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Update on 1:1 in the WDMCS

The WDMCS will provide a Chromebook for every student in grades 3-12 starting in 2017-18. Support, repairs, check-in procedures, and more will be managed using the existing systems that were implemented for the district’s New Tech schools.

To help students care for the Chromebooks, the district will provide a carry case for each student in grades 3-9 and students at Walnut Creek Campus. Valley High School students will have a protective shield instead of a carry case. The district will also pay for accidental damage insurance for each Chromebook.

If families do not want their student to use a Chromebook, they can opt out of taking the device, as long as the student has a personal laptop he or she can bring to school every day.

WDMCS will also use a new system to help students and families manage student learning next year. All non-New Tech courses will move to Canvas, which will store all course files, resources, and assignments online. New Tech courses and schools will continue to use the ECHO software to manage courses.

More information will be provided to families in August.

Learn more about the 1:1 program:

Topics: Education

Ten Tips for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Written by Alexandra Wade

Parent-teacher conferences are in full swing! Each school does things a little differently, so we asked faculty and staff to share their best parent-teacher conference tips:

All Grades

  1. Try to focus on what your child is learning, versus his or her point total. The two should be connected, but it is more productive to look at course or grade objectives, learning targets and standards as a whole than to examine every missed point.
  2. Ask if there is anything your student can work on to become a more complete student. The teacher may see an area for improvement, even if your student is doing well. You can also share challenges your student has had in the past. Teachers like to know what has previously worked for students.
  3. Find out what is coming up. This can help you form more specific questions and get more specific answers about schoolwork from your student. You will also know when you need to offer more support at home.
  4. Ask questions! No one knows your student better than you. If the information you receive from the teacher is at odds with what you have experienced or heard in the past, raise the issue.
  5. Don’t be afraid to keep it short. Most parents have an accurate idea of how their student is doing, thanks to online grading. If you want to speak about a specific issue, set up a time with the teacher outside of conferences to make the process smoother for everyone.
  6. Bring a writing utensil and something to write on, and please turn cell phones off during conferences so you can devote your attention to the conference.
  7. Remember that we are a team. Students, parents, and teachers are all working on the same goal: student achievement. Parent-teacher conferences are an awesome opportunity to come together and agree on some common expectations.

Secondary – Junior High & High School

  1. Review your student’s grades on Infinite Campus ahead of time, so you have specific talking points and questions. You can even bring a printout for each class. If you have questions about Infinite Campus or need to have your account set up, see the office before conferences.
  2. Don’t forget to meet with your child’s entire team of teachers. Junior high team conferences may be in one location with elective teachers in another, and it is easy to miss them. A form was sent out through mail and on messenger with locations for each team. If you have questions, ask your student’s teachers.
  3. Although it is not required, you are welcome to bring your student. This often helps prevent any confusion between the teacher, parent and student, and it gives students a sense of positive ownership. If you are unsure if your student should attend, ask one of his or her teachers.

The most important thing parents and guardians can do is attend conferences. Even if you know how your student is doing, it shows your support and a value for education. There may also be opportunities to volunteer or visit a book fair during conferences, so take advantage while you can. Watch for messages that explain the conference procedure, and note if you need to schedule any conferences in advance. If you have questions, email one of your student’s teachers.

Many thanks to Eric Boyle, Justin Miller, Hannah Quandt, Joe Rich, and Katie Seiberling for these excellent tips!

Topics: Education

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American Heritage Classes Thrive at Valley High School

Written by Alexandra Wade

Close to 2,000 students are enrolled at Valley High School each year. With the recent additions, Valley has expanded to include more classrooms than ever before. The administration has worked to adjust to the school’s enrollment and space needs over the years, while also making sure Valley remained a personal experience for each student. One of the efforts toward this goal resulted in the creation of the American Heritage class.

news_AmerHeritage_Cameron GaleThe American Heritage class was spearheaded by Dr. Vicky Poole, former Valley High School principal and current school board member. Poole recruited teachers interested in contributing to an integrated curriculum. Together, they explored different ways to combine courses. The group decided language arts and social studies would be the strongest integrated curriculum. The American Heritage class was first offered for the 2003–2004 school year. The class was only taught every other year at first, due to low interest in the class. Through promotion of the class, more students became interested as they realized how beneficial the class could be. This led to a second team of teachers being added by the 2007–2008 year.

Scenes from inside Valley’s American Heritage Classes – Video

The four current American Heritage teaches are Lori Hinton, Nick Nelsen, Cameron Gale and Greg Hudson. Hinton and Hudson teach social studies, while Nelsen and Gale are language arts instructors. Former American Heritage teachers who helped to develop the program include Ann Broderick, Shannon Johnson and Jim Martin. The class is now extremely popular, being taught every year to at least two sections of students. It covers U.S. history from the Constitution to present day and provides a survey of American literature. The instructors have found that combining the subjects helps students gain a deeper understanding of both.

“Looking at [history and literature] in an integrated way makes them more relevant,” Nelsen said. The culturalnews_AmerHeritage_Nick Nelsen context keeps students interested, while also increasing their knowledge and understanding.

