District News

Tjeerdsma is Teacher of the Year Finalist


A goal to see all students succeed drives the Crossroads Park educator chosen for a statewide honor.

Sixth-grade teacher Tamara Tjeerdsma was selected as one of five finalists for the Iowa Teacher of the Year award. She will be honored with the other finalists and award winner Clemencia Spizzirri of Des Moines at a ceremony in March.

Tjeerdsma has been with West Des Moines Community Schools since 2004, teaching at Western Hills and Westridge elementaries before moving to Crossroads Park this year. She previously taught at schools in Kansas and also northwest Iowa and served as an adjunct professor at Fort Hays State University in Hays, Kan.

A tough childhood spurred her interest in helping kids. Being part of the foster system from the age of 5 showed her the need to make sure children didn’t fall through the cracks, Tjeerdsma said, and she initially majored in social work in college to “change the ills I thought were still part of society.”

A junior-year social work program based at a school caused Tjeerdsma to rethink her plans and switch to education. She recalled how two educators had shown interest in her as a child and decided teaching was the best way for her to improve children’s lives. Her reward now is seeing students gain confidence and realize they can succeed inside and outside the classroom.

“I’m here to invest in children from all walks of life,” she said. “This is where my passion is, this is where my love is.”

Dr. Lindsay Grow, an assistant professor of education at Grand View University, nominated Tjeerdsma in April for the annual state award. Tjeerdsma mentored Grow during Grow’s first years of teaching at Western Hills.

“Tamara’s ability to inspire students, communicate with parents and work with colleagues is superior,” Grow wrote in her nomination letter. “She is always looking for innovative ideas and ways to adapt and differentiate the curriculum to meet the needs of the learners in her class.”

Tjeerdsma has taught fourth through sixth grades along with math-specific curriculum throughout her career. She’s held several collaborative roles in the West Des Moines district, such as serving on the Online Learning Committee and the Professional Development Leadership Team. She also was the facilitator of the Partners for Student Success program at Westridge.

It’s important for teachers to work together, she said. “I truly believe in collaboration and I’ve learned alongside incredible individuals.”

That interaction extends to the parents as well. Sixth-grade students in particular are facing emotional and physical changes along with academic growth, she said, and her role is to give parents the support needed to encourage their children at home as well as at school.

Former students sometimes send Tjeerdsma letters expressing their gratitude for the encouragement she provided. Those notes remind her of the important roles teachers have in the lives of their students.

“Each one of us never knows the difference we may make,” she said.


Counselors Play Key Role in Students’ Lives


School counselors offer a wide range of services beyond helping students choose classes and navigate the college application process. West Des Moines Community Schools offers programs and activities through its Counseling Department to help students build self-esteem, prevent bullying, and make healthy life choices.

With a counselor at each elementary building, two at each of the junior-high schools, one at Walnut Creek Campus, and seven at Valley High School, there’s always support available to help students and their parents meet a challenge. Counselors ensure students are meeting curriculum benchmarks along with personal and scholastic goals. They also provide emotional support and step forward in a crisis to meet students’ needs.

Counselors at the elementary level play a unique role in students’ growth. They introduce children to the district’s program of support and help young children take their first steps toward self-worth, personal safety, and more. To celebrate National School Counseling Week, we asked Westridge counselor Pattie Klein to share some highlights offered by elementary-building counselors during a recent staff-development meeting.

Q: National School Counseling Week is Feb. 2-6. Do counselors in the district have any special events or activities planned to celebrate or raise awareness of what the district offers?

A: We all have school-wide celebrations in recognition of our school counselors during National School Counseling Week. Every school plans their own celebration so that students and staff can participate.

Q: In the past, there may have been a negative connotation in some students’ minds about being “sent to the counselor’s office.” But today, counselors offer a wider variety of support for students. How have the services offered by counselors evolved over the years?

A: We are an integral part of our buildings and have developed rapport with our students in a way that makes the students more comfortable and willing to seek the support of a counselor. Most students want to have experiences with their school counselor, whether it is in a small group, a new student group, or a lunch bunch!

