District News

Life in the WDMCS 11/30/2015

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.


All sixth-grade students in the West Des Moines Community Schools came together to compete in the Sixth Annual Steve France Volleyball Tournament. Boys’ and girls’ teams filled the Valley High School Field House. Teams competed in rotation and encouraged each other on with banners, signs, and positive cheers.

Hillside Elementary

Hillside Elementary sixth-graders got to work with two teaching artists from the Pilobolus dance collective. The dancers worked with the students to teach them how to “harness the creative potential of groups” and to promote trust and respect in their relationships. Students got to try several dance techniques and perform them for their classmates.

Fourth-grade students at Hillside Elementary created animal puppets and used them to perform the annual Iktomi plays, which center on a Lakota trickster spirit. Hillside third-graders, families, and district staff were all invited to view the plays performed by each class on Nov. 24.

Weather Closings Reminder

Winter is in the air, with the forecast predicting snow tomorrow and a winter storm watch in effect for parts of Iowa Friday. Student safety is our top priority, and we want to remind district families about our weather closings procedure, including how decisions are made and how to stay informed.

In preparation for the winter months, please visit our Weather Closings page. Please stay safe and warm as we head into the week of Thanksgiving Break!

Life in the WDMCS 11/23/2015

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.

Crestview School of Inquiry
Crestview School of Inquiry learners took a field trip to watch the Iowa Wild. The special game was part of the “Wild About Education” Day and attracted more than 8,000 students from central Iowa. The Crestview learners got to enjoy a professional hockey game and see demonstrations from the Science Center of Iowa and Character Counts.

Hillside Elementary

Kindergarten students and teachers made 36 pies on Nov. 23, in preparation for the 12th Annual Hillside Kindergarten Pie Feast. Community volunteers helped three classes of kindergartners make 36 pies to serve to their families tomorrow during the Pie Feast. Kindergarten students will also perform a short program for their families at the feast.

WDMCS Implements Project Lead The Way K–12

Three students in Gretchen Fackler's fourth-grade class at Hillside discuss plans for their glider.

Three students in Gretchen Fackler’s third-grade class at Hillside discuss plans for their glider.

The West Des Moines Community Schools district is one of the first in the state to implement Project Lead The Way (PLTW) elements throughout the district. The PLTW non-profit is the nation’s leading provider of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs. Use of PLTW programs is being facilitated by Shane Scott, director of curriculum, and Annie Orsini, Professional Development/ Curriculum Facilitator for K-6 Mathematics and Science.

“My experience was that we might gather data or do a ‘cookbook’ lab,” said Scott, a former science teacher. “Today, it’s more about, ‘Now that you know these scientific principles, let’s use them in a way that improves the human experience.’”

Enter Project Lead The Way. Some of the organization’s innovative programs were first used at Valley High School in 2010. Valley Southwoods began using PLTW elements in 2013, and the junior high schools followed in 2014. The district is now implementing two new PLTW units in every K–5 science class, with the help of four grants from the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council and two from the Bemis Company Foundation.

“Our students were already experiencing a lot of hands-on activities,” Orsini said. “With this, we’re just going deeper.”

The Project Lead The Way Engineering Design Process: Ask, Explore, Model, Evaluate, Explain.

The Project Lead The Way Engineering Design Process.

In the new units, students will use the PLTW engineering design process: ask, explore, model, evaluate, and explain. Instead of going one-way, the process allows students to improve their designs after testing, like adults collaborating on a real-world design.

“What is unique with this model of programming is there are multiple solutions,” Scott said. “Students test the solutions they’ve designed, and get to go back and make adjustments.”

Third-grade students at Hillside Elementary recently studied the “Science of Flight.” After building a knowledge base about force and Newton’s Laws of Motion, they were tasked with delivering supplies to a remote area hit by a natural disaster. Small groups collaborated to construct gilders to carry the supplies, represented by binder clips.

Hillside fourth-grade teacher Gretchen Fackler guides a reflective discussion about the gliders after the launches.

Hillside third-grade teacher Gretchen Fackler guides a reflective discussion about the gliders after the launches.

The goal was for the glider to go 10 feet forward when launched, with two clips attached. All groups were asked what they could do to improve their glider after launching. If the glider did not go 10 feet, their adjustments focused on meeting that goal. If it completed the journey, they worked on redesigning their gliders to carry more disaster-relief supplies.

Groups explained the ideas behind their designs after testing. They backed up their decisions with knowledge of force, motion, lift and drag, and the balance of weight. Hillside teacher Gretchen Fackler highlighted the fact that the two most successful gliders had dissimilar designs. Students also completed logs of their progress and different designs they tried. This reflection is a cornerstone of PLTW programming.

Fourth-grade students at Fairmeadows Elementary have questions about their VEX Robotics Design System kits.

Students in Amber Kuehler’s fourth-grade class have questions about their VEX Robotics Design System kits.

“Students have to argue from evidence,” Scott said. “They have to be persuasive. It is very interdisciplinary with the use of reading, writing, and mathematics.”

PLTW uses the evaluate and explain design process steps to reinforces the universal constructs: critical thinking, complex communication, creativity, collaboration, flexibility and adaptability, and productivity and accountability. These skills are not tied to a specific subject area, but considered “essential for 21st century success” by Iowa CORE and many employers.