Classes are taught in two-hour blocks by two teachers, one representing each subject. Classes tend to have an average of 35 students, mostly juniors. The extended time together and structure of the class help students reach a level of comfort with each other that they might not otherwise. Students are more willing to engage with each other and take risks, resulting in strong group work and class discussions.

The clearest example is the 1920s-style radio broadcasts the students have to create. Students reflect their knowledge of history at the time by putting together a radio show about the news and cultural events of the period. They read “The Great Gatsby” during the unit, giving them a better idea of what the era looked and sounded like. Some students might be reluctant to give their all to a performance-based project, but the American Heritage students’ projects reflect the comfort and confidence they feel with each other and in the class.

There is a strong sense of community in the classes, but any individual attention needed is also easily available with two teachers in the classroom.

news_AmerHeritage_Lori Hinton“Classroom management is a breeze because there’s two of us,” Hinton said. She added that classroom observation was also easier. Having two teachers makes for a more relaxed atmosphere, as students see the teachers interacting and joking with each other. The dynamic benefits the students most, as they have two instructors to learn from or go to with questions.

“Students learn in different ways,” Hudson said. “Some gravitate to one or the other of us. It gives them an option, which is good for different learning styles.”

The instructors said that they also felt a stronger sense of community. Teaching in teams has provided connections with their colleagues they might not have had otherwise. Teamwork between the teachers is key to the process. They take part in common planning time and figure out how to balance the two subjects. History will take precedence on some days, while other classes will focus on literature. It comes down to a give-and-take between teachers and between teams. The good relationships the teachers have are essential to making the class work.

The administration has continued to provide a high level of support for the class, something the teachers are news_AmerHeritage_Greg-Hudsonvery thankful for. Scheduling can be tricky with so many teachers, but the administration has made a strong effort to continue the class and to keep students with the same teaching team, bolstering the sense of community. Accommodating the class size was also a challenge at times, something the new addition to Valley addressed. The new building includes a room designed with American Heritage classes in mind. The room is a better fit for the large class sizes. The teachers have their own classrooms as well and rotate in and out of the American Heritage room.

In a school as sizeable as Valley, it is valuable to provide such a personal learning experience for students. Each American Heritage class has shown this to be true by becoming its own small learning community, forging connections between students, between teachers, and between the two together. The American Heritage class may have started small, but it has grown into a popular class that encourages confidence and passion in both the students and the teachers involved.

Topics: Education

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Board Highlights from Feb. 24

More WDMCS Students Proficient on State Test
According to a report released Monday, Feb. 24, students attending the WDMCS performed better in reading, math and science on the Iowa Assessments in 2013 than in 2012.

The Iowa Assessments are tests the state requires students to take in grades 3-8 and grade 11. In WDMCS, students take the tests in the fall.

“I am very optimistic about the data,” said Dr. Laurene Lanich, associate superintendent of Teaching and Learning for the district. In fact, the district met 16 out of its 17 annual improvement goals. “This is a significant achievement for our district and the students attending our schools.”

The data also shows:

  • 5 out of 8 grade levels saw an increase in the percentage of proficient students in math
  • 5 out of 8 grade levels saw an increase in the percentage of proficient students in reading

In comparison to students across the state, the WDMCS has a greater percentage of proficient students in mathematics, reading, and science in grades 3-11. The exception of in science for grade 11.

Lanich said while there are many variables that determine student performance on standardized tests, the district has implemented several strategies to improve instruction and student proficiency. These include district-wide professional development focused on:

  • Learning Targets: Written statements that provide clarity about what a student is supposed to know or be able to do.
  • Differentiation: A way of teaching; it’s not a program or package of worksheets. It asks teachers to know their students well so they can provide each one with experiences and tasks that will improve learning.
  • Professional Learning Communities (PLCs): Groups of educators that meets regularly, share expertise and work collaboratively to improve instruction. Our PLCs work on answering the following essential questions to achieving effective instruction –
    • What is it we want our students to learn?
    • How will we know if each student has learned it?
    • How will we respond when some students don’t learn it?
    • How can we extend and enrich the learning for students who have demonstrated proficiency?

For more information, please see the “West Des Moines Community School District Student Achievement Report 2013-14” on the district website.

Topics: Education, School Board News, Student Achievements

Board Recognition for April 8

The Board of Education of the West Des Moines Community School District is pleased to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of district students and staff.



Kerrigan Owens represented the state of Iowa at the national contest for Veterans of Foreign Wars Voice of Democracy Contest. Her speech “Is the constitution still relevant?” won at the local, district and state levels and she traveled to compete in Washington, D.C., in March.

Valley High School seniors Eric Chen, Caroline Erickson and Tricia Shi were selected as a candidate for the United States Presidential Scholars Program, which recognizes the nation’s most distinguished graduating seniors.

All six of the National Merit Scholarship Semifinalists from Valley High School were upgraded to National Merit Scholarship Finalists this week. Seniors Erica Becker, Eric Chen, Emma Lind, Michelle Rose, Tricia Shi and Alexander Zhou will be notified in June if they have been selected as a national Merit Scholar.

