While students have spent the last couple of months enjoying their summer break, school district administrators and staff have been busily preparing for the kids return to class.
The first day of school for students in the Fairfield, Mt. Pleasant and Washington school districts will be Friday, Aug. 23.
“The state set Aug. 23 as the earliest you can start this year,” said Washington Community School District Superintendent Willie Stone, explaining why many of the school districts across the state are starting on that date.
“It is really important to get that date out to parents and students because the last few years, we haven’t started until after Labor Day,” said Fairfield Community School District Superintendent Laurie Noll. She said that Aug. 23 will be a day for a lot of routine tasks so that teachers and students can start the next week on Monday, Aug. 26, fresh and ready to have a great week.
The three districts took advantage of not having children in the buildings to do maintenance during the summer break.
“We’ve been doing lots of work,” said Washington Community School District Superintendent John Henriksen. “With seven different buildings, there’s always work to be done. We’ll be completing a half a million in building upgrades and improvements.”
Some of the work in the Washington school district included installing air conditioning because there are still some buildings that do not have air conditioning to help keep students cool, said Henriksen.
At Harlan Elementary School, new concrete was poured and the principal’s office underwent a small remodeling project.
Also at Harlan, the wood chips on the big playground were replaced.
“The woodchips had issues,” said Henriksen. “When it rained, they would get soggy or float away. So we cleaned them out and put pea gravel in. If it works well, we’re going to do that at all the playgrounds.”
Salem Elementary School received new asphalt on its big playground.
In the Washington school district, the summer was spent installing new windows in the Lincoln building, which is a school for third- through fifth-graders. That work was able to be accomplished in part because of the Washington County Riverboat Foundation, said Stone.
Work also includes installing sidewalks and fences at Lincoln and the middle school.
“We’ve also been updating the projectors in all the rooms so they will be working,” said Stone.
The Washington school district now has air-conditioning it all its buildings, which Stone says is fortunate because when the temperature is hot outside, students can stay inside and continue their education.
In the Fairfield schools, Noll said the maintenance and custodian staff, plus summer hires, were able to clean areas they don’t have time to do during the school year.
“I was over at Washington Elementary, and they were even taking off and scrubbing and sanitizing the little rocks from the rock wall,” she said.
The staff was able to do a lot of deep cleaning, such as shampooing the carpets and scrubbing the floors. At Washington school, workers were able to paint walls and get everything back into place after the big HVAC project the summer of 2018. “We ran out of time to get everything finished before school started last year,” said Noll.
But it is not just facilities that have changed over the summer. The districts also have curriculum changes.
The Fairfield fifth- through 12th-grade students are getting an English Language Arts update this year. The middle schoolers will be reading novels, with a writing component.
The Fairfield middle schoolers and the Pence second-, third- and fourth-graders will be starting The Leader In Me, an evidence-based, comprehensive school improvement model that empowers students with the leadership and life skills they need to thrive in the 21st century.
“It is an opportunity for students to be leaders and show the skills they’ll need in life,” said Noll.
Mt. Pleasant has adopted a new kindergarten- through fifth-grade math curriculum.
“Ready Math is aligned with the Iowa Core,” said Henriksen. “All our elementary classrooms will be using the same curriculum. Every teacher will be using the same curriculum, the same pacing and the same testing, which can be a challenge when you have four different elementary buildings. We reviewed this last year, and we are excited for Ready Math. We have been spending a lot of time getting our teachers familiar with the curriculum so they will be ready to serve our students.”
Henriksen added that Mt. Pleasant is a 1:1 computer program for its sixth- through 12th-graders, meaning that each student is issued their own laptop. This year, 1,400 computers were taken out of the program and replaced with brand-new machines.
“That’s a big undertaking for the tech department to have them all ready for the students,” said Henriksen.
Washington has new reading curriculum, 95 Percent Group. The curriculum uses the Comprehensive, Integrated, Three-Tiered model of prevention, known as Ci3T.
In a Ci3T model, the first tier is designed as preventative and includes academic, social, and behavioral components for all students. The second tier supports are typically for small groups of students experiencing similar needs. For example, there might be groups to improve oral reading fluency using repeated readings. The third tier is the most intensive and is most often individualized, such as individualized reading programs. Tier 2 and 3 interventions are designed to meet the students’ specific characteristics and learning needs whether they are behavioral, social, academic, or combined.
“We are excited about this,” said Stone. “We looked at it for behavioral reasons, but we’re using it now for all students.”
The Washington district also is implementing a Profile of a Graduate. Stone said Washington Community School District is preparing its students to lead lives with purpose. They should be able to communicate, contribute, collaborate, innovate, persevere and think critically.
The three superintendents each said they are looking forward to seeing their students back in class.
“We’re ready for a great year,” said Stone.
“It will be nice to have the kids back,” said Noll. “We can’t wait.”