Q: Do the counselors from across the district work on any special staff development projects? Do they get together to work on issues and create strategies, for example?

A: The elementary counselors have worked together to develop their curriculum, which is developmental, sequential and articulated. We meet as a K-12 group annually, but otherwise do not have time to collaborate; however, we do meet regularly for committee work such as on our District Anti-Bullying Committee.

Q: Are there certain topics that counselors focus on for the various grade levels of elementary students?

A: While additional themes may be covered, these are the core issues addressed at every elementary school in the district:
Kindergarten: Cooperation, feelings, character education, personal safety, career readiness, social skills and manners, self-esteem, social/emotional learning, and learner behaviors.
First grade: Empathy, conflict resolution, and personal safety.
Second grade: Friendship, bullying prevention, and anger management.
Third grade: Bullying prevention, self-esteem and strengths, and personal safety.
Fourth grade: Prejudice, discrimination and diversity, decision making, and bullying prevention.
Fifth grade: Personal safety and digital citizenship, bullying prevention, and loss and change.
Sixth grade: Bullying prevention, study skills, and transitioning to junior high.

For more information on counseling services and programs offered throughout the district, visit the Counseling Department’s web page. Follow the links to a staff directory, resources and details on the district’s programs.


27 Student-Athletes Participate in National Signing Day

Congratulations to the 27 student-athletes from Valley High School who participated in National Signing Day and will continue their education and athletic careers after high school! A complete list of the athletes, sport and college/university they are attending is below.

Life in the WDMCS 02/03/15

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 students packed the Knapp Center at Drake University Dec. 18. Fourth- through sixth-grade students celebrated their positive behavior at a Drake women’s basketball game with hundreds of other students from the metro area. Attending the game was part of Clive’s PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) recognition system. Students are recognized and rewarded for their respectful, responsible, safe, and caring behavior. Drake cheerleaders helped reinforce these positive behaviors with encouraging dances and cheers. The Drake players modeled good sportsmanship and even high-fived students after the game. Clive students had a wonderful time building memories with their classmates and teachers.

Crestview Elementary

First-graders celebrated the 100th day of school with fun activities, such as stringing necklaces with 100 pieces of Fruit Loops cereal and making hats. Some students made projects with 100 items at home and shared them with classmates.

Crestview fifth-grader Nithya Myneni recently completed reading all 17 of this year’s Iowa Children’s Choice Award books. Nithya’s favorite is “The Fast and the Furriest” by Andy Behrens, a comical story about a boy and his dog. An avid reader, Nithya is now enjoying “The Chronicles of Narnia” tales by C.S. Lewis.

Fairmeadows Elementary

The fifth- and sixth-graders have been playing guitars in Debra Augspurger’s general music classes. We have acoustic six-string guitars and learn basic I, IV and V chords along with a variety of strumming patterns and techniques. We have discovered that many American folk songs are playable with only three chords. That is also true for many pop songs, such as “The Best Day of My Life,” “Brave,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Lean On Me.” There are also frequent requests for “Smoke on the Water.”

Jordan Creek Elementary

Fifth-grade news: Students built toothpick bridges in their models and designs unit. Their unit started with information about how to create solid, lasting structures, such as bridges. Students then applied for jobs that included architect, accountant, and project manager. They were given a budget to purchase toothpicks and glue and created their designs. The culminating activity was the “breaking of the bridges.” Science teachers Jeff Ver Helst and Adam Ponsor applied a hook to a five-pound bucket and added sand to see how much weight a bridge would hold. Students and teachers were astounded that many bridges held from 20 to 60 pounds. In social studies, students portrayed colonists and experienced the events that led to the Revolutionary War and the creation of the Declaration of Independence. Students read texts, watched videos, and learned about the Boston Tea Party. They had to decide if they would be a Loyalist or colonist. Their next journey will be exploring our new government. Compare/contrast and cause/effect are two of the skills students are applying in their reading classes. Students learn about the strategies, practice them, and discuss how the strategies help them become better readers. All fifth-graders continue to make independent reading a priority and keep track of their minutes read each week. Fractions, analyzing data, creating stem and leaf plots, and finding data landmarks are a few of the topics keeping fifth-graders busy in math. Students will take a mid-year test to analyze how well they have retained skills learned so far. Students are using iPads and laptops to reinforce their math skills and challenge their learning. They are also reinforcing skills by using the Khan Academy online. “Let me tell you about one of the craziest days in my life” was the beginning of one of the personal narratives students created during a unit in their writing curriculum that had them documenting their life stories. Fifth-grade students are also participating in band and orchestra, archery club, chess club, math club, and other activities.

