School present and future

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, November 22, 2017
The West Liberty Community School Board met Monday, Nov. 6, when it discussed nursing, school improvement plans and the teachers’ union.

To begin, The West Liberty Education Association (WLEA), our local teachers’ union, wrapped up a vote last month in favor of recertification.

Out of 124 teachers, 118 voted in favor of the union retaining permission to collectively negotiate teachers’ contracts and pay on the workers’ behalf in the district.

“Slightly over 95 percent of our staff are in support of the WLEA,” said Dan Stevenson, president of the union. “I really just want to celebrate that and thank the administration here.”

The State of Iowa recently changed laws regarding public sector unions, specifically, unions must now vote to recertify every time they renegotiate contracts.

“It was new to all of us and it was really great to know that we were all trying to figure things out together,” said Stevenson. “We look forward to doing it all again in the spring.

Next, WLCSD nurses Julie Yoerger, BSN, RN, and Angela Swick, RN, talked about their needs and goals as the district’s specialists in public health.

“Our goal is to have healthy kids in the classroom, when the students come to us we problem solve constantly,” said Nurse Angela Swick.

They serve over 1,400 students in the district, are responsible for medicine, first-aid and general health, while spreading education and communicating with students, parents and teachers.

To date they’ve had more than 1,400 visits regarding asthma, mental health, anaphylaxis, seasonal allergies and other health concerns.

Nurse Julie Yoerger primarily serves the elementary and middle schools. Nurse Angela Swick just started this year, serving the ELC and high school.

“Thank you for letting Angela join me,” said Nurse Yoerger, who had been responsible for nursing needs in all four of West Liberty’s buildings up until this year.

She was especially grateful because of new immunization requirements from the Iowa Department of Public Health, Bureau of Immunization.

They caused a little bit of chaos on the first day of school.

“New this year is the meningitis requirement that kept 25 students out of school the first day,” said Nurse Angela Swick.

The requirements caused middle and high school students to miss the first day of school because they hadn’t been properly vaccinated for the disease.

The state rule change occurred last January, students in 7th and 12th grade were required to receive meningococcal vaccines by the beginning of the 2017/18 school year.

“I had some high schoolers that hadn’t started the series, we had to turn them away from the front door,” added Nurse Swick. “Very sad on your last first day of school.”

Eventually all the students received the appropriate immunization. However, it’s a series of vaccinations, meaning those students are approaching their next round.

It’s that sort of education and communication the nursing staff is working to improve in the upcoming years between teachers, students and parents.

For instance, they have a difficult time every year gathering dental and vision screenings from students, screenings required for several grade levels.

“Letters go home in the spring, there’s signs up at registration, we try to do whatever we can to get those dental and vision screenings,” said Nurse Julie Yoerger.

“It’s frustrating,” she added. “We have our free clinic, all you have to do is go. I think people still want us to do them at school.”

They’re working to get that health education out there, on top of the daily visits and responsibilities that come from being a nurse.

However, both are excited about Vision to Learn, a non-profit organization, that is coming to West Liberty in November, in large part thanks to Trey Sucher.

The organization provides free eye exams and free glasses to children in low-income communities such as West Liberty. They’ll be visiting Nov. 27 and 28.

Students that qualify will receive two free pairs of glasses, a pair for home and a pair for school. It can be life changing for students that don’t even realize they’re suffering from vision problems.

“It’s huge, huge,” said Nurse Julie Yoerger. “You don’t know how many kids I’ve screened that have said they’ve lost or broken their glasses.”

“I’m really excited about it. I’m up to about 80 referrals for them,” she added. So far she’s identified more than 50 students that need glasses.

Finally, the school board heard school improvement plans from High School Principal Brenda Arthur-Miller and Early Learning Center Director Missy Johnson.

“Overarching goals are to continue our rigorous academic courses that have been in place for awhile,” said Principal Arthur-Miller of the high school.

This is Arthur-Miller’s first year as principal, as well as the first year for high school assistant principal Ralph Hues. Together with the staff they came up with goals.

The math goal is to decrease the number of students that fail core math courses by reinstituting a math study hall and ensuring all the math curricula align.

The English goal is to increase students’ proficiency on their Iowa Assessment in Reading by reestablishing bench mark assessments for students.

“We know that one of our lowest areas with the ACT is English, in particular writing, so we’re planning some purposeful lessons on grammar and writing skills,” said Principal Arthur-Miller.

In science, teachers will focus helping English as a Second Language and Special Ed students to help performance on Iowa Assessments.

For school engagement, the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) team will increase percent of students who have a connection to an adult in the building.

For instance, every teacher has chosen freshmen to follow up with and have conversations with, not necessarily about school, but about the student’s life and hobbies.

“We did positive post cards to students’ families,” said Principal Arthur-Miller, “We had our first batch go out about a week-and-a-half ago.”

Finally, for teacher retention the high school wants to increase teacher morale by increasing face-to-face and email communication, faculty meetings that celebrate good news, and provide mentors for new teachers.

For the Early Learning Center, which includes preschool through kindergarten, the faculty worked on school improvement in November.

“Our demographic overview looks fairly similar to what we’ve had in the past; however, our kindergarten group grew by several in the number of children that come to us speaking Spanish,” said Director Missy Johnson.

In literacy, teachers want to see students improve in letter recognition, a big step for children that start school without knowing letters.

Similarly, in math, teachers would like to see their students improve in number recognition, with 0-10 in preschool and 11-20 in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten.

“The biggest thing here is informative and specific feedback,” said Director Johnson. “We need to start using vocabulary that goes with the skill that they’re doing a great job on.”

Basically, if a student does a great job identifying the number five, then the teacher responds by telling them they did a great job identifying the number five.

“It’s so they can hear that language, so when it comes to test taking time they’re knowing that ‘I’m recognizing numbers here,’”she said.

This year the ELC is hosting more than 10 events where they will be inviting people to the building, or going out to people, such as the Simpson Memorial Home.

The purpose is to help kids with social skills and model teaching strategies for parents that they could use at home after the event.

Finally, Director Johnson would like to increase communication with parents and ask what the school district can do better for their children.

“I think that we have a program here that many many communities wish that they were able to have, it’s the community and board support that makes it possible for us to have the program that we have,” said Director Johnson.

In other news…

-The school board approved three fundraisers for the dance team, including a pie fundraiser, kids clinic and bake sale.

-The West Liberty FFA gave a presentation on its recent trip to the 90th FFA National Convention and Expo in Indianapolis, Ind., as well as discussed its goals and projects for the current school year.

-The school board appointed the Muscatine Firm Hintermeister & Kundel as the school attorney in real estate.

-The board approved a SBRC request for modified supplemental growth amount, increasing enrollment ($465,157) and LEP beyond five years ($152,472).
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