Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Things to Think About as A Van Meter CSD Resident

We just finished up our August 2015 School Board Meeting. We covered our normal business, but there are three things citizens of Van Meter should be thinking about for the upcoming school year. They are all related topics and issues you might want to talk to Board members about.

September 8, 2015 is the School Board Election. There are two seats available and four individuals running. Jose' Angel, Brent Haynes, Dan Koster (incumbent,) and Sarah Moore have all decided to put their name in the hat to serve on the board for a four-year term. This is a huge commitment and important to our district. Board members are true servants to our community as they help shape the direction of our district by setting policy and provide input on our vision for what we want our students' learning experiences to be like. They help set our budget and determine where we spend district money. They do this, yet receive no pay for serving. Your input on who represents you is important. Please take the time to vote on Tuesday, September 8. More information about the candidates can be found here.

Also, on the ballot September 8 is the continuation of the Voter Approved Physical Plant and Equipment Levy. If approved by a simple majority, the district can use the generated funds for the following purposes:
  • purchase and improvement of grounds
  • construction of schoolhouses or buildings and opening roads to schoolhouses or buildings
  • purchase, lease, or lease-purchase of equipment or technology exceeding $500 per transaction
  • payment of debts contracted for the erection or construction of schoolhouses or buildings, not including interest on bonds
  • procuring or acquisition of library facilities
  • repairing, remodeling, reconstructing, improving, or expanding the schoolhouses or buildings and additions to existing schoolhouses
  • expenditures for energy conservation
  • rental of facilities
  • purchase of transportation equipment for transporting students
  • purchase or lease-purchase of school buildings
  • equipment purchases for recreational purposes
  • payments to a municipality or other entity as required under section 403.19, subsection 2 [TIF]; and demolition, clean up and other costs incurred within two years of a natural disaster. 

Revenues may not be used for employee salaries or travel; supplies; printing costs or media services; or for any other purpose not expressly authorized by Iowa Code. More information from the Iowa Department of Education can be found here. 

This is not a tax increase. It is a continuation of a voter approved levy from 2008. The community has supported the PPEL since 1999. If you have questions contact a board member or the district office. The District has also created a flyer that has some information. It can be found here.

Another topic of discussion was our increasing enrollment. Last year's student enrollment served was 675 with 23.9% of those students choosing to come here through open enrollment. We anticipated a growth this year of about 25 students. Though it is not official and enrollment can still change, we are anticipating being closer to 725 students for the 2015-16 school year. The estimated percentage of open enrolled in students is almost identical at 24%, but the District and the Board are having discussions on how to manage the open enrolled in population of students. In the past, the District has limited open enrollment for certain grade levels to help control the growth. We are having those discussions again. By October, we hope to have a plan in place to help manage our enrollment moving forward. Though the revenue open enrolled students provide helps increase opportunities for all of our students, we will need to make some decisions to help maintain our mission of personalizing learning for each students' success.

October 1, 2015 is the official count date, but as a point of reference, in 2003, we had 512 students, in 2009 we had 611, and as mentioned, it looks like in 2015 we are going to be closer to 725, so we need to continue to have discussions on the best way to manage our growth. If you have any questions, contact any of our Board members or the District Office.

As patrons of our community, we hope you are engaged in the conversation and participate in the election on September 8, 2015 to determine our Board members and the voter approved PPEL. Again, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact me.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Welcome Back!

Van Meter Teachers:

We are excited to have you back, or here for the 1st time as a new employee of Van Meter Schools. Our school is a special place and we are looking forward to another great year for our students and staff. As you think about the start of the year, there are a few things I hope you consider. I borrowed some of this from Dr. Joe Clark, a school administrator in Ohio.

Start With the Why

We've talked a lot about Simon Sinek's work. If you start with why, you'll make decisions that are best for kids, and you'll demonstrate the skills and dispositions we expect out of our graduates by being a learner who:

  • Communicates
  • Collaborates
  • Creates and Innovates
  • Adapts
  • Solves Problems
  • Thinks Globally
  • Lives Ethically 
  • Perseveres 

Dare to be Great

Being a mediocre teacher can be the easiest job in the world. By treating kids well and not making waves, the mediocre can coast through a long career. But being a great teacher is the hardest job in the world. Great teachers differentiate instruction, put in long hours, worry about their students, facilitate awesome learning activities, give meaningful assessments and let the results of the assessments drive their instruction, and so much more. You can have a long career of mediocrity and never be noticed. But the great ones take risks, make mistakes, and keep trying.

Great teachers teach 35 years, not one year 35 times. Great teachers understand that kids change, technology changes, the research on quality instruction changes. Dusting off lesson plans year after year is a way to doom yourself to mediocrity. It is fine to continue practices that work. But great teachers reflect and adjust constantly. If you aren’t reflecting, you aren't improving.

Your Attitude is Contagious

There will be some challenges this year. Things won't always go well or how you had hoped. What will your attitude be like? Will you find the positives and/or look for solutions? or, Will you complain and be a naysayer? Attitudes are contagious, is your's worth catching?

We can plan and be as proactive as we want, but it won't always go well. We just need to remember that life is 10% what happens and 90% how we respond to it. Others will be watching.

Relationships Matter Most

Everyone will eventually have a retirement party, and everyone at the retirement party will be happy. Will they be happy FOR you retiring or BECAUSE you are retiring? Being a great teacher also means being a great colleague. Be professional and ethical and work collaboratively with your colleagues.

All of your students will one day tell stories about you. Maybe they will tell stories at their class
reunion, or tell stories to their kids or spouse. And you will be a character in every one of your student’s story. What will they say about you? How will you be remembered? That is entirely up to you. Treat kids well. Make sure they describe you with adjectives that make you proud.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Giving Students More Control Over Their Time

One of the challenges most organizations struggle with is having enough time to accomplish the goals it has established. Van Meter Schools is no different. We are constantly looking at ways we can improve upon how we use the time we have with students to provide the most meaningful learning experience possible for each student.

Schools are tasked with a wide range of challenges and expectations. Not only are we an academic institution, we are trying to help develop people who will contribute as citizens in our communities. Our vision is to empower students to be learners who:
  • Communicate
  • Collaborate
  • Create
  • Innovate
  • Adapt
  • Solve Problems
  • Think Globally
  • Live Ethically
  • Persevere (GRIT)

To help increase the opportunities for students to improve skills in these areas, we will be looking at other ways we can use our time more effectively. As a Competency Based Education (CBE) pilot school for the state of Iowa, we have been tasked with developing a learning model that is more flexible and personalized for each student which is right in line with our mission. Our teachers use project based learning (PBL) as a framework to get students thinking at higher levels.

The challenge we run into is how time is distributed each day for students. Though we run a flexible block schedule, we still are constricted by our daily periods of meeting time. After winter break, we are going to implement a more flexible and project centered schedule based around what each individual student needs to complete a quality cross curricular project that demonstrates mastery of multiple standards and competencies. Students will have some classes that will meet each day, but the majority of their time will be around completing their project with their team. Students will decide how to use their time to meet their objectives instead of the system deciding for them.

We are excited about the potential, but know that this will be messy and it may not go as well as we hope. Getting students to think at the highest levels in a rich engaging learning environment is worth the risk. Even though we may  have some challenges, we are confident that this will not be our last attempt to find a way to most effectively use our most precious resource, time.