January 16, 2014

Spring break to return next year

By R. D. KEEP Herald correspondent
The Oskaloosa Herald

---- — OSKALOOSA — Although sometimes controversial, Oskaloosa students and staff will have a spring break in 2015. That decision came as part of a meeting of the Oskaloosa School Board when they met in regular session Tuesday.

The meeting contained a generally usual agenda, but included a special presentation by Storybook Players and approval of six teachers who have accepted the early retirement package offered by the district.

The board approved a calendar for the 2014-15 school year. While not greatly different than this school year’s calendar, some key changes include the return of spring break. Superintendent Russ Reiter said much conversation has been considered regarding a spring break. He said a group of senior high students made a strong case and gave him a proposal he felt was worth considering.

The group of students proposed a full week break every other year. On the alternate years the district could utilize the long weekend concept in place this school year. Spring break would be March 16-20, 2015, the week following the boy’s state basketball tournament.

School districts can go the traditional 180 days or with a waiver go up to 1,080 hours, said Reiter. Under the proposed calendar, the school year will begin Aug. 18, 2014, and will end on May 22, 2015, just before Memorial Day.

Christmas break will begin on Monday, Dec. 22, with students returning to classes on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015. This will provide a full two weeks of break with Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Thursday. Early outs would remain on Wednesdays.

Board member Tom Richardson asked about flexibility of Iowa Assessments and the coordination around spring break. Reiter assured that there was flexibility for the grade level buildings to work around the break.

Storybook Players presentation

Oskaloosa High School Storybook Players members Jordan Fash and Jenna McCombs, and senior high language arts teacher Laura Ross presented a check in the amount of $5,031.60 to the Micah Leaverton family.

Micah, an Oskaloosa graduate, was injured in an accident this past summer. He was an active member of the group during his high school days and was a familiar face at Smokey Row. His recovery is ongoing and medical expenses and therapies continue. He is currently in a wheelchair. His mother, Melanie, said he would like to attend college out west next fall.

“It has really has blown us away for the way the community has rallied around us,” said Melanie. “His attitude is great.”

Early retirement

Six teachers have accepted the district’s offer for early retirement. The board accepted the resignations at the end of the school year and awarded them the early retirement benefits. This package includes $500 for each year of service and $25 for each accrued sick leave day up to 120 days.

Mike Striegel, agriculture and FFA teacher,;Tom Tresnak, Spanish; and Cyndy Gray, physical education teacher at the high school offered their resignations. Elementary instructors included Diane Meredith, special education; Claudia Martin, talented and gifted; and Diane Vermeer, Title 1 teacher.

Public Comment

Oskaloosa resident Bob Morris spoke to the board and asked the board to consider circumstances and differences when comparing Oskaloosa schools with other districts. Morris has had a number of children in that schools and will have for several more. His wife also teaches in the district.

Morris said his family made the decision several years ago to remain in the community because of the school system.

Morris pointed out Pella as one district often compared with Oskaloosa. He mentioned that it is difficult to measure because of the different resources available in Pella. He said that Pella residents have approved a 5 percent surtax and those funds have assisted in many of the school’s initiatives. He also mentioned that Oskaloosa has had a significant increase in free and reduced lunch students and that provides additional considerations when comparing districts.

PLC Presentation

Middle school social studies teachers Joe Bell, Jason Maddy, Kelly Luck, Mike Sterner, made a presentation on how they have collaborated to teach. The smart goal set by the teachers states that 100 percent of students will score at least a two on their Grade Level Benchmark assessments. Learning targets are posted in each teacher’s room and student achievement is posted on a data wall which is set up similar to a stop light system red, yellow and green.

Four goals

District advisory committee school improvement goals for 2014-2019 were presented by Dr. Mary Cooksley, district curriculum director. Every five years the district is required to report the goals. The comprehensive school improvement goals help the district chart a course based on a few broad-based goals. The goals were adopted and it is expected that the board goals that are currently under development will reflect similar and in conjunction with the comprehensive school improvement goals.

All students will achieve at high levels in Reading, Math, and Science to be successful citizens.

All students will utilize technology to be successful citizens.

All students will choose healthy lifestyles and feel safe, supported, and connected to school

Develop, promote, and sustain partnerships among students, parents, staff, and community.

Third party curriculum review

Board chair Carl Drost said in conversations with Reiter and other board members, there is a desire by some to have an external independent review of educational programs at Oskaloosa.

“We all want to provide the best education to our students,” said Drost.

The use of the Area Education Agency, the Iowa State Association of School Boards, and the Department of a Education were among the organizations considered.

Reiter said there was a need for some unbiased individual group to do the evaluation if the board chooses to pursue the review.

Reiter explained among the types of evaluative items considered will also include a look at those high performing schools and what are they doing that we are not.

After some discussion it was decided to ask a board group to come down and visit with board about what they would be looking at and what they would be observing. Two to five individuals would be to come should the board pursue the evaluation.

A representative will be asked to attend the Jan. 27 meeting.

Chinese visit

The Oskaloosa CSD is hosting 20 students and chaperones from Shijiazhuang Foreign Language Middle School in Heibei Province. Amanda Hoffman, middle school guidance counselor, is helping organize the weeklong event. The students and chaperones will be in the district the last week of January.