Back to School: What’s New in Des Moines for 2011-12

In less than 48 hours, nearly 30,000 students return to almost 60 schools throughout Des Moines will begin the 2011-12 school year. They join nearly 2,000 DMPS students at Capitol View, the Downtown School, Moulton and River Woods, who began the new school year earlier this summer.

When students return to Iowa’s largest provider of public education, they will be greeted by new faces, new programs, and renovated school buildings. Here are some highlights of what’s new in Des Moines Public Schools for 2011-12:

Several schools along with the district welcome new principals and administrators this year. New educational leaders (and their previous position) are:

•Tom Ahart, Associate Superintendent of Teaching & Learning – Tom previously served as principal at Harding Middle School
•Crista Carlile, High School Extended Programs Supervisor at Central Academy – Crista previously served as the district’s Science Curriculum Coordinator and last year was a School Improvement Leader at East High School.
•Holly Crandell, Curriculum Director – Holly previously served as principal of Oak Park Elementary.
•Brian Crook, Studebaker Elementary School Principal – Brian previously served as Dean of Students at Morris Elementary School.
•Nancy Croy, McCombs Middle School Principal – Nancy previously served as principal of Lombardi Middle School in Green Bay, Wisc.
•Christopher Fee, Oak Park Elementary School Principal – Chris previously served as Dean of Students at Capitol View Elementary School.
•Thomas Harper, CPA, Chief Financial Officer – Thomas previously served as CFO for the Billings Public Schools in Billings, Mont.
•Steve Johns, East High School Principal – Steve previously served as Vice Principal/Activities Director at North High School.
•Dan Koss, Perkins Elementary School Principal – Dan previously served as a School Improvement Leader at Weeks Middle School.
•Peter LeBlanc, King Elementary School Principal – Peter previously served as Assistant Principal at Aldine Independent School District in Houston, Texas.
•Scott Mikesh, Executive Director of Human Resources – Scott previously served as staff counsel for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
•Mary Minard, Jefferson Elementary School Principal – Mary previously served as Dean of Students at South Union Elementary School.
•Elizabeth Mashek, Cowles Montessori Principal – Elizabeth previously served as School Improvement Leader at Callanan Middle School.
•Tara Owen, Findley Elementary School Principal – Tara previously served as a School Improvement Leader at Hiatt Middle School.
•David Perrigo, Edmunds Elementary School Principal – David previously served as Dean of Students at Edmunds.
•Audrey Rieken, Weeks Middle School Principal – Audrey previously served as Vice Principal at Weeks Middle School.
•Maureen Taylor, Harding Middle School Principal – Maureen previously served as School Improvement Leader at Harding Middle School.
•Paul Williamson, Lincoln High School Principal – Paul previously served as assistant principal at Roy J. Wasson High School in Colorado Springs, Colo.

More than 5,000 Des Moines students will return to renovated buildings. Major projects include:

•Central Campus: The Downtown School moved into their renovated space on first floor of Central Campus to begin the school year on August 18. On the second floor, additional space is under renovation for Career and Technical programs, such as a biotechnology lab and health services classrooms, as well as a state-of-the-art facility for the award-winning Culinary Arts program. In addition, Central Campus will open a new multi-purpose space that will serve as the Culinary Arts café as well as provide space for School Board meetings and other work groups. Food and Nutrition will have a new kitchen and cafeteria. This work is scheduled for completion December 1 although Culinary students will begin the school year in their new space, but will not be able to cook for a few weeks. New student drop-off areas also have been created for better safety and convenience.

•Hoover High School: The new library will be used by students from Hoover and the adjoining Meredith Middle School. The $4.25 million renovation also includes new office space at the school’s main entrance, and students will enjoy a remodeled and enlarged cafeteria and commons area, along with technology upgrades throughout the building. Four classrooms also were added where offices were previously located.

•North High School: The school underwent $14 million in upgrades and additions over the past year. A new addition moves the school’s offices immediately adjacent to the main entrance. A new commons area will provide students with open space for lunch and studying, and mechanical (including air conditioned classrooms) and technological upgrades have been made, which will support North in becoming the state’s largest one-to-one laptop school later this year. In addition, new nurse and counseling areas were reconstructed where the office was previously, and two new classrooms were created to eliminate two mobile classrooms.

•Roosevelt High School: The two-year, $28.5 million project is upgrading classrooms throughout the 1920s building, creating space for six additional classrooms and an expanded café area, improving the lighting, climate control and technology, and enhancing the auditorium. In addition, parent and alumni fundraising efforts have paid for a new fine arts wing, which opened last year, along with improvements to the athletic wing of the school, such as additional locker room space and upgrades to existing facilities.

