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  • Voter Approved PPEL Reauthorization Vote Set for April 2nd

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 3/19/2019 5:30:00 PM

    Where can we vote and when?

    Voting locations will be the Community Center in Alta and the Community Center in Aurelia.  Patrons living in the previous Alta School District will vote in Alta. Patrons living in the previous Aurelia School District will vote in Aurelia. Both locations will be open from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. on April 2nd

    What is a Voter Approved Physical Plant and Equipment Levy and why does the Alta-Aurelia School District need to reauthorize a voter approved Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL)?

    The current Voter Approved Physical Plant and Equipment Levy expires in Fiscal Year 2020 and needs to be acted upon by the citizens of our district in order for it to be extended. Reauthorizing the PPEL will have no negative effect on the current property tax rate. This is not a new tax nor is it a tax increase. It is simply reauthorizing a current levy that was voted into place within the past 10 years. 

    What’s this income surtax? 

    The reauthorization resolution includes a mix of income surtax and property tax This has two positive effects.  First, by adding a mix of income surtax and property tax it will help keep property taxes low over time. Secondly, the current Physical Plant and Equipment Levy is entirely a property tax which places a disproportionate burden on the property tax owners. Adding a mix of income surtax and property tax spreads some of that responsibility out.

    How can PPEL funds be used by a school district?

    Public schools in Iowa have a number of funding streams and each of these come with specific guidelines on how these funds might be utilized by the school.  Specifically, the Alta-Aurelia School District uses PPEL funds for building and grounds improvement/upkeep, athletic facility improvements/upkeep, elementary boiler replacement, Roof replacement and repairs, tuck pointing repairs, technology/student computer updates and improvements, school safety improvements and for the purchase of buses/vehicles for safe student transportation.             

    These types of “brick and mortar” projects and equipment purchases are paid using the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy  (dollars generated through the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy CAN NOT be used for employee salaries or other General Fund expenses.)                             

    How long would this voted PPEL be in place?

    A voter approved PPEL tax can only be put in place for ten years.

    What are the proposed improvements a successful vote might bring? 

    Boilers - the existing elementary boiler is original to the building (roughly 50 years old) and is beyond its useful life. Additionally, the only boiler for the old Alta high school and gym is under the old high school making renovation for school and community use of the gym/shop area difficult and that particular boiler is about 40 years old.

    Transportation - maintaining a modern fleet of vehicles is important for safe student transportation. This not only includes buses, but vans and suburbans. The school board has made maintaining a safe and modern fleet a priority in future budgeting.

    School Building Safety – Updates and additions to surveillance and site monitoring equipment for all buildings as well as improvements to controlled entrances.

    Technology - Increased access to mobile laptop labs at the high school and middle school level. Adding additional mobile labs of tablet computers (similar to iPads) for the elementary schools. Improving the wireless network throughout the buildings to increase access speed, safety and reliability. 

    Tuck Pointing – Brick walls and brick siding require periodic tuck pointing to reduce water penetration and deterioration due to weather.

    Roof Replacements – The school district has a roof replacement cycle in place.  Maintaining structurally sound roofs is important to maintaining the overall condition of the buildings.

    Window Replacement – Due to the age of windows in the elementary and middle school facilities will become necessary. This will also improve energy efficiency

    Continue to update lighting to high-efficiency LEDs – We have begun the replacement of fluorescent lighting with high-efficiency LED lighting in the gyms, cafeterias, high school hallways and high school classrooms. The future plans are to continue to upgrade lighting in the elementary schools and middle school. 

    Possible classroom additions – If the trend of increasing enrollment at the elementary level there will become a time that the district will need to add classroom space.  By using SAVE and PPEL funds for future classroom additions it may reduce the need for a bond issue in the future, and bond issues raise property taxes!

    Additional information to consider.

    This is not a new tax. Prior to the school reorganizations, Alta passed their first Voter Approve PPEL in 2011.  Aurelia had a Voter Approved PPEL in place for a number of years.  This has been used wisely by the our Boards of Education and the revenue received has allowed for recent improvements in handicap accessibility, roof replacements, annual bus purchase, track renovations, technology purchases and upgrades, utility tractor purchase, athletic field improvements, and equipment purchases for band and vocal music. 

