District News

Valley High School’s “The Wizard of Oz” Features Students From Across the District


Photo Credit: Andi Lipman

Valley High School Performing Arts Department is performing the classic “The Wizard of Oz” as its spring musical, directed by Stacy Hansen. This marks the first Valley High School musical to be performed in the new Performing Arts Center. Performances will be at 7 p.m. on May 1 and May 2, and at 2 p.m. on May 3. Tickets are $8 for students and senior citizens, and $11 for adults. Tickets can be reserved by calling 515-633-4000. Tickets will also be available at the door.


Senior Jessica Martens will be playing Dorothy Gale, senior Elise Ramaekers will portray the Wicked Witch of the West, senior Liz Cleven will play Glinda, and the Wizard of Oz will be played by senior Ryan Voggesser. The Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion will be portrayed by seniors Nicholas Wang, Jared Freiburg and Chase Stine, respectively.



Photo credit: Deb Lind

Valley High School and Valley Southwoods Freshman High School students and staff make up the rest of the cast, crew and musicians. Fourth-grade students from the majority of the district elementary schools have also been cast as munchkins. Assistant directors and assistants are Linda Crose (assistant director, costumes, makeup, props director), Ryan Diegnan (vocal director), Haley Gibbons (munchkin ensemble director), Megan Helmers (choreographer), Derek Hisek (technical director), Nicole McBride (munchkin ensemble assistant), Ryan Penning (music assistant), Phil Peters (orchestra director) and Amanda Pichler (assistant technical director, lighting).



Photo credit: Andi Lipman

Students in the cast are:

      • sophomores Grace Barker, Logan Benson, Sarah Braverman, Carter Burmester, Hanna Bush, Kyra Casper, Catherine Christian, AnneMarie Derouin, Becca Dorsett, Jared Fisher, Courtney Graham, Grace Horvath, Zac Johnson, Ryan Jones, Kamden Lee, Nick Lovan, Sofi Mandil, Dion Manuel, Abby McCullough, Meta Miller, Alli Newman, Lizbeth Salinas-Reyes, Julie Sisler, Mara Smith, Owen Snyder, Elena Soto, Jack Standefer, Heather Stout, Andy Thompson, Justine Williamson, Anna Wood, Piper Wood and Trinity Zynda;
  • juniors Emily Carr, Sarah Clarke, Emma Cox, Taylor Denman, Lily DeTaeye, Sarah Estes, Isabelle Fidler, Ashley Gettinger, Sam Gorham, Melissa Grinvalds, Matthew Hrdlicka, Marissa Hudson, Carly Johnson, Ian Ksiazak, Clara Lyden, Paige Marshall, Joshua Miksch, Nico Mulhern, Angelina Mullican, Sharissa Patanapanich, Anthony Reno, Sydney Sheffield, Masha Smirnova, Madison Stegman, Caroline Stump, Pearl Tate, Maren Tuttle, Ramya Vemulapalli and Jake Wheeler;
  • seniors Rebekah Conard, Katie Daft, Leah DeClerck, Keaton Denker, Joshua Farmer, Lauren Frederick, Koral Glenn, Andy Han, Nikolaus Kämmerer, Dani Lipman, Augustine Mateo, Alex McNunn, Anna Mokricky, Lauren Pfeil, Derek Pham, Marisa Potts, Grady Stein, Melanie Taylor, Annie Weinberg and Danny Williams; and
  • fourth-grade students Ainsley Aherns, Tyler Anderson, Tatum Bartlett, Maddy Baumann, Jay Bell, Elizabeth Bettenhausen, Britney Block, Michael Cameron Jr., Niya Copeman, Marisas Cravero, Emerson Drake, Grant Engelbert, Macy Engelmann, Reese Ford, Henry Golay, Anna Hansen, Lily Hansen, Dylan Hoyt, Bette Jess, Abby Johnson, Abigayle Johnson, Malia Kelly, Mallory Kitt, Ally Landis, Asher Lipman, Natalie Maxwell, Grayson McAvoy, Madison Mendenhall, Ella Moore, Thea Natvig, Steffen Poulsen, Caroline Reynolds, Danielle Salas, Kenyan Smith, Dawson Stine, Nathan Tenney, Delaney Turner, Gracianna Venerable, Charlie Westemeyer, Owen Westemeyer and Haley Wince.