Valley High School

Valley student Hira Mustafa is one of the honorees selected for the Chinese Association of Iowa’s youth of the year award. The honor recognizes young people who serve others and make a difference in the community. Mustafa will be honored at the association’s annual awards ceremony Feb. 21 in Des Moines.

Valley student Wil Abeling had a photo selected an as honorable mention in the National Wildlife Federation’s annual wildlife/nature photo contest. Abeling’s photo, “Eyes on Orion,” was taken at Badger Creek State Recreation Area in West Des Moines last spring as an assignment for Tory DeVries’ digital photography class. The photo was selected from a pool of more than 29,000 entries. Abeling is the only photographer from Iowa to be recognized in this year’s photo contest.



Two-hour Delay Monday, Feb. 2

Because of severe winter weather conditions, all schools will start two hours late today ­­­­Monday, Feb. 2, 2015.

  • There will be no morning preschool.
  • Full-day kindergarten will start two-hours late district wide.
  • No morning activities or early bird classes.
  • Kids West will open at 8:30 a.m.

Buses will pick up students two hours after their normal pick-up time.

Valley High School Schedule 

School Menus Update

The WDMCS Nutrition Department is proud to announce an exciting update to the WDMCS district’s school menus!

A new software program provides parents and students with additional information about the district’s food-service menus.

Starting in February, all menus will be available at wdmcs.nutrislice.com. Nutrislice will offer:

  • More information about each food, including a photo, nutrition facts, and description
  • A FREE app for iPhone and Android – School Lunch by Nutrislice
  • A mobile website
  • And you can still print a PDF of the menu by visiting the menus website above.

To access our menus, download our free smartphone app or check out our new menus website, http://wdmcs.nutrislice.com

PLEASE NOTE: Pictures and descriptions of all items may not be yet available, but will be coming soon.

We hope you’ll check out our new menus and let us know what you think!

District First in Iowa to Offer New Tech Schools


Staff members from Stilwell Junior High talk with a teacher at Columbus Signature Academy – Central Middle School Campus in Columbus, Indiana.

The West Des Moines Community Schools will be the first district in the state to offer New Tech schools, where students learn through real-world projects and all children are assigned a personal digital device.

Next year, Clive and Crestview elementary schools will become New Tech schools. Both Indian Hills and Stilwell junior high schools will offer a “school-within-a-school” model, with one team of seventh-grade students learning in a New Tech environment. Incoming seventh-graders will have the opportunity to apply to the New Tech team at their junior high or choose to be assigned to a team using the traditional teaching model.

Informational meetings for parents and guardians will be held in the next few weeks:

  • Sixth-grade parent meetings will be held Thursday, Feb. 5, and Thursday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Valley Performing Arts Center, 3650 Woodland Avenue, in West Des Moines. The same information will be presented on both dates.
  • A Clive Elementary parent meeting will be held Tuesday, March 10, at Clive, 1600 73rd Street, in Windsor Heights, at 6:30 p.m.; dinner at 5:30 p.m.
  • A Crestview Elementary parent meeting will be held Wednesday, March 11 at Crestview, 8355 Franklin Ave., in Clive at 5:30 p.m.; dinner at 5 p.m.

Stilwell teachers speak with a student from Columbus Signature Academy Central Middle School Campus in Indiana.

New Tech students will receive the same curriculum as their peers in the district. However, it will be delivered through project-based learning, in which students collaborate on projects that require critical thinking, creativity, and communication to answer challenging questions or solve complex problems.

