Several teachers and administrators offered their reflections of the various conferences they had recently attended to the Perry Community School District Board of Education Monday.
Middle school instructors Ryan Lohman, Jordan Siler and Tyler Richmond shared a few of the highlights they had experienced while attending an AMLE (Asssociation for Middle Level Education) conference in Columbus, Ohio this October.
Lohman, who teaches special education math, noted that the Perry group had heard each of the four main speakers give their presentations and that over 300 specialized sessions were available over the two-and-a-half days of the conference.
“I know the big thing that I gathered and heard repeated over and over was how middle school education is based a lot on the relationships you develop with the students,” he said. “You, as a teacher, build a certain understanding with each individual student, and how that carries over into the rest of their day can really make a difference in their experience.
“In Perry we have many students who, you can say, do not come from the most stable of home lives,” Lohman added. “Coming to school is the highlight of their day and it is our job to make it as rewarding as we can.”
Eighth grade language arts instructor Siler said one of the more impactful sessions she attended focused on how to channel and focus, for positive results, the high energy levels most middle school students have.
“Middle school students are extremely social,” she told the board. “We were given examples of how to give them space to move, to be social and to have breaks in the lessons. Even if it is just for a minute, say to get up and walk around the room for 60 seconds, it can help. So now we are taking “brain-brakes” in class and it looks like it is working out well.”
Tyler Richmond is an eighth grade special education math teacher. He recalled hearing a national expert from Australia speak about the challenges of instructing middle school students.
“It was interesting to hear that they are teaching their kids the same things we are trying to teach ours, at the same age and level and was surprised to hear how many of the challenges are exactly the same,” he reported. “Giving the students a sense of pride in what they have learned and in the school is important, too.
“I can use myself as an example, because I went all through school here and loved it,” Richmond added. “There is a reason I came back, and I want to try and instill that same feeling in my students that I was given.”
Middle school teacher Carla Wood gave a presentation on the “Power Up” program to the board.
The 30-32 minute class is held each weekday save Wednesday in the third period for grade 6-7-8. Intended to help students who are struggling with math or reading skills, the class period offers addition instruction and study time.
Approximately 200 students do not require additional aid and are enrolled in Power Up “enhanced” classes. Students can opt to change their “enhanced” class each quarter, and very often, Wood said, some of the more popular offerings have to turn students away.
“What I like about it is that I get to choose my topics,” Wood explained. “We have done projects on ‘how each president should be remembered’ about ‘women in American history’ and many others.
“These are research projects and the students are not allowed to just ‘google’ something and look it up,” she added. “They learn to sites sources, and not just copy or plagiarize. They actually have to do some research and prove where they found their facts, all things that will help them down the road.”
Jeff Fox (high school) and Nathan Krohn (middle school) spoke on behalf of the science departments teachers who had attended a conference in Kansas City Nov. 3-5.
Fox said he took away a renewed belief that it is important to focus on doing projects and being “hands-on” as opposed to simply learning about a subject out of a textbook while Krohn discussed having students using differing physical tools — such as creating ‘foldables’ and other tools. Both stressed the value of being able to share ideas and discuss topics with other science teachers.
Director of Teaching and Learning Kevin Vidergar said the conference will help Perry plan ahead each year for what will be expected to be taught in the following school year.
Superintendent Lynn Ubben, Board President Kyle Baxter and Directors Linda Andorf and Marjean Gries all participated in the Iowa Assocation of School Boards annual meeting last month.
Gries was absent from Monday’s meeting, but Andorf reported on a session she attended where she learned how the diverse Des Moines School District uses a “graduation week” program to increase the numbers of students who receive their diplomas.
Baxter gave an update on the delegates duties with the state general assembly and noted that declining revenues from agriculture for next year — and which are forecast to remain low for the next few years — will likely mean very little increase in school funding from the state.
Ubben said she attended a session devoted to how districts and schools can best relate to breaking news, dispense information and solve problems through social media.
She noted that with the instantaneous speed of social media, getting the proper and correct information to the public is more important than ever.
“Things will get out in front of you, there is just no getting around that,” she said. “Within a half hour who have to be able to respond and say ‘yes, this is correct’ or not and to get what information you know is true out there. Most media will give you 30 minutes to come up with an official response, and you need to have one. Do not not respond, that will only make it worse.”
The board heard from PACES Director Mary Hillman, who asked for, and received, a raise from $20 an hour to $25 per hour for the office site coordinator, a position which works less than 10 hours a week but which had not seen a pay increase in many years.
Also approved School Budget Review Committee application to increase expenditures for increasing enrollment, open enrollment out (not on prior year count) and for limited English proficiency programs beyond five years. The total cost is $377,109.
A SBRC request for administrative costs at the Woodward Day School in the amount of $7,849.56 was also approved, as were several board policy revisions and personnel matters.
Current Business Manager/Board Secretary Kent Bultman was hired as Board Treasurer, a merging of duties common across Iowa. His yearly salary shall be $1,526.18 and was pro-rated to $763.09.
Early graduation requests for Cheyenne Hoffman, Samuel Juarez, Margaret Lamphier Meier, Spencer Hochstetler and Grant Whelchel were also granted.
The PCSD Board of Education meets the second Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. in the Brady Library at the Perry High School.