District News

Hillside Art Teacher Named Outstanding Teacher

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Ballard works with two students as they begin their projects.

Pam Ballard, full time Hillside Elementary art teacher and Jordan Creek kindergarten art teacher, was recently named the Art Educators of Iowa Outstanding Elementary Teacher for 2014. The award is presented to teachers who have a “stellar dedication to the craft of teaching art to children.” Ballard, who has been teaching for 16 years, was nominated by Barbara Caldwell, her mentor at ISU.

“To me, that meant a lot because working in West Des Moines, we have a lot of [Professional Learning Community] time, so we get to build a strong staff,” Ballard said, “but it was nice to see recognition from outside the district.”

Ballard started out as a studio artist, specializing in clay and fiber art at ISU. Her master’s degree is in sculpture. While working as an artist, she felt there was something missing. She figured out what that something was when she spent some time teaching English to non-native speakers. She returned to school and earned a second master’s degree in art education. She has taught at different levels of K–12 education, but eventually chose to work in elementaries.

“I really enjoy working with younger artists because they come as experience visual learners,” Ballard said. “They haven’t learned that they can’t do anything yet.”

That appreciate for visual learning became even more useful as Ballard spent eight years as the West Des Moines Community Schools’ art department chair, developing creative, new curriculum strategies for the entire district. A self-described “curriculum geek,” Ballard emphasized that education standards matter because they help prepare students to enter their future field with depth and breadth. Because teachers today are training students for jobs that do not even exist yet, Ballard focused on developing curriculums that would teach teamwork, problem solving and adaptability: skills that would be useful in any profession.

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A Hillside student gets inspired in one of Ballard’s classes.

“It’s just that I consider art to paramount to community culture, whether it’s here in America or even as a species,” Ballard said. “Art gives students a voice and gives them an understanding that they are a part of something bigger. It’s empowering.”

Ballard has since returned her focus to teaching in the classroom and is a major champion of the Artful Learning program used at Hillside Elementary. Artful Learning, based on the ideas of Leonard Bernstein, operates on the belief that any subject can be learned from any discipline. Every trimester is based around a main concept, and each subject anchors that concept with a masterwork. The concept is threaded through every subject, from art to science, math and language, helping the students learn to make connections and form inquiries of their own.

In Ballard’s art classes, the students study a masterwork and then create their own artwork inspired by it. There may be many steps in between, like learning more about the concept or studying different inspiration connected to the concept, before the physical creation process begins.

One of the concepts earlier in the year was “innovation.” Ballard had students study David Smith’s famous Tanktotem II and the works of Giacomo Balla, discuss and study innovation and how it connected to art, and finally create their own pieces. First grade artists studied Balla’s “Flight of Swallows,” watched video clips of birds in flight over Balla’s Italian hometown and the various stages of flight, and practiced flying with different wing positions outside before drawing a sequence of birds in motion.

Ballard’s unique approach stems from her ability to see her students as fully-formed artists capable of powerful creativity, while also recognizing them as children still learning about the world and how they fit into it.

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Ballard discusses a project with one of her students.

“I’ve got the best job in the world,” Ballard said. “I come in and get to work with these incredible young artists. They come up with ideas I would never think of, and they push themselves harder than I would ever ask them to. That’s when you know the spark is alive in them.”

Ballard credits West Des Moines as the place that nurtured that same spark in her as a child. As a teacher in that same community, she still sees the appreciation for all areas of study, including the arts, and thinks the “legacy of the arts” is one of the things that sets the district apart.

“I think that’s something we need to be proud of and continue to be proud of,” she said. “I’m the product, and now I’m the producer.”

Students learning from Ballard will not be surprised to find that she was named the outstanding elementary teacher for 2014. Her background in curriculum and her unique views on learning and art are just the beginning of what makes this teacher a great one. The rest comes from her view of leadership as service and her ability to bring passion, enthusiasm and that creative spark into the classroom and share them with her students.

Schools Hold Events to Welcome Families 

Elementary schools in the district are holding events to welcome new and returning families to their building due to the new school boundaries and enrollment reset for the 2015-16 school year. Some students may attend a new school because their home will be in a different building’s attendance area. Students who reside in one school’s boundary area but have attended another building will be welcomed back to their resident school when space allows. Schools will send their new families a letter explaining their new assignment and an invitation to their event. The events are being held at:

  • Clive (1600 73rd St., Windsor Heights) 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29.
  • Crossroads Park (1050 50th St., West Des Moines) 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 22.
  • Crestview (8355 Franklin Ave., Clive) 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 20.
  • Fairmeadows (807 23rd St., West Des Moines) 6:30-7:15 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 3
  • Hillside (713 8th St., West Des Moines) 5:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3.
  • Jordan Creek (4105 Fuller Road, West Des Moines) 6:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5.
  • Western Hills (600 39th St., West Des Moines) 5-6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29.
  • Westridge (5500 E.P. True Parkway, West Des Moines) 6-7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 29.

There are some enrollment options available to families who may want their children to continue attending their current school. Eligible families will receive more information about these options after the open house events.

No School Monday, Jan. 19

There will be no school for WDMCS students on Monday, Jan. 19. It is a professional development day for staff. District offices will be open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

For other important dates throughout the school year, please see:

Calendar at a Glance

 

 

Life in the WDMCS 01/13/15

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

Students in Ann McTaggart’s third-grade class are building reading fluency through Reader’s Theatre. The Reader’s Theatre week begins with a fluency skill focus. During the daily reading block, a mini-lesson is presented on a particular fluency skill. Students are currently working on the fluency skill of inflection and intonation. Students apply that fluency skill to the whole-group reading passage by echo reading, choral reading, and partner reading. Next, students take the current skill and apply it to their Reader’s Theatre script. Students have the opportunity to read and refine their character parts throughout the week. Students perform for their peers on the fifth day.