The crew members are:

  • sophomores Tommy Anderson, Rheanne Ames, Sadie Baker, Ben Burright, Quinlynn DeSomber, Beth Hammond, Cheyenne Hammer, Jamie Hanson (also a musician), Catie Judge, Evalyn Ngugi, Brillian Qi-Bell, Cheyenne Raney, Nora Raine, Blake Richards, Joshua Rodriquez, Danielle Roth, Isabella Vettese and Katie Wilson;
  • juniors Sam Berry, Jenny Bryant, Kathryn Catellier, Ali Davis, Luke Dawson, Dawson Edwards, Reid Epstein, Graham Hagan, Grant Hillenbrand, Rob Kristan, Connnor McCarville, William McCreary, Morgan Pech, Cole Reels, Katie Ringgenberg, Luke Spencer Rustin, Noah Septer, Spencer Tramontina and Cody Thompson; and
  • seniors Ian Adam, Katherine Essman, Cheyenne Hensley, Emma Carolyn Kazeze, Sarahi Lopez, Erin McCauley and Caleb Rush.


Musicians for the musical are:

  • freshman Matthew Christensen, Aleia Manning and Corinne Watters;
  • sophomores Erin Claeys, Zoe Cobb, Anders Glad, Jamie Hanson, Alanna Maxwell, Guowei Qi and Chelsea Sapp;
  • juniors Joe Beal, Brittany Burklund, Olympia Manning, Elliot Smith and Elizabeth Watson; and
  • seniors Julia Anderson, Nick Behrends, Ann Braverman, Alex Buentello, Camilla Giraudo, Grant Gullickson, Josiah Hintz, Sophia Jordan, Elle Little, Jared Paine, Abi Roach, Hannah Willard and Brianne Zbylicki.

Life in the WDMCS 4/27/15

Life in the WDMCS is a weekly feature that highlights what is happening at each of our buildings. If a school is not listed, there was no submission from that building this week.

Clive Elementary

Clive Elementary has been celebrating National School Library Month. Students in kindergarten through second grade have taken part in activities like making crafts, playing Just Dance, and completing a “lazer maze.” Third-grade students have been working to solve the mystery of who stole the cookies from the library, while the fourth-graders are creating Diamante poems to celebrate Poetry Month. Fifth-grade students have been working with art teacher Alecia Eggers to create a living museum for the library, and sixth-graders have been working through digital citizenship modules online.

Crestview Elementary

Third-grade students at Crestview Elementary have been writing different forms of poetry. This week, they wrote poems about their school and what it means to them.

Jordan Creek Elementary

Jordan Creek Elementary held its Second Annual Rock the Walk fundraiser. Each grade spends 45 minutes on the track, running or walking and trying to complete as many laps as possible. Students also completed different physical activities at four different stations around the track and could participate in a T-shirt design contest. Jordan Creek aimed to raise $40,000.

Western Hills Elementary

The Western Hills Elementary Kids Care Club focused on helping its own school community in April. It helped two local organizations with connections to the school and club members: the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Found (JDRF). The students learned about raising awareness and promised to support both of the organizations’ spring walks. The club also made bird feeders to hang on school grounds and at home for Earth Day.

Valley Sophomores Secure Pinterest CEO for STEM Lecture Series

Three sophomore students at Valley High School have secured the CEO of social media site Pinterest as the speaker at a lecture on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) advancements. Ben Silbermann, co-founder of the “visual bookmarking tool” Pinterest, is a Des Moines native. He will be giving a lecture on his own STEM journey via Google Hangout at 7 p.m. on April 27 in the Valley Forum. His speech, titled “Life, Career, and Success in Technology,” is the fourth in a lecture series organized by the Des Moines Student-to-Student STEM Speaker Series (Des Moines S5).