Westridge fifth grader Pramit Vyas, Jordan Creek fifth grader Animesh Joshi, Indian Hills eighth grader Kacey Baker and Stilwell eighth grader Ben Koele have been named semifinalists in the 2013 Iowa National Geographic Bee.

Valley junior Brianne Tuttle ­won first place in Costume Contest and junior Molly Brown took fourth place in Reading Comprehension at the Illinois Junior Classical League convention. The IJCL encourages an interest in and an appreciation of the language, literature and culture of ancient Greece and Rome to impart an understanding of the debt owed by our own culture to that of classical antiquity.

The Indian Hills Math Counts team had eight students finish in the top 25 percent at the chapter competition. Three students ranked in the top 10 of all individuals – Brain Gu in eighth place, Linh Tran in seventh place and Cayden Codel in fifth place. The team, made up of Cayden Codel, Linh Tran, Brian Gu and Shubham Tayal placed third out of about 35 schools, which qualified them for the state competition. The team alternate, Madison VanSickel, joined Brian, Linh and Shubham for the state competition over spring break. Notable individual performances went to Linh Tran, scoring 12th in the state and Shubham Tayal, scoring eighth in the state. The Indian Hills team finished in third place overall.

Stilwell eighth grader Gabriel Mintzer competed in the Math Counts state competition, placing second and earning a trip to the National Math Counts competition in May. He qualified to compete at the state competition after placing first at the chapter competition.

Congratulations to the Valley Mock Trial Team for an outstanding performance at state competition. Only four teams from across the state made it to semifinal competition, including two teams from Valley. Team i b red up won a 3-0 victory in the semifinals and advanced to the championship, placing second in the state. Students on the second-place team were Dylan DeClerck, Caitlin Edwards , Lucy Korsakov, Ben Kruse, Joel Kruse, Emma Lind, Megan Nubel, Rishi Shah, Grady Stein  and Ben Weinberg. Students on team TNHB were Katie Apland, Brooke Beatty, Lexi Brennan, Kyra Cooper, Rae Gernent, Catherine Leafstedt, Thomas Leafstedt and Abby Pepin. (more…)

Topics: Athletics, Education, School Board News, Student Achievements

Instructional coaches work to nurture great performances

WDMCS Instructional Coach Jenni Freeman (left) works with fifth grade teacher Skye Wakefield.

When Western Hills teacher Leslie Welter was looking for a different way to teach math in her first grade classroom, she decided to get a coach.

She wasn’t looking for someone to explain baseball statistics, she wanted an instructional coach. (more…)

Topics: Education

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WDMCS Board Approves Anti-Bullying Proclamation, Superintendent’s Goals

The West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education held a regular meeting on October 8, 2012, and took the following action:

  • approved the Title I application;
  • approved a United Way of Central Iowa donor-directed contribution eligibility application;
  • approved an anti-bullying proclamation along with surrounding cities and school districts; (more…)

Topics: Education

Features of the New District Website

We are a couple weeks away from the launch of the new district website and because I am not very good at waiting I thought I would give you a sneak peek of some features of the new site. As mentioned in a previous post during the planning process we surveyed students, parents, employees, and the community to gather data about their use of the current district  website, along with their likes and dislikes. The main objective was to create a website that is audience centric, has up-to-date information, and is easy to navigate. We are accomplishing this in several different ways, but a couple of the ways we are doing this is through the top and side navigation as seen here. Depending on what category you fall into you can go directly to “your” page and find the information that is relevant to you. The information that is provided on this page was decided after looking at Google analytics and user research.

Top Navigation

Another objective for the new site was to create an awareness of the happenings within our district. The main way that this is being done is through the news feed seen here. Up-to-date information and events will be announced on the home page along with press releases and happenings.

What's New NewsNews Full Page

A request that was mentioned in the survey over and over again was a more user online calendar system. The new site will have a very robust and user friendly online calendar system. You will now be able to have a more accurate calendar of the districts events year round. You will be able to search by month, day, activity and school. We will then carry this even one step further as we continue into phase two with the redesign of individual school websites. Each school will have a calendar on  their home pages which will include their own events.

Calendar on home page

The last item I am going to share today is the Staff Directory. This is something that I hear repeatedly, that people have a hard time using and finding the information they need in our current staff directory. Brian Abeling, Director of Technology worked closely with Flying Hippo Web Technologies to create, what we think, is a very useful and robust staff directory.

Staff Directory Search Box
I am looking forward to sharing the new and improved site with you in the next couple of weeks. We still have a lot of things to do in order to launch the new site so better get back to it!

Topics: Education

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WDMCS Board Approves Retirement Plan, Fresh Fruit Program and More

The West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education held its annual meeting Sept. 10, 2012, and took the following action:

  • approved the proposed 2013-2014 Early Retirement Plan, which has no changes from the previous year’s plans, to allow eligible district staff to have the opportunity to plan further in advance when making a decision concerning retirement; (more…)

Topics: Education

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WDMCS School Board Aug. 27 Meeting Summary

The West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education held a regular meeting on Monday, August 27, 2012, and took the following action: (more…)

Topics: Education

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