Future employers may also be pleased to hear that PLTW includes robotics units. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts computer and mathematical occupations will grow by 18 percent between 2012 and 2022, compared to an average growth of 10.8 percent. With PLTW, students will begin studying robotics and simple machines using VEX Robotics Design System kits in third and fourth grades. Fifth-grade students explore true robotics, using an app and computer to program a hazardous waste removal robot.

One student group compares the parts they have to what they are seeing in the instructions on their iPad.

One student group compares the VEX kit parts they have to what they are seeing in the instructions on their iPad.

“The robot exposes students to that programming: telling a piece of technology what to do and how to perform a task,” Orsini said.

Gliders and robots may be more fun than microscope slides and workbooks, but PLTW programs are also rich with relevant science knowledge and skills. What sets Project Lead The Way apart from other programming is that it makes gaining that knowledge more authentic and engaging for students.

Tiger Cubs Preschool Registration

Tiger Cubs Preschool registration for the 2016-17 school year will open at 8 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2015.

2016-17 Calendar Set: August 24 Start Date

The School Board approved the 2016-17 school year calendar at its Nov. 9 meeting, setting Wednesday, Aug. 24 as the first day of school.

Life in the WDMCS 11/16/2015

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 Learning Academy

Fourth-grade students at Clive Learning Academy have been researching and learning about therapy dogs for their project-based learning unit, which centers on acquiring a therapy dog for the school. They have focused on several different research areas, including therapy dogs at other schools, dog care, and therapy dog uses and training. Students are creating fact-filled presentations to share with their parents, a panel of experts, and the school director, Andrea Bocook, on Nov. 20.

Crestview School of Inquiry

Crestview fourth-grade learners kicked off their first New Tech Network project, Invention Convention, this fall. Learners researched inventors and innovative thinkers and identified the reasons behind inventions. Mr. Mike Colwell from Square One Des Moines joined fourth graders to share his expertise guiding entrepreneurs. Learners presented their prototypes for his feedback and suggestions. Invention Convention was wrapped up by presenting possible solutions to peers.

Jordan Creek Elementary

Preschoolers at Jordan Creek Tiger Cubs are studying music. Music helps students work on all areas of development: intellectual, social, emotional, motor, language, and overall literacy. Teacher Ingrid Anthan has been teaching the students about the joy of music using rhythm sticks and other instruments.


Congratulations! Four WDMCS Educators Receive Recognition

Four WDMCS Educators have received recent recognition for their efforts in helping students succeed.

Dr. Kristine Milburn, PD/CF for Gifted/Talented Programming, was one of two 2015 Research Award winners through the Iowa Talented and Gifted Association (ITAG). She presented her research on “Supporting High-Achieving High School Students Who Take Rigorous Course Loads” during the 2015 ITAG conference in October.

Dr. Milburn investigated the socioemotional impact on students taking four or more AP courses concurrently. High-achieving high school students often struggle to balance academic, extra-curricular, job, and family duties. Her research offered recommendations for students, parents, and high school personnel that could help students find balance.

Crossroads Park Elementary fifth-grade teacher Lynda Niffenegger was named Teacher of the Year by Living History Farms. Niffenegger was honored at the 2015 Farmtasia event in October.

“Lynda Niffenegger brings history to life from the moment you step foot in her classroom,” wrote Lindsey Frandsen, Niffenegger’s daughter and colleague, in her nomination letter. “Lynda takes the role of teaching students the history of our country very seriously.”

Stilwell drama teacher Nicole Crawford earned WHO-HD’s Golden Apple Award, given to one teacher each month during the school year. She was nominated by her 2014-15 drama students. “Mrs. Crawford inspires every student that goes into her class,” the nomination read. “She is kind and helpful. She always expects the best from us so that we can achieve great things in life, whether it’s on or off of the stage. … The way she impacts kids’ lives is unbelievable and inspirational.”

Wade Petersen, a Valley Southwoods language arts and French teacher, was named a finalist for the Iowa Department of Education’s 2016 Teacher of the Year award. Look for more information when Petersen, the other finalists, and the award winner are honored at a luncheon next year.

Congratulations to these WDMCS educators!

Early Retirement Planning Meeting Materials Now Available

The Early Retirement Planning Meeting was held Oct. 28 at the Learning Resource Center. For those who could not attend the meeting in person, videos of the speakers and their presentation slides are provided below.

Please contact Elaine Lindaman, Human Resources Salary Specialist, at 515-633-5034 or lindamane@wdmcs.org with questions.


District Plans

2015-16 Early Retirement Plan PDF

2016-17 Early Retirement Plan PDF


Social Security

Presentation Slides



Presentation Slides



Presentation Slides


Q&A Session

Life in the WDMCS 11/9/2015

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 Learning Academy

Fifth-graders at Clive Learning Academy have been studying and asking the question “What is the value of freedom?” After interviewing a panel of refugees in the community, hosting a veteran’s luncheon, and researching the nation’s past struggles with freedom, students decided that it was important to present this information to their peers and community members. Their goal was to help others understand and appreciate the freedoms citizens have and the sacrifices that have been made to protect these freedoms. The learners organized informational booths and planned a Veterans Day Assembly for Friday, Nov. 6. Veterans in our community were invited so they could be recognized and honored.

Jordan Creek Elementary

Jordan Creek Elementary fourth-grade students have been learning about the bones of the body, how the skeleton works, and what bones look like inside and out. They dissected an owl pellet and investigated different small animal bones the owl digested. The students also had an opportunity to compare and contrast human and animal skeletal anatomy with a veterinarian guest speaker.