    All patrons are encouraged to get out and exercise your right to vote.  The Alta-Aurelia Community Schools appreciates your support!

     

    Comments (-1)
  • Professional Development and Authentic Intellectual Work

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 1/28/2019

    In our annual Master Calendar, time is set aside for "professional development."  So, what goes on during those early dismissal hours? Or the hours spent during days of no school for professional development?

    We want the best-trained staff possible working with our students. We want teachers knowledgeable on the current best practices in education that will improve student achievement.  Research-based methods are continually evolving and emerging as new research becomes available.  

    To help teachers keep up on those best practices and research-based methods, we take time to learn about these practices and how to implement them effectively in our classrooms.  This is why locally delivered professional development is important for the continual improvement of our school.  Data supports learning that is embedded in the teachers work over taking classes or attending workshops away from the local district (although we do still support some of that individual learning as well). 

    The District Leadership Team, which is comprised of principals, teacher leaders and the superintendent (18 members) work together to design professional development plans for the year.  Feedback from previous professional development activities is reviewed, along with student achievement data (both annual data and data trends over time). District and building level goals are reviewed and professional development is planned with the purpose of helping the district meet student achievement goals.  Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) was brought in for a few specific reasons.  

    The research supports that student achievement in all academic disciplines should improve when the AIW framework is implemented.  The research also supports that the AIW framework can be implemented at all grade levels.  Implementing across disciplines and across grade levels develops a more consistent and unified approach to lesson design throughout the district and it involves the entire teaching staff in working toward achieving our academic goals.  One of the most difficult things in designing a professional development plan is making it meaningful and relevant for all teachers.  Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) helps in that regard.

    The body of research on AIW spans over 20 years and includes studies of schools from across the U.S. The Iowa Department of Education conducted its own evaluation from 20070-2011 and its findings were similar to the research conducted at the AIW Institute in Wisconsin.  As this body of research has consistently demonstrated, the achievement benefits occurred on both assessments of authentic intellectual performance and conventional standardized tests of basic skills across all grades and all subjects studied.  In other words, when the AIW framework is used with fidelity, student achievement improves in all disciplines.  

    The AIW framework is not discipline or grade level specific, and its not a "teaching methodology."  AIW focuses on design "tasks" or student work that helps students construct knowledge, apply past learning to new problems or situations, gain a deeper understanding of the material. This makes the lessons more engaging and relevant for the students.

    Implementing the AIW framework requires that teachers work collaboratively in professional learning committees or PLC's.  We know from past research that professional learning is more meaningful and more effective when adults have an opportunity to collaborate.  

    Teachers are beginning to review more deeply student work based on lessons designed using the AIW framework in their PLC's. The intent is to get feedback from members of their PLC to improve lesson design using the AIW framework.  Additionally, the PLC allows teachers to work with others that they may not get a chance to work with on a daily basis (i.e. teachers from other buildings or other grade levels).

    The results have been a marked increase in student achievement in the areas of elementary and middle school math, and steady growth over time in all other areas (science and reading) at all grade levels with the exception of one.  

    AIW is not the sole reason for this improvement. We have also implemented additional research-based teaching strategies in reading and math at the elementary and middle school levels.  We have updated textbooks and teaching materials in reading, English/Language Arts, math, science, and social studies over the past 4 years. This is in addition to the discipline-specific workshops and training that teachers have been attending during the summer months. But AIW is the overarching piece.

    Comments (-1)
  • Preparing for Parent/Teacher Conferences

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 10/24/2018 3:00:00 PM

    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 reasons and concerns. Nothing replaces a face-to-face conversation.  In my experience, sometimes 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 straightforward, 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, etc... 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. 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.

    Comments (-1)
  • Red Ball Jets

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 8/23/2018 8:00:00 PM

    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!

    Comments (-1)
  • School Funding and Property Tax Rates

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 3/21/2018 3:00:00 PM

    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.

    Local property taxes account for approximately one-third of the total funds going into districts’ programs and represent roughly 40% of the overall state property tax funds levied. The state's school funding formula largely determines school property tax rates and, therefore, the amount each district receives in state aid.