Crestview Elementary

Congratulations to Crestview fifth-grader Haya Alsaadi for using her winter break to finish this year’s collection of Iowa Children’s Choice Award books. Haya chose “Athlete vs. Mathlete” by W.C. Mack as her favorite. Haya is now reading “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate, the true story of a gorilla who was kept in a shopping mall for 25 years.

Hillside Elementary

The kindergartners at Hillside Elementary were excited to get back to school and our daily routine. The start of a new year and many changes on the calendar present a great time to further our students’ understanding of numbers into the double digits using the calendar and the hundreds chart. We will also extend our exploration of numbers to the clock, reinforcing numbers to 12, counting by fives, and beginning concepts of telling time. January and February are always months of great growth in academic understanding for kindergartners. With routines established and behaviors developed, young children are open to new challenges and eagerly make connections across the curriculum. We are all excited to move into the next phase of our school year and anticipate a very productive 2015.

Jordan Creek Elementary

Sixth-grade news, by Cate Dolphin: In social studies, taught by Judy Geiken, we are starting our government unit. We learned about government in fifth grade, as well. We are now learning about the different types of government, such as non-democratic and democratic. Non-democratic governments include dictatorships and monarchies, and democratic governments include republics and direct democracies. In language arts, taught by Jory Smith, we are working on our biographies, something we also did in fifth grade. Students are researching scientists, authors, sports stars, YouTubers, and more. Sixth-graders are using the presentation setting on Google Drive to present to their language arts period classmates. In science, taught by Emily Hanson, we are starting the optics unit. The unit includes learning about eyes, light, and color. We will dissect a cow’s eye and make mirror mazes. We have also experimented with color filters. In math, taught by Aaron Witt, we are in the middle of unit 4. Sixth-graders have also been working to complete the sixth-grade mission on Khan Academy. We use Khan Academy almost daily in math.

Jordan Creek art teacher Julie Martinez is very proud of the students’ artwork. The following children will have their artwork on display through Feb. 23 at the Learning Resource Center. Art history projects: Ava Feeney, 6D; Grace Heitman, 6A; Nathan Buzzell, 6C; Aditi Tripathy, 6A; Kaelyn Lawrence, 6B; Makayla Houston, 6C; Julianne VanArnum, 6C; Andy Kuster, 6A; Dylan McBroom, 6A. Pumpkins: Brody Johnson, 2C. Grant Wood-inspired paintings: Mackenzie Erickson, 3C; Paige Christenson, 3D; Jacob Forney, 3D; Gavin Knudsen, 3B; Grady Walston, 3B; Lucas Kueter, 3D. Mixed-color clown paintings: Lyric DeWeerd, 1A; Kaylee Plummer, 1C; Tealey Schwingendorf, 1C; Trent Grevengoed, 1C; Johnny Reynolds, 1C; Nick Eklov, 1D; David Hawbaker III, 1D; Lizzy Kummet, 1D; Benjamin Qi, 1D; Adrian Phelps, 1D; Anakarina Rogers, 1B; Leia Woo, 1B; Andy Rickert, 1B; Elijah Thatcher, 1B; Dustin Herzberg, 1A; Landen Chen, 1B. Ofrenda displays: Joshua Nichols, Ayden Hall, Jackie Robinson, and Josh Mueldener; and Regan Kuennen, Ellie Burke, Anna Jacob and Asmi Patel; all 6D. Masks: Sophia Hansen, 6C; Will Fisher, 6A; Jacie Stewart, 6C; Abby Feldmann, 6A.

Westridge Elementary

Too bad a trip to Australia is not in the budget. However, third-graders were treated to the next best thing — a presentation from a recent traveler to Australia. Melanie Perry, a naturalist from the Raccoon River Park Nature Lodge, served as our “tour guide” by sharing her first-hand experiences from a trip to Adelaide, Australia. Students learned similarities and differences between the United States and Australia. The presentation was filled with many exciting things to view: a PowerPoint, videos, and artifacts. Some students were daring enough to try a taste of Vegemite.

Valley High School

Six students studying Chinese at Valley have been chosen as semi-finalists for the National Security Language Initiatives for Youth scholarship program: sophomore Arjun Ganga; juniors Abigail Smith, Cameron Hillsman, Katie Weedman, and Bronwyn Wright; and senior Tej Akavaram. The students are currently taking part in the interview process for the honors and the finalists are expected to be notified in early March. All the Valley students except Akavaram are vying for scholarships to study in China for six weeks this summer. Akavaram won a scholarship for the summer program in 2013 and is now competing for an award providing an entire year of study.

 

 

Employee Wellness Program – Sign In Today!

comed_ed_walk_run_roll-2The West Des Moines Community Schools wants to help keep our staff healthy. That is why the district partners with beBetter Health to offer our employee wellness program.

Employees can log in to the wellness portal today to start participating in great health and wellness activities.

beBetter Wellness Portal

For assistance with login, please contact beBetter Health Customer Service at support@bebetter.net or (866) 900-5325, ext. 3507.

Employee Wellness Instructions

WDMCS Wellness Engagement Options

beBetter System Quick Start Guide

Iowa Assessment Results Coming Soon

clive_school_site_girl_taking_testThis fall was the third year WDMCS students in grades three through 