•Woodlawn Education Center: After serving as a “swing school” for several years, the remodeled Woodlawn Education Center will open this year to provide new space for early childhood programs and provide office and work space for special education programs. In addition, the entire building has been outfitted with new, energy-efficient windows as well as heating and cooling systems.

In addition to the above renovation projects, several schools underwent improvements over the summer: Brody, Harding and Merrill middle schools, along with Cowles Montessori School, will be air conditioned. Brody and Merrill will also have remodeling work completed that will reduce and eventually eliminate the use of mobile classrooms. And in a continuing effort to improve safety, Cattell, Findley and Jefferson elementary schools are all having new student drop-off areas completed this summer.

Des Moines Public Schools remains the only school district in Iowa to offer the prestigious International Baccalaureate program. Late last year, Park Avenue and Stowe Elementary Schools and Goodrell and Merrill Middle Schools became authorized as IB World Schools. Central Academy was authorized in 2009 and Hubbell Elementary in 2010. This year, the Walnut Street School will have an authorization visit, and Meredith Middle School and Gateway Middle School are beginning the process of becoming IB schools.

Des Moines Public Schools is in the second year of implementing more dropout prevention programming thanks in part to a $6 million Destination Graduation grant from the U.S. Department of Education. Destination Graduation is the district’s initiative to see fewer students drop out of school and more students graduate. The implementation of Smaller Learning Communities and academic support labs as well as the Early Indicator System and re-engagement efforts at all schools have made a difference and helped to keep students in school. The number of students graduating from Des Moines Public Schools increased by 5.6 percent from 72.7 percent in 2009 to 78.3 percent in 2010 and the dropout rate for 2010 was 4.8 percent, a decrease from 5.1 percent in 2009. The district also will hold its third Reach Out to Dropouts event on Saturday, September. 24.

Des Moines Public Schools is in the second year of a three-year comprehensive professional development plan, which has helped support academic successes and gains throughout the district. One aspect of this plan is providing opportunities for teachers each Wednesday to improve their skills and collaborate with colleagues in order to improve everyone’s work in the classroom. This will continue the adjusted dismissal times for students each Wednesday: high schools will dismiss at 1:05 pm, middle schools will dismiss at 1:00 pm, and elementary schools will be varied (parents should check with the child’s school for the Wednesday dismissal time).

While Des Moines Public Schools is looking forward to a new school year, there were several success stories from 2010-11 that deserve a re-cap:

•Between 2009 and 2010, Des Moines Public School had an increase of nearly 6 percent in the graduation rate, the biggest gain among the state’s 25 largest school districts and far ahead of the overall state increase of less than 2 percent.
•Results from last year’s ITBS and ITED tests show steady gains for students. In fact, reading proficiency is higher today than it was five years ago for 4th, 8th and 11th grade students, and math proficiency is higher today than it was five years ago for 8th and 11th grade students.
•District-wide, reading for grades 3-5 saw every single student cohort – 18 out of 18 – gain in proficiency, with an overall gain of 7.35 percent.
•Students at North High School saw significant gains in ITED results: a 9 percentage point increase in Math and a 19 percentage point gain in both Science and Reading, done at the same time the school set a record participation rate of 98.5 percent.
•Roosevelt High Schools was ranked #2 in Iowa on the Washington Post’s High School Challenge Index, placing it among the top schools in the nation for preparing students for college.
•The young women at East High were among the most celebrated and successful student-athletes in Iowa, winning the state high school tournaments in both basketball and softball.
•Students from all five high schools in DMPS qualified for state athletic tournaments in baseball (Roosevelt), basketball (East girls and Hoover boys), cross country (Roosevelt), football (East), softball (East and Lincoln), swimming (Roosevelt and Lincoln), tennis (Roosevelt), track (all 5 high schools), and wrestling (East, Lincoln, North, and Roosevelt).
•A graduation ceremony was held in August for forty-one high school students who achieved enough credits to graduate over the summer by taking classes at academic support labs now in place at every high school.
•Mathematics instructors John Butz (Jefferson School), Zac Christensen (Perkins Academy), and Barb Leise (Downtown School) were the only teachers in Iowa selected as finalists in math for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching; Barb Leise was awarded the 2010 Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.
•DMPS was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for Leadership in Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions by achieving Top Overall Energy Performance in all of its buildings.
•Kacia Cain, Central Campus biology teacher, was awarded the Outstanding Biology Teacher of the Year for the state of Iowa by the National Association of Biology Teachers.
•Voters in Polk County approved the continuation of the district’s Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) which provides important “maintenance” funding to repair roofs, playgrounds, and sidewalks; remove asbestos; purchase equipment such as school buses and music instruments; and support classroom technology.