Students are not only assessed on their understanding of academic content, but also on their ability to successfully apply that content when solving problems.

Project-based learning gives students the opportunity to develop the real-life skills required for success in today’s world. Students often collaborate with local organizations or groups on projects that affect the cities or neighborhoods where students live.

District administration researched the New Tech model for more than a year. Representatives from the city of West Des Moines and local businesses joined administrators, teachers, and parents on visits to other New Tech schools in the Midwest and California. The West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education approved a contract with the New Tech Network on Monday, Jan. 26.



New Tech Network Brochure Español

New Tech at WDMCS PowerPoint

New Tech - Junior High Teams FAQ

Sixth Grade Parent/Guardian Meeting

 Clive Parent/Guardian Meeting

Crestview Parent/Guardian Meeting


WDMCS Student Teams Design Future Cities

Two West Des Moines Community Schools student teams traveled to Cedar Rapids to participate in Iowa’s Future Cities competition on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2015. Future Cities is an engineering competition that challenges students to design a city of the future that addresses a particular concern. Urban agriculture was this year’s focus. Coach Gina Reinier, ELP teacher at Western Hills and Hillside elementaries, and Community Mentor Jeremy Reinier, P.E., helped students prepare for the competition.

Each team designed a city that produced a protein and a vegetable grown in quantities to feed the entire population. The Western Hills team worked on a city set in Thailand. They used pneumatic tubes and bicycle paths for transportation. The team chose crickets and mealworms as a protein and produced lentils as a vegetable.

The Hillside team revitalized a vineyard killed by pests. It was set in a city on the Italian coast. They raised chickens as a protein and carrots as a vegetable. This team won an award for the best land-surveying practices.

Students wrote an essay and a narrative, built a model of their cities, presented it to multiple judges, and worked on an online simulation. Through this opportunity, students learned about different engineering disciplines, the way services and needs are managed in a city, the importance of teamwork, and how to articulate their ideas.

Article and photos submitted by Kristine Milburn, WDMCS English teacher and K-12 ELP PD/Curriculum Facilitator. Not all team members were available for photos.

Valley College Planning Seminar and Fair Answers Students’ Questions

Register for the Valley College Planning Seminar and Fair

Valley High School (VHS) is hosting a college planning seminar and college fair for Central Iowa on March 2. The seminar will start at 5 p.m. in the Media Center, and the fair will start at 6 p.m. in the VHS cafeteria and commons area.

VHS counselors Karla Hardy and Eric Traynor plan the event each year with the help of Polly Maly, VHS Counseling Center secretary. Hardy and Maly organize the fair, while Traynor works with the Iowa College Access Network (ICAN) to plan the seminar. ICAN is a non-profit organization that aims to help students and parents successfully navigate the college journey.

“We send people to their site all the time,” Traynor said. “They’re a great resource.”

ICAN approached VHS about presenting a college planning seminar a few years ago. Seeing the success of the college fairs at the school, ICAN decided they wanted to be part of the event as well. ICAN now works with Traynor to plan and present relevant, useful seminars each year.

The seminar will be presented by Erick Danielson, ICAN supervisor, with support from some of the college fair admission representatives. Danielson will present the main information, and the representatives will provide specific examples of how the schools they are representing tackle things like campus visits or admission standards. To present as much diversity as possible, they plan to include three representatives in the presentation: one from a state school, one from an out-of-state public school, and one from a private school. The seminar will cover a wide variety of topics, including:

  • the application process
  • key things students should think about when comparing schools
  • campus visits
  • admission standards
  • financial aid and other resources

The financial aid portion will only cover the basics, as ICAN presents a seminar specifically on financial aid at VHS each December. The college planning seminar will also provide time for students and their families to ask any questions and receive input from all the presenters.

The college fair will follow the seminar. Representatives from several regional colleges will attend. A tentative list of attending schools is available but subject to change. Interested schools must be registered through the Iowa Association for College Admission Counseling.

