be accomplishing? It is possible (and we see this often) that a student who experiences academic success early in school will begin to “coast”, or assume that school is easy for them. As they approach intermediate grades and middle school, this can create a lackluster set of study habits. Additionally, if your child is having some difficulty in a class, you need to evaluate whether or not they’re still learning the material. Just because a student has a low grade (or a grade lower than you want to expect) doesn’t mean they aren’t learning anything; they may just be struggling with a particular type of assignment in the class. Have that discussion with the teacher, whether they are getting all A’s or having some struggles, “Is my child learning the material?” and “Is my child progressing (showing improvement)?”
Hold the teacher accountable for grading procedures. If a student earns a certain grade, the teacher should be able to explain why the student received what they did. Make sure to ask about the grading rubric for the class so that the teacher can explain the breakdown of what those grades mean. A student may have 15 perfect grades, but if they are all homework, that will only take the student so far until they reach quizzes and tests. Most classes now are not graded solely based points, or percentages. Showing competency on grade level standards also factor in quite often now.
Don’t reach out to the principal until you talk to the teacher. If you call the principal about an issue in class, one of the first questions to come up will be, “Have you spoken with the teacher?” Until this happens, nothing of merit will come from the conversation. Make sure to communicate with the teacher first, particularly with regard to grading and behavior. There’s often no need to involve the principal. Additionally, don’t be alarmed if a teacher asks for the principal to be present during a conference, particularly if the teacher is less experienced.
Keep the meeting about your child. A parent-teacher conference is intended to be about your child, and how they are doing in class. The topic needs to stay on that. The conversations sometimes begin to veer off course and become about another student, or unrelated issues outside of school. If this occurs, either the teacher or the parent should politely redirect the conversation back to how your child is doing in school.
Don’t share too much personal information in the conversation. Because of the nature of teaching, teachers are privy to more information about a child than most. However, this should not be a license to share everything you have to say about your child’s life outside of school, another parent, family issues, gossip, or other non-relevant information. Keep the information you share centered on your child. If the information you are sharing is pertinent medical, academic, or social information, then the teacher may be able to use that information to help your child be more successful in class.
Teachers understand that you are looking out for your child. They want you to be confident in their classroom expertise and in their ability to encourage learning and growth. By using these tips, I hope you can positively shape your next parent-teacher conference and give your children the best opportunity for success.
On Tuesday, September 12th, the reorganization vote for the Alta Community School District and the Aurelia Community School District passed by very wide margins. The support was more than we had expected and truly inspiring. This was a historic day that will mark the beginning of the newly formed Alta-Aurelia Community School District. The new school district is slated to begin, officially, on July 1st 2018. So, what happens now?
For the users (students, parents, staff) very little changes. The new district will function, systemically, just as it has through whole grade sharing. No grade level assignments will change in the near future, nor building assignments. We felt it very important for the students, parents and staff to maintain that consistency that has, for the most part, functioned very well over the past six years.
When we first started whole grade sharing, we took a systems approach in most everything we did. We aligned curriculum together, purchased and adopted new materials together when needed. We set academic and student achievement goals together. We planned and brought elementary students together for field trips/pep rally’s/special events. We held all of our professional development together. We maintained the same budgeting practices, and ordered supplies/materials together. All of this was to meet two goals. First, it enabled both school districts to become more efficient financially and educationally. Second, to make the transition from elementary (which were separate) to middle school and high school as seamless as possible socially and academically for our students. We also now believe that it was this systems thinking approach that has helped ease the transition from whole grade sharing to reorganization for our communities and patrons.
Moving forward, the following are some of the things (but probably not all) that need to occur between the vote passing and the start of the next school year:
This is not an all-encompassing list but it shows that there is a great deal to complete between now and July 1st for the new board. This is an exciting time to be a Warrior!
Alta-Aurelia School Reorganization Information
Alta and Aurelia School Superintendent Lynn Evans
On Tuesday September 12th, the vote for school reorganization will take place. After 7 years of successful sharing, we are preparing to create a newly formed Alta-Aurelia School District. These are truly exciting times!