The Des Moines S5 logo (source: dms5.org).

Arjun Ganga and Gabe Mintzer co-founded Des Moines S5 in the fall of 2014, and were later joined by Evan Eastin, who is the organization’s chief field reporter. Ganga and Mintzer were inspired to start the group as a way to share their enthusiasm for STEM. The group aims to promote science literacy and create awareness of math and science research for high school students interested in STEM. The three students organize monthly lectures on STEM topics from Des Moines-area professionals.

For the fourth lecture, Ganga wanted to pursue a much bigger name than the group had hosted before. Ganga found Silbermann’s email address on the Internet and contacted him, asking if he was willing to lecture. He also dug up the address for the Pinterest headquarters and sent a letter with the same query. No one was more surprised than the three Des Moines S5 members when an “assistant to the founders” from Pinterest replied to Ganga’s email, saying Silbermann was interested in speaking.The Des Moines S5 members are excited about the opportunity Silbermann’s speech provides.

“I think it’ll draw a larger audience just because Pinterest itself is involved in so many people’s lives,” Mintzer said. “So many people use it as a social media source, so it might not be just about STEM for them. It might draw them to STEM.”

Valley High School sophomores and Des Moines S5 leaders Gabriel Mintzer, Evan Eastin, and Arjun Ganga.

Valley High School sophomores and Des Moines S5 leaders Gabriel Mintzer, Evan Eastin, and Arjun Ganga.

Eastin, Ganga, and Mintzer are involved in STEM classes and activities themselves. They attended the same elementary school and junior high and are in many of the same activities at Valley. Eastin and Ganga are in Cyber Defense Club; Mintzer and Eastin take part in the science bowl. They became interested in sharing their interests with others as they recognized the impact STEM had on their own lives and could have on the future.

“To have knowledge of STEM is a good thing because you always want students to contribute to society,” Eastin said. “(You) can really contribute through STEM, and you want students to know that.”

Ganga and Mintzer were eager to start Des Moines S5, but found starting the group took more than just enthusiasm. They chose a name, built a website, and brainstormed speakers for the lectures they had planned. They brought Eastin into the group early on. Des Moines S5 also works with Central Academy students Mintzer knows. Nathan Rider, a student from Hoover High School, films the lectures. The three main members refer to Valley as their “home base” and work together to make all decisions for the group.  All three have taken on Des Moines S5 as an extended learning project so they can devote more time to it.


Ganga, Eastin, and Mintzer with Des Moines S5 speaker Timothy Urness and Des Moines S5 Audio/Visual Director Nathan Rider.

They try to contact speakers several months in advance to coordinate schedules and advertise. The first lecture took place in January 2015. Timothy Urness, a Drake math and computer science professor, spoke on using computerized graphics to visually represent scientific data. Simon Wright, an ear, nose, and throat doctor, surgeon, and researcher, presented on “The Germ Revolution: DNA Microbial Analysis in the Sinus and Ear” on Feb. 26. The next lecturer was Daniel Alexander, a Drake University professor and author. He spoke about his personal journey with mathematics on March 26. Eastin interviews each speaker, then they speak on their background and topic.

“Our target is the high school kids in our audience, so we also try to have (the speakers) give some advice,” Ganga said. “They talk about how they carved their own path.”

About 40 students and parents attended each of the January and February lectures, with attendees from Valley, Central, and Dowling High School. The three Des Moines S5 members were pleased with the attendance at their first three lectures, but are still determined to find a way to broaden their organization’s appeal. They expect a boost with Silbermann’s lecture.

“I think STEM is important because, in STEM, there’s always room for innovation,” Mintzer said. “There is in other fields too, but there are so many problems, like climate change, and if we get people thinking about this earlier, how many more of those could we solve? In STEM, there’s always room for expansion and research and new conclusions.”

Life in the WDMCS 4/20/15

Life in the WDMCS is a weekly feature that highlights what is happening at each of our buildings. If a school is not listed, there was no submission from that building this week.