While the seminar gives an overview of the college selection process, the fair is a good time for students and their families to find out specific information from schools and either start or continue researching schools.

“It’s a really nice way to start the process,” Hardy said. “It’s asking questions and getting used to comparing schools. Anyone who comes will get something from it.”

Attending colleges will have information to hand out and representatives available to answer questions. Traynor explained that the representatives attend fairs “all over the state” and are experienced at answering all types of questions about the schools they represent. Hardy, Maly, and Traynor agreed that the questions students and their families have are the most important things they can bring to the fair and seminar. Hardy provided a list of good questions to ask representatives, such as:

  • What are the admission criteria?
  • What majors are offered?
  • What type of student activities are available?
  • What is the average class size?

The questions and others are available from the VHS Counseling Center, along with other college planning documents. They will also be available at the fair.

Any students and families who want to attend the seminar and fair are welcome.

“It’s not open just to juniors and seniors,” Maly said. “Certainly freshmen and sophomores can come if they want to start getting an idea of which schools they want to look at.”

Hardy and Traynor added that even students who have not started at VHS can attend. Students are encouraged to sign up at gotocollegefairs.com beforehand. To streamline the fair process and allow more time for discussion, students will submit their information to the website, which will generate a barcode they can print out or access on a smartphone or tablet. The school representatives will then scan that barcode, allowing them to acquire the students’ information without the students having to spend all night filling out forms. If a student does not register prior to the event, they are still welcome to attend and register at the beginning of the event.

Valley Musician Chosen for Grammy Camp


A Valley senior will be in the midst of the glitz and glamour of the Grammy Awards while he participates in concerts and instructional sessions through an elite program for young jazz musicians.

Jared Freiburg is the only Iowa teen selected for this year’s Grammy Camp —­ Jazz Session, which will draw 32 students from across the country to Los Angeles the first week of February. Freiburg, one of two tenors in the camp’s jazz choir, completed a series of vocal performances and transcription exercises over two months to audition for the program.

Freiburg decided it would be a great challenge to try out for the camp. “I thought, well, it’s a longshot but if I don’t try, I’ll never know,” he said.

Freiburg learned of his selection in November, when he got a call verifying his contact information and then a package arrived full of sheet music and other material he must master before he arrives in Los Angeles Jan. 30. He is required to submit vocal tracks for critique every week until he leaves for camp.

The students in the jazz choir, combo and band will have only two days to rehearse together and Freiburg expects “they’ll come with their game faces on.” He wants to be ready.

“Right now it’s putting in the hard work so I can have the fun later,” he said.

The young musicians will perform at several venues, including a pre-Grammys celebration for the nominees and the award show’s after-party. Freiburg and the other teens will also be in the audience at the Feb. 8 award show at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.

While Freiburg acknowledged camp members will surely be seated toward the back of the auditorium, he’s still excited to see so many bold-faced names from the music industry. “It will be an experience to go to the Grammys and be in that room.”

Students will jam with several professional jazz musicians and record some tracks at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. Country performer/songwriter Hunter Hayes will rehearse with the group and perform with them during a Feb. 4 concert.

Along with sharpening his skills and meeting other young jazz fans from across the country, the camp will also give Freiburg a chance to meet representatives from several college-level jazz programs. A number of university music schools will offer scholarships to students chosen for the camp.

Freiburg has not yet selected a college but knows he wants to focus on jazz vocals. He first learned of the complexities of jazz from his grandfather, who played in bands as a young man and taught Freiburg to read and play music.

Freiburg took piano lessons for several years and later picked up the guitar. He now learns new music by ear and teaches himself to play, improvising and making the melody his own. He enjoys playing at the downtown farmers market and at area retirement facilities and assisted living centers.

Growing up listening to Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra and other crooners not only sparked Freiburg’s interest in jazz but flavored his musical tastes for life.

He doesn’t listen to anything that came out after 1989, Freiburg said, instead focusing on tunes from the 1940s to 1970s, including some ’50s rock in his jazzed-up playlist. “I’ve always liked the old stuff,” he said.