New year offers plenty to be jazzed up about

by Jim Boyle

Salk Middle School in Elk River marks its 30th anniversary this year. The school has evolved over the years, and now includes a Science Technology and Engineering magnet program.

Sixth-grade band teacher Sara Klingelhofer showed students where to find information on her website on the first day of school at VandenBerge Middle School. Photos by Jim Boyle

Some of the same tactics used to find success at this school are also employed at other middle schools in the Elk River Area School District.

Building principals at each of the district’s four middle schools shared some of their plans for the upcoming year by answering a questionnaire sent to them a week before the start of school.

VandenBerge Middle School plans to get more technologically advanced this year.

Assistant Angie Klaustermeier and student Anna Cawthra recalled a song that her principal, Marcia Welch, danced to last year, and Cawthra lit up.

“We have instituted a technology initiative at VMS,” said Marcia Welch, the principal of the school.

That translates into three additional  Smart Boards, sets of iPads for all math classrooms and iPads in the hands of all teachers. There’s also a classroom set of iPads available to check out in the media center.

The school’s School Within a School also received a set of MacBooks.

“Teachers were trained in a variety of technology topics this past teacher workshop, all in hopes of increasing students’ 21st century skills,” Welch said.

VandenBerge will expand its Zeros Are not Permitted program, so it drapes over the entire week. Last year it was just on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The program is designed to reduce the number of missing and late assignments.

Students with missing and late assignments are sent to finish their assignments in a room staffed by a licensed teacher. These students get to eat lunch first and make up their work during lunch.

VMS is also implementing an AVID program to help teach students strategies for success. Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) will be available for eighth-grade students in the 2013–14 school year.

“This is our planning year,” Welch said.

Salk Middle School is both a Science Technology and Engineering Magnet (STEM)  program and a feeder school for some Elk River elementary schools.  This year, however, the school plans to spread its STEM-themed curriculum to all students at Salk.

“We are excited about all the students having access to the STEM-themed curriculum,” said Julie Athman, the principal of the school. “As before, we will continue to draw students from across the school district and the Northwest Suburban Integration School District through the magnet program.”

The school continues to improve in other ways.

Salk staff are going through training from the Minnesota Department of Education to become an official PBIS school, which stands for Positive Behavior Intervention Systems. Through the training the school has launched a program called STRIDE (Students Taking Responsibility for Demonstrating Excellence).

“We will be teaching students the behaviors that are appropriate to exhibit, then recognizing, honoring and rewarding students for doing what is right,” Athman said.

The PBIS was added to Salk last year and this year it will be strengthened to build upon the safe, orderly and inclusive environment the school is working to cultivate.

To celebrate 30 years, the school has come up with the slogan of “30 years of Excellence.”

Athman said the school is seeking out individuals who once taught or were staff at the school during its formative years.

“We want to honor their work, and the groundwork they had laid to make Salk Middle School a wonderful environment for all learners,” Athman said, noting there will be several celebrations throughout the year.

Rogers Middle School staff will be focused on continued implementation of Professional Learning Communities and RTI, which will revolve around curriculum, instruction, assessment, school climate and collaboration.

“This year our focus will be on assessments, in particular, going in depth with common assessments,” said school Principal Jason Paurus. “Our Mission Leadership team is focused on looking at interventions and strategies that will help our students engage in deeper learning. We are committed to making our school a safe, caring, respectful and positive environment where students can be successful.”

Paurus said the school will continue to look for ways to be innovative and creative with its resources as they continue to address budget challenges as federal and state funding reductions continue to impact them.

“I am extremely excited and honored to be serving the students, staff, families, and community of RMS,” Paurus said.

Zimmerman Middle School will again be focused on “How we can use the 7 Correlates of Effective Schools to make continuous improvement,” according to Principal Marco Voce. “We have been very pleased with the year-to-year improvement that we have experienced the past five years.”

School staff just reviewed its middle school MCA test scores from last year and were pleased that in five out of the six tests (reading and math) they had the highest scores in the history of the building.

“The staff has come in very positive about the direction of our test scores and the desire to keep improving,” Voce said. “The energy from the first teacher workshop days has been extremely positive and encouraging.

“We have been able to maintain our ACT and AP scores, while continuously increasing the number of students taking the test.”

The Zimmerman community is elated about the new track facility being installed.

“For the first time in the track program’s sevenyear history, the athletes will be able to train on a track and participate in home meets,” Voce said.