    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.

    • It would take away roughly $1.5 billion dollars statewide, leaving lawmakers to decide whether to raise the state sales tax or income taxes to make up that difference.
    • Property taxes also add stability to the funding of school districts. For example, if we operated solely under the sales tax, the amount available for school funding would surely fluctuate depending on consumer spending.
    • Just as many people found out during the 1990s, too much reliance on a single funding source invites large swings in funding, which isn’t good for an entity unable to adjust to midyear revenue changes. Diversification is a prudent investing strategy that applies to schools as well.

    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 

    Once all school districts establish their budgets based on the combination of state aid and local property taxes they receive, there are still restrictions on where and how that funding can be spent.  This is known as "Dillion's Rule" and will be a topic of discussion in a future article.
     


     
    Comments (-1)
  • Homework Hints

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 2/14/2018 10:25:00 AM

    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.

    Help your child stay focused and motivated. A lot of parents have trouble during homework time because they feel like they're the wardens in a prison.

    The key is to balance supervision with encouragement, allowing your child the freedom to complete his or her assignments while making sure that homework gets done. If your child seems continuously distracted during homework time, consult with the school to see if there's a larger underlying issue.

    Encourage plenty of breaks.  There's a good body of research that says that if children take frequent breaks, they're more productive than if they do homework for a long period of time.  One idea is to set a timer for 20 minutes when the time is up, parents should quickly review homework, offer encouragement and allot for a short break.  Also, students need water; it's energizing and refreshing. Steer children away from sugary sweets during homework time. A nutritious snack, a quick walk around the house or even listening to a favorite song during breaks is advisable.
     
    Keep track of shorter and longer projects alike. Get a big calendar and know your child. If your child procrastinates, break longer projects into mini-steps, and check in frequently. It takes the pressure off the child and puts it on the calendar. When possible, include work "assignments" for parents and other members of the family as well; this may set a positive example and motivate
    your child to keep track of his or her own projects better.

    Talk to the school. Don't skip the step of talking to your child's teacher. Teachers can fill parents in on homework expectations, give advice about study skills and techniques, and even recommend outside help if needed.  Our Middle School offers school-sponsored homework help programs allowing students to stay late and receive help from teachers or tutors. High School and Elementary teachers offer the same services by arrangement.  Take advantage of them!


    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. 

    Comments (-1)
  • Tornado Safe Room Updates

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 12/20/2017 8:00:00 AM
     
    Most of our readers have probably seen articles in the newspaper, or on TV news, about the "Grand Opening" of the tornado safe room in Alta.  This event was held on December 15th to celebrate the school taking possession of the building after the substantial completion date.  I have had the privilege of being a part of a number of building projects and remodeling projects in schools and this is the first one that was actually "substantially complete" on the originally scheduled date.  This is in large part to the great work of our architect (WWA), the general contractor (L&L Builders) and all of the sub-contractors working together as a team.  
     
    "Substantially complete" does not mean totally done.  There are a few items left to compete.  The newly remodeled elementary office is totally complete and we have begun the process of moving in.  Elementary office operations and the newly constructed main entrance will be in use immediately after the Christmas break.  The procedure for entrance into the building remains the same as before construction.  Visitors (after the beginning of the school day) will need to push the intercom button to the left of the door to request entrance.
     
    One part that the school has not yet taken possession (at the time of writing this article) is the preschool space.  The finish work on the floor was not accepted by the owner (the school), and work to correct it has been scheduled to begin January 2nd. 
     
    Originally, the plan was to relocate the preschool over the holiday break, but that will be put on hold until that work on the flooring is completed and formally accepted.  It is entirely possible that the preschool will remain in its current location for the remainder of the school year, at this point, with the final move taking place over the summer.  Not what we had hoped for, but in my mind, that facility is going to stand for many years after most of us are gone.  It is more important that it is completed to our intended specifications rather than rushing to get moved in.  Overall, the work has been impressive and all parties have been great to work with on this exciting addition to our school system!
    Comments (-1)
  • Give the Gift of Reading to Children This Christmas!