When patrons go to vote, they will actually find TWO ballots to be approved by the public on September 12th.
The first one, "Reorganization Ballot Proposition A" is to approve the reorganization of the Alta Community School District and the Aurelia Community School District to become the newly formed Alta-Aurelia Community School District. This is the vote for reorganziation.
The second one, "One-Cent Sales Tax Revenue Purpose Statement Ballot Proposition B" is to approve a Revenue Purpose Statement for the use of funds received by the school district for the expenditures allowed in law. Currently, both Alta and Aurelia have separate Revenue Purpose Statements. These become invalid with the newly formed district so this needs to be approved by the public for the newly formed Alta-Aurelia Community School District. If not approved, the new Alta-Aurelia Schools can not legally spend the revenue received from the state-wide one cent sales tax.
It is NOT a new tax. We are already receiving the funds from the statewide penny tax (which is formally called the State of Iowa Secure an Advanced Vision for Education fund or SAVE). We use these funds to purchase computers and other forms of educational technology, buses, small vehicles, maintain buildings and grounds, replace roofs, and pay for remodeling, renovations, and construction projects. By using the dollars from the statewide penny for these projects, we are able to keep propery taxes low for our patrons.
Will my property taxes go up?
The short answer is "No." The first three years, you should actually see your property taxes go down. Part of the financial incentives to reorganize is a $1 reduction in property taxes the first year. The tax rate comes back incrementally over the next three years. Even after those first three years, property taxes will remain at the low rate we have become accustomed to.
Alta has a Debt Service Levy (Bond Issue). Who's going to pay that off?
The Alta School District passed a bond issue in 2001 to construct the part of the building that contains the gymnasium and classrooms originally used for middle school (now converted to high school rooms). This bond issue expires at the end of fiscal year 2021. Payment of this Debt Service Levy will remain with the tax payers in the historical Alta School District until paid off (one fiscal year after reorganization would begin). Reason for this is that the bond issue was passed solely by Alta taxpayers and Aurelia taxpayers did not have the opportunity to vote on the special levy. Also, it will be paid off only one year after the reorganization. The current rate of the Alta Debt Service Levy is $1.20.
How will the School Board be made up?
After the reorganization vote passes, a seven member transitional board will be formed from existing board members. Four members appointed from the Alta School Board, two members appointed from the Aurelia School Board and one member appointed unanamously at-large. This make-up is determined solely by school district population. For the year prior to the reorganization beginning, this board will work solely on the reorganization issues. During this time BOTH the Alta School Board and the Aurelia School Board will remain intact. So for one year we will actually have three school boards, Alta, Aurelia and the transitional board.
In July of 2019, the seven member transitional board will be reduced down to a five member board consisting of existing board members. This new board will serve as the first Alta-Aurelia School Board. Three members will be appointed from the Alta Board, one appointed from the Aurelia Board and one appointed unanamously at-large. This board will remain in tact and in effect for the first two years of reorganization. After the first two years of reorganization new members will be voted on as current member terms expire. Terms will be staggered so not all member terms expire on the same year. This means no major change in board governance until the 2021 election. New members will be voted on at-large.
What changes will happen after reorganization?
Since we have worked hard to operate as one school system from the beginning and run efficiently as possible the past seven years, we anticipate no change in service or grade alignment in the immediate future. To the students, parents and staff there will be major no changes seen. We will look for additional efficiencies in transportation and other operational services but in the classrooms and buildings the day after reorganization will look just as it did prior to reorganization.
We currently need all of the educational space and buildings we are using to serve students. There are approximately 475 students being served in the Alta building and approximatley 315 students being served in the Aurelia building. Both buildings are running at capacity with a little room for growth. Both facilities are needed and will continue to be needed as we are anticipating enrollment to remain stable to slightly increase over the next few years.
In future years, when the opportunity arises to become more efficient in how we deliver education or become more efficient in operations, they will be explored and acted on as needed.
