School year end review

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Year-end reports were given Monday, June 5, by principals of the elementary, middle and high schools during the West Liberty Community School District school board meeting.

Elementary School

To begin, soon to be retired Principal Nancy Gardner took a look at the past year at the Elementary School, including attendance, reading and math performances and new teachers.

“As you know, we had a number of new staff join us this year,” said Principal Gardner. “It was very helpful that the TLC Coaches were able to provide us the resources the staff needed.”

The Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) program started last year for the entire school district. Its goal is to support staff with coaches and model teachers.

As for the elementary, all grades except fourth showed growth on their FAST reading scores from Fall to Spring. In fact, results for second and fourth grade were above state average.

Meanwhile, grades three and five were near the state average while first grade fell far below the state average on its last FAST assessment of the year.

When it comes to math, the goal is to have at least 70 percent of each class proficient in the subject by the end of the school year. Some classes met the goal, others didn’t.

For first grade 62 percent were proficient, second grade 69.2 percent proficient, third grade 70.8 percent proficient, fourth grade 74.7 percent proficient and fifth grade 51.7 percent proficient.

It was the first year for the math assessment, the teachers and staff plan to take what they learned and refine the protocol and align grade level curriculum for the next year.

The elementary school attempted to cut down on chronic absenteeism, which includes students with 18 or more absences during the 2016/17 school year.

The previous year, 2015/16, 24 out of the 449 students fell into the category, or 5.35 percent. This last year, 2016/17, 27 out of 509 students were chronically absent, or 5.3 percent.

“We wanted to to bring it down by 10 percent,” said Principal Gardner, “Well, what we didn’t take into account was that we had a whole lot more kids come into the elementary.”

However, the building did very well with parent/teacher conferences. In the Fall 95 percent of the students parents/legal guardians participated while in Spring 94 percent participated.

“The teachers do a lot of good followup,” said Gardner. “We let parents know that we feel it’s very important that they come.”

The elementary staff held a successful Family Math Night back in March. They also followed through with a community-wide reading program.

Finally, Principal Nancy Gardner will be replaced by Jeni Laughlin next year, she has chosen to retire after 33 years as principal in West Liberty.

Middle School

Next, West Liberty Middle School Principal Vicki Vernon gave a glimpse into the previous year in her building, including special events, reading and math scores and student issues.

The student council participated in the backpack program, the building recycling program, the year book and Clean Up West Liberty Saturday.

In fact, students have been involved in a whole mess of academic excellence activities. There’s been the Ames STEM conference, Math Counts and 7th grade Pre-Algerbra bridge building.

They had state participation in the Geography Bee, grades four through eight participated in a district spelling bee, the band was in several competitions while students made the honor choir.

Finally, seventh and eighth grade students were responsible for putting on the Wizard of Oz, doing everything from the acting to the backdrops.

Unfortunately, many middle school students are struggling on an emotional level.

“We’re seeing more and more students coming with more emotional/mental issues,” said Principal Vernon. Issues include self harm, suicide, parental deportation or alcoholism.

“They are coming to school having experienced traumatic events in their life,” she later added, “It’s more prevalent now more than ever.”

The school board recently approved a second guidance counselor in order to have someone available to help students all five days of the school week.

All of the grades showed improvement from Fall to Spring in their SRI reading assessments. For sixth grade, students jumped from 36 percent proficient or advanced to 63 percent.

In seventh grade the numbers went from 67 percent to 77 percent of students that were proficient or advanced, while the eighth grade went from 59 percent to 65 percent.

Meanwhile, students made positive progress during their Edify Asses Math assessment. In fact, students made some of their most significant progress in math.

In sixth grade for Fall 4 percent were proficient and 25 percent were approaching, in Spring 13 percent were proficient and 42 percent were approaching.

Seventh grade boasted some of the biggest jumps in math. In Fall 15 percent were proficient and 21 percent were approaching. In Spring 76 percent were proficient and 14 percent were approaching.

“This is phenomenal,” said Principal Vernon. “Incredible progress.”

In eighth grade during Fall 5 percent were proficient and 25 percent were approaching. In Spring 57 percent were proficient and 33 percent were approaching.

Finally, the middle school welcomed five new members to its staff to replace a group of retirees with more than 140 years of experience.

High School

Finally, Principal Jim Hamilton, who will also be retiring from his position this year, gave an overview of the high school’s performance in 2016/17.

To put it simply, students were busy during the school year. From academic commitments to extracurricular activities, their lives are always on the go.

“It’s a lot different now than when I was in high school,” said Hamilton. “Our students are besieged by a lot of things.”

When it comes to the Iowa Assessments, the students are showing a steady growth. In math 79 percent of ninth grade, 71 percent of tenth grade and 81 percent of eleventh grade was proficient.

In reading, 82.4 percent of ninth grade, 71 percent of tenth grade and 66 percent of eleventh grade was proficient.

“The graduation class of 2020 (ninth grade), in terms of readiness in reading, 49 percent have already met or exceeded college readiness in reading,” said Hamilton.

Principal Hamilton also talked about graduation rate, something he’s worked on diligently with students during his 19 years as principal.

“I’m very proud of our teachers getting people to the finish line,” he said. “Since 2013 we’ve either met or exceeded state standards in graduation.”

Since 2013 graduation rates at West Liberty High School have been above 90 percent, approximately 2-4 percent higher than the state average.

For the class of 2017, which graduated Sunday, May 28, of the 84 ready candidates 83 ended up receiving their diplomas.

“We do have some pretty high standards for graduation,” admitted Hamilton. “Years ago schools used to get into some sloppy patterns.”

“I’ve never supported that, if your going to come to school you’ve got to go to work, you’re the worker and you got to put in the work,” he added.

Perhaps this was one of the reasons that West Liberty High School was ranked 5th best in Iowa for a second year in a row by the U.S. News.

Criteria for the distinction included student performance as opposed to state average, graduation rates and students preparedness of college-level coursework.

During the previous year several students took AP courses, Dual Credit Courses and PSEO courses.

In eleventh grade 35 students were in at least one AP course while 56 were in at least on Dual Credit course. In twelfth grade 36 students were in at least one AP course while 29 were in at least on Dual Credit course.

The high school spent a lot of time increasing collaboration among teachers, including professional development.

This was Principal Jim Hamilton’s final year as principal, he’ll be replaced by current Dual Language Director and Vice Principal Brenda Arthur-Miller next year.
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