2011-12 school year off and running

by Jim Boyle


The 2011–12 school year got off and running this week as more than 12,700 returned to 17 Elk River Area School District schools.

One school has a new emphasis for its third-, fourth- and fifth-graders. Another school, the school district’s alternative school, has a new name. Several schools will advance initiatives to develop new methods of collaborating to improve student achievement.

The common denominator, however, for all District 728 schools is they are working on refining the work they did last year and ramping up a new program or two. And by the end of the school year, the school district will have an updated strategic plan it will be working off of.

“Every year is a new beginning,” said Hassan Elementary School Principal Heidi Adamson-Baer, when asked what she was most excited about the coming school year.

Rogers Elementary School launched this week its first year of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for students in grades three through five.

To prepare, the school purchased new technologies and materials for a STEM lab and teachers attended training sessions, according to Rogers Elementary School Principal Phil Schreifels.

“And we have integrated science, technology, engineering and math into some of our existing curriculum,” he said.

Students, filled with a mixture of excitement, anxiety and other assorted emotions, hopped off buses at Twin Lakes Elementary School for the start of the 2011–12 school year. School began on Tuesday in the Elk River Area School District. Spectrum High School, a charter school, opens its new facility on Sept. 19.

Another dimension of the school’s STEM program is video conferencing equipment which classes of students will use to conference with scientists and engineers throughout the world.

Students also will have some access to iPads for educational activities.

“We’re so excited for the year,” Schreifels said.

Val Bakken, the principal of Ivan Sand School, also expressed excitement over the start of a new year under the school’s new name.

The school is now called Ivan Sand Community High School, a subtle but significant change for a school seeking clarity of purpose.

“As a means of honoring this name change, all of the Ivan Sand staff wore T-shirts bearing our new name on the first day,” Bakken said. “The name change has been a fun vehicle in which to get our new year started.”

Otsego Elementary implemented some of the biggest changes last year of any school in the district, including a co-teaching model that helped teachers differentiate instruction.

“Otsego’s staff worked hard and (have) seen nice gains in test scores over the past couple years,” said Otsego Elementary School Principal Erin Talley. “One of our goals is to continue to build on these increases in test scores.”

They didn’t waste any time getting to work this year. A number of staff members have conducted home visits over the summer to establish a strong connection between home and school.

Jana Hennen-Burr, the assistant superintendent of schools, greeted Nina English on the opening day of school at Otsego Elementary School.

“I believe fifth grade is a huge transition year,” said teacher Susan Boyce. “The academics are  more challenging as well. I feel it is beneficial to start early building relationships with students and their families.”

Boyce says meeting families on their own turf seems to show them how much she cares and removes anxieties, so students can get excited for her class.

Shannon Jung, another Otsego teacher, organized a Fun in the Sun summer reading program, which was well attended by students. The students attended themed learning experiences and checked books out of the school library.

Jung also conducted assessments of students before the start of school and will start students in the appropriate level reading program on the first day of school.

The Elk River Area School District’s effort to restore band and choir to its former glory has also started with a critical first step — a general music course for sixth-grade students. Students will be immersed in hands-on activities from Garage Band on iPads to vocal music.

“It will be exciting to watch students grow with the new curriculum,” said Salk School Principal Julie Athman.

Zimmerman Elementary School is reaching out to the community in new ways. One is a program it piloted called PAKRAT (Parents and Kids Reading A lot Together), with good results. They’re also having Zimmerman Chamber of Commerce businesses participate in Adopt-a-Classroom.

Westwood is planning its 5K Fun Run and Walk for Sept. 17, which is being held to raise money for all physical education departments in Zimmerman.

Zimmerman Elementary School staff also plan to roll out a carnival for the community on Oct. 28.

“This has been completely driven by school staff,” Zimmerman Elementary School Principal Susan Johnston said. “I think that is so powerful.”