All patrons living in the Alta and Aurelia school districts are encouraged to get out and vote on September 12th. Absentee ballots are being accepted. Contact your county courthouse for information on absentee ballots. These are exciting times and we appreciate the communities' continued support.
If there are any questions or comments, feel free to contact Mr. Evans at either the Alta Community School or Aurelia Community School.
Early Childhood Programs – The Foundation of a Great Education
The academic, emotional, social and physical development of young children has a direct effect on their overall development and on the adult they will become. That is why understanding the need to invest in very young children is so important, so as to maximize their future well-being. The Alta-Aurelia school system takes the development of our early learners very seriously. We take a research-based, developmental appropriate approach for our Preschool, Transitional Kindergarten, and Kindergarten programs. Each of these programs is aligned with the Iowa Core Curriculum Standards, and is every day/all day programs. Each of our Early Childhood programs employ fully licensed teachers with Early Childhood Education endorsements.
Reasons for a Quality Preschool Education
1. Brain development is highest during the first four years of life. The brain is forming important neural paths to help develop the child's ability to perform and function and learn well. Children are able to learn at a rapid rate and want and need to learn new information. Your child can benefit immensely when interacting in a quality preschool, which is content rich with appropriate information and materials.
2. Structure is vital for the young preschooler and children thrive in a loving, structured environment with stimulating colors, sounds, textures, classroom layout, varying activities and books. Children learn routines and expectations and begin to look forward to the next activity.
Once they are settled into the structure and routine of the preschool classroom, a solid framework is established for their future school career which will be much more structured and demanding.
3. Social skills are important to learn at this age rather than waiting until Kindergarten age or later. Social skills such as learning how to listen, nice talk, brave talk, taking turns, apologies, when to say please and thank you, how to speak in a group, helping each other, learning compassion and empathy.
4. Academics are now being emphasized more than in past years because there is more research substantiating that a child is able to learn and perform more than what we used to expect.
Are all children going to learn to write letters well at the age of four? No. But given the opportunity to have a writing center with all different kinds of writing utensils and paper, the child will begin to strengthen fine motor skills, which are needed to learn how to write properly. Kindergartens expect the child to enter school knowing how to print the alphabet, numbers 1-10 (some 1-20), write their first and last name, display basic social skills and have an ability to comprehend and follow directions.
What is Transitional Kindergarten (TK)?
Transitional Kindergarten, often referred to as TK, is an exciting educational opportunity for kindergarten age students with late birthdays. It is the first phase of a Kindergarten program that uses age-appropriate curricula aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Transitional Kindergarten acts as a bridge between preschool and Kindergarten and is designed to provide our youngest 5 year old learners with the pivotal skills and experiences needed for success in Kindergarten. Students eligible for Kindergarten are also eligible for TK.
Entering Kindergarten at an older age is an important early predictor for student success. Some studies indicate that students who are older when they enter Kindergarten demonstrate a significant boost in academic achievement, self-confidence, and healthful attitudes about school and learning.
How is Transitional Kindergarten different from Preschool?
The standards, curricula and teacher credentialing requirements in Transitional Kindergarten are different than those in preschool. Transitional Kindergarten is aligned to the Common Core State Standards, is an academic program, and is taught by fully credentialed teachers. Transitional Kindergarten builds on the skills children may have learned in preschool.
How is Transitional Kindergarten different from Kindergarten?
The curriculum in Transitional Kindergarten is modified to meet the needs of younger students. Transitional Kindergarten includes an emphasis on oral language development, literacy immersion, number sense, and it provides collaborative experiences that promote cooperation, self-confidence, self-regulation and healthy attitudes about school and learning.
Parents of Kindergarten age-eligible students, in consultation with the school principal and/or staff, may request enrollment in a Transitional Kindergarten program. Parents must sign a Kindergarten Continuance Form verifying their understanding that they are enrolling their child in a two-year Kindergarten program.
For questions concerning the Preschool, Transitional Kindergarten and/or Kindergarten programs in Alta and Aurelia, please contact the building principals. We are proud of programs we are developing and we enjoy helping parents learn more about them.