Clive Elementary

Clive Elementary kindergarten students are exploring 2-D and 3-D shapes in math. Students practiced building flat shapes like squares and triangles with toothpicks and marshmallows. The students then built 3-D cubes and triangular prisms by connecting the 2-D shapes.

Crestview Elementary

Sixth-grade students at Crestview Elementary constructed 3-D atom models for the Chemical Interactions unit. Each student picked one atom from the periodic table, calculated the number of subatomic particles, then created a mobile and poster about the atom to present to the class. They were encouraged to be creative with the supplies used to construct their atoms.

Jordan Creek Elementary

The Special Education teachers at Jordan Creek Elementary have been going into each sixth-grade classroom once a week to educate students about diversity and disabilities. The sixth-graders have learned about autism, Down syndrome, Williams syndrome, Spina bifida, and cerebral palsy. They will learn about anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and dyslexia later in the year. Guest speakers and individuals with each disability have come to talk to the classes. The discussions have focused on the similarities between people, despite their differences. The goal is to continue a culture of respect and awareness that will educate students and create advocates.

The fourth-grade students at Jordan Creek Elementary have been studying Russia. They have learned about Russian culture, government, sports, geography and history. The students are looking forward to a Russia Day Celebration. They will learn more about Russian by participating in a Russian play, songs and dances, and eating some Russian foods.

Western Hills Elementary

Western Hills Elementary held its first annual Dance Dance Revolution Competition in April. All students learned the dances during Physical Education, and representatives from each class competed in the schoolwide event. Teachers also competed, with grade representatives competing against each other. The final four competitors were Principal Beth Thornton, first-grade teacher Terry Soto, third-grade student teacher Britney Wolgast, and fifth-grade student Dustin Thomas. Thomas finished the competition in first place and earned a trophy that will be displayed in his classroom for the rest of the school year.


Youth Classes Survey

adventures_surveyWDMCS Community Education would like your input to help us better plan our future Adventures classes. These youth classes are offered after school, in the evenings, or on the weekends during the school year. The survey below should take less than five minutes to complete. Your input is very valuable to us, so please take a few moments to offer your suggestions. Thank you!

Click Here to take the Survey

If you have any questions, please contact WDMCS Community Education at 633-5001 or communityeducation@wdmcs.org.

Board Approves Budget, Calls for State Funding

On Monday, April 13, the West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education approved its preliminary budget at $150 million, maintaining the district’s property tax rate at $13.27 per $1,000 valuation. According to state law, school districts must adopt a budget for the upcoming school year by April 15.

Reminder: No School — April 24 Professional Development Day

There will be no school for students on April 24. It is a professional development and collaboration day for teachers, who will be working on building goals.

WDMCS Earns School Public Relations Awards

The West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) earned the Blue and Gold Award for best entry in the website category at the annual Iowa School Public Relations Association Communications Contest Awards Night on April 9. WDMCS was awarded for its Valley High School website. The district and WDMCS Community Education also received five Awards of Excellence and an Award of Merit.

Judges’ comments for the website included, “This website has a great design with an extreme amount of information available. Perusing this site gave me an impression of a school with pride, that provides students with many opportunities to be involved as well as a school that provides student with an excellent education.”

Judges’ comments for the website also said, “The website communicates the who, what, when, where and why of Valley High School in an easy to read eye-catching way. The website is indicative of the strong commitment to effective communications with parents, students, employees and the community.”

The districted earned Awards of Excellence in the writing category for the WDMCS Boundary Study and the video category for the student-made “New Tech Network @ WDMCS” video. The WDMCS Boundary Study earned an Award of Merit in the Public Engagement/Parent & Community Involvement Programs & Initiatives category.

Community Education received Awards of Excellence in the website category for the Silver Cord Online Application, the Special Purpose Publications category for the Summer Learning Catalog and the Marketing Materials category for Tiger Cubs Registration.

School districts from around the state submit their work for multiple categories to the contest each year. This year, the entries were scored by public relations professionals from Kansas. Entries are scored for design, clarity, quality in writing, overall effect and evaluation. Based on the scores, the entries receive an Award of Merit or an Award of Excellence, with the highest scoring entry in each category receiving the Blue and Gold Award.