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 12/19/2017 2:00:00 PM
    The single most important thing that a parent can do to help their child acquire language, prepare their child for school, and instill a love of learning in their child, is to read to them. Many people do not fully understand the enormous, positive impact that this simple act has on the life of a child. 
     
    When someone reads to a child, they are exposing that child to more than just the words on the page; they are demonstrating proper speech patterns, the basics of how a book is read (i.e., from left to right, top to bottom, etc.), and the excitement that reading can bring. While learning to read occurs throughout the school years, preparing children to read before they start school is better than helping them catch up later. Pre-reading skills, such as reading from left to right, turning pages as you read, and understanding that letters make the words that make up stories, are critical for children to learn prior to their first day of school.
     
    In addition to planting the language seed and preparing a child for school, reading aloud to a child may do something even more important, instill a life-long love of learning and create a bond between the child and the individual who is reading to them. When a child is being read to, there are no other distractions that are taking that adult's attention away. In today’s world where everyone is reachable at all times, it is rare for a child to have time where they are the priority and nothing else matters. 
     
    Reading to a child is a great way to connect with your child and build a bond around learning. One way to do that is to select books that are enjoyable to both the parent and the child. Try reading books that you remember from your childhood. These books can bring back positive memories that you can then pass on to your child while reading. If you are excited about reading to your child, your child will be excited to listen. The more you do it, the easier and more fun it will become. Soon it will be part of your daily routine and it will be the easiest and most fun way to prepare your child for their future.
     
    With all of the information available pointing to the general importance of reading to children, what are some specific recommendations? As long as the reader and listener are interested in what is being read, it doesn't matter what the book is. Even picture books and language in simple children’s books will enhance a child's learning and vocabulary because of the conversations between the parent and the child which take place around books and stories. Some of the best books to read to children are rhyming books because they help emphasize patterns of sounds that are helpful to the child when they begin to sound out words and letters. The greatest and longest lasting benefits have been shown in children who are read to three or more times a week.
     
    Reading to a child can make learning and achieving in school easier. So, with the holidays coming up, instead of a buying new toy that may be played with only a few times, buy them a book that you used to love as a child and read it to them. You will have fun, create a wonderful bond, and help them learn all at the same time.
     
    "Tornado Safe Room"
     
    Most of our readers have probably seen articles in the newspaper, or on TV news, about the "Grand Opening" of the tornado safe room in Alta.  This event was held on December 15th to celebrate the school taking possession of the building after the substantial completion date.  I have had the privilege of being a part of a number of building projects and remodeling projects in schools and this is the first one that was actually "substantially complete" on the originally scheduled date.  This is in large part to the great work of our architect (WWA), the general contractor (L&L Builders) and all of the sub-contractors working together as a team.  
     
    "Substantially complete" does not mean totally done.  There are a few items left to compete.  The newly remodeled elementary office is totally complete and we have begun the process of moving in.  Elementary office operations and the newly constructed main entrance will be in use immediately after the Christmas break.  The procedure for entrance into the building remains the same as before construction.  Visitors (after the beginning of the school day) will need to push the intercom button to the left of the door to request entrance.
     
    One part that the school has not yet taken possession (at the time of writing this article) is the preschool space.  The finish work on the floor was not accepted by the owner (the school), and work to correct it has been scheduled to begin January 2nd. 
     
    Originally, the plan was to relocate the preschool over the holiday break, but that will be put on hold until that work on the flooring is completed and formally accepted.  It is entirely possible that the preschool will remain in its current location for the remainder of the school year, at this point, with the final move taking place over the summer.   Not what we had hoped for, but in my mind, that facility is going to stand for many years after most of us are gone.  It is more important that it is completed to our intended specifications rather than rushing to get moved in.  Overall, the work has been impressive and all parties have been great to work with on this exciting addition to our school system!
    Comments (-1)
  • Filling Their Backpacks

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 11/21/2017 12:10:00 PM

    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.

     

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  • Preparing for Parent/Teacher Conferences: A Few Helpful Tips for Parents

    Posted by Lynn Evans on 10/23/2017 11:00:00 AM

    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.

     
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