—by Todd Thorson

(tthorson@storycityherald.com)

At the June school board meeting each principal at the three Roland-Story education centers submitted their annual reports for 2012-13, as well as their goals they hope to achieve for the 2013-14 school year and beyond. This week the Herald focuses on the elementary school. Coming up next will be the Roland-Story middle school and then the high school.

Kate Hartzler, elementary school principal, presented a rundown of the past school year to the board. Last August (2012) saw the first new technology roll-out in many years, and a "meet-and-greet" for parents and students was held and deemed a success. It was beneficial having the "meet and greet" before the school year started, as it replaced the former parents’ night for first through fourth graders. The PTO fund-raiser also raised approximately $12,000, which went toward classroom supplies, books and technology equipment. As the school year began, the Early Childhood Special Education classroom, now in its sixth year, was also labeled a success.

Student assessments and evaluations, as well as various student-testing continued throughout the school year. Benchmarking for K-4 was conducted in September, January and April. MAP testing (a measurement of academic progress) took place for third and fourth graders in September and April. Parent/teacher conferences were held in the fall and spring, with 98 percent attendance both times. Iowa assessment testing was conducted in February for grades 2-4. And in March, kindergarten screenings were held, with 74 in-coming students on the list. A total of 16 were ear-marked for the Pre-K program and 10 will be coming into kindergarten from the Pre-K program this coming school year. Eight students will wait until next year to start school. The 2012-13 screening saw 85 students take part.

District goals, as presented by Hartzler, included the continued increase in proficiency by students in the three main subject areas – math, reading and science – as evidenced by either the ITBS/ITED or the district’s MAP scores.

With the success of the "meet-and-greet" at the beginning of the year last fall, the elementary school will continue that process this school year. "We were able to touch base with most parents," said Elementary Principal Hartzler. "This was a great way for teachers to meet parents, and for parents to see classrooms, teachers and sign the acceptable use policy. Parents were also able to sign up for conferences at that time."

Hartzler also reported on the Retention and Intervention (RtI) program. The elementary center developed intervention plans for 20 percent (supplemental and intensive) of students that scored the lowest on oral reading fluency tests. Staff members spent in-service time and team time studying data to get students into appropriate groups.

"We studied researched-based strategies to try and increase student performance in the area of reading," said Hartzler. "We chose to keep our goal extremely lofty for that 20 percent of students. The goal was that all students in this group, grades 1-4, would gain one word correctly per week on a one-minute reading probe."

Research shows that all students in grades 1-4 gain an average of 1.34 words read correctly per week. The model the school uses shows ample research that supports teaching skills to students with like needs.

"We kept data on our lowest 20 percent and our weekly gain from August to May was 1.04 (1.31 in 2010-11)," explained Hartzler. "We plan to change our goal for 2013-14 to the research-based number. We feel that students have made good progress even though the goal was not met."

Hartzler and her staff plan to analyze the data early this fall, along with the AEA, to look into intervention plans and the core curriculum to see what can be done to increase these word scores.

School behavior last year at the elementary was implemented using the PBS model. The staff came up with six common areas and concentrated a week on each area at the beginning of the school year. The PBS motto was "Roland-Story Rocks". This past year the theme was "Fishing Up Good Character" and the elementary used fish to represent the six common areas. Individual students were recognized with a Principal Pillar Power Table on Wednesdays during lunch. Students were given the opportunity to sit at the "teachers’ table" and be recognized for the good choices they had made.

Last year the elementary staff used their in-service time for math instruction. It coincided with the Iowa Core and with the center’s new math series.

"Teachers explained that scores improved in the area of math," revealed Hartzler, "and many feel the students are much more prepared for the next grade level."

Technology was a big part of the 2012-13 school year. The district spent a considerable amount of time and money in implementing the largest new technology roll-out in Roland-Story history.

"Our technology committee was busy last year spending money, making future plans and writing curriculum to tie into the 21st century skills," commented Hartzler. "I am excited with the direction our building is going with instruction, purchasing and implementing new technology. The iPads were a huge success last year. Our teachers used them as teaching tools, reinforced skills, rewards for behavior and improved teaching techniques."

The teachers on the Principal Advsory Committee (PAC) met often last school year to work on how they wanted the classroom schedules to look for best utilizing staff members in reading and math instruction.

"We have made some changes and will be doing a mixture, like last year, of ‘pull-out’ reading and bringing our Title I and Special Education teachers into the classroom for instruction," Hartzler stated. "Both third and fourth grades had the teachers in the classroom and it was an effective way to instruct all students."

With the beginning of the 2013-14 school year, the elementary students will also have something new and exciting just for them - new playground equipment to enjoy at recess. After two years of planning and raising funds, the first phase of the playground project became a reality in June, as the new equipment was finally installed.

"The playground committee continued to meet monthly, as well as more often, last year for fund-raising ideas and events," said Hartzler. "We are so excited that enough money was raised and the school was able to put the first phase of our project (in place). Thanks also to the school board for this opportunity."

(Next week the Herald will take a look at the Roland-Story middle school’s 2012-13 highlights and Principal John Sheahan’s goals for 2013-14.)