Board Approves New 2015-16 Calendar, Aug. 24 Start Date

The first day of school for the 2015-16 school year will be Monday, Aug. 24, based on a new school calendar approved by the School Board tonight (April 13, 2015).

New! Full 2015-16 Calendar (Board-Approved)

Calendar Highlights

  • First Day of School for Students: Aug. 24
  • First Day of Tiger Cubs Preschool: Aug. 31
  • Winter Break: Dec. 23-Jan. 3
  • End of First Semester: Jan. 13
  • Spring Break: March 14-18
  • Last Day of Tiger Cubs Preschool: May 27
  • Last Student Day: June 1 (pending snow days)
  • Professional Development/Flex Days – No School For Students: Sept. 21, Nov. 25, Jan. 18, Feb. 26, March 11, April 29

The 2015-16 school year calendar is based on instructional hours. It meets the requirements of a new state law that says Iowa schools can not start the academic year earlier than Aug. 23. 

The district will soon begin work to develop a proposed calendar for the 2016-17 school year.


The School Board originally approved a calendar for the 2015-16 school year in May 2014 with a start date of Aug. 12 and the first semester ending before winter break. This calendar was developed through the work of a district calendar committee, which included parents and teachers representing each school attendance center in the district. The committee considered several factors, including input from student, parent, and staff surveys. The original calendar required the state to grant the district’s request to waive a state law requiring schools to start classes during the week of Sept. 1. In the past, the state routinely approved waivers.

In December 2014, the Iowa Department of Education (DE) notified Iowa school districts that it would no longer routinely grant waivers, and a new process was implemented. The WDMCS submitted a waiver under the new requirements. In addition, the district developed two additional proposed calendars, one with a start date of August 31 and another with a start date of August 24, which was approved by the School Board as noted above. Public hearings were held on both of these alternate calendars.

With the start of the 2015 state legislative session, several bills were proposed that addressed school start dates. Eventually, Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill stating schools could start no sooner than Aug. 23 and only allowing some school districts with year-round calendars to be exempt from the new rules. The bill excludes high schools from seeking such exemptions.


Life in the WDMCS 4/13/15

Life in the WDMCS is a weekly feature that highlights what is happening at each of our buildings. If a school is not listed, there was no submission from that building this week.

Clive Elementary

Clive Elementary kindergarten students plant sunflower seeds for a science unit every spring. The students learned the parts of a flower and what flowers need to grow. The hands-on science unit helped students learn responsibility skills as they learned how to grow a flower. The students observed, watered, and wrote about their flowers weekly, and will take them home to give to their mothers for Mother’s Day.

Crestview Elementary

Seventeen fifth-grade Crestview Elementary students participated in the grade-level Math Bowl. Students had to solve 25 problem-solving questions accurately on a white board. Amanda Fowler, Benjamin Mann, Meredith Reiker, Natalie Thomas, Jasmyn Tran, and Lincoln Whitaker correctly solved the most problems and will move on to represent Crestview at the district Math Bowl in May.

The Crestview participants were Daniel Carillo, Angel Carpenter, Savana Carpenter, Grace Derouin, Maddie Dobesh, Cael Elmore, Derek Frommelt, Zoe Givant, Van Hlawn, Khen Par, Sui Par, and Zing Sung. Two sixth-grade students who are native Spanish-speakers, Kevin Alvarado and Oscar De Avila, assisted at the competition.

Western Hills Elementary

Western Hills Elementary fifth-graders have been learning about the westward movement in U.S. history. Each class visited Living History Farms to learn what it was like to live on a farm and attend a one-room schoolhouse. They completed traditional school lessons and household chores. Each student dressed in traditional pioneer clothing and packed authentic lunches for the trip. In preparation for their next unit, on the Civil War, the students visited the State Historical Building for the “The Civil War Ends” program on April 10. Students participated in various breakout sessions about the Underground Railroad, flags and music of the time period, visits with Civil War re-enactors, and Iowa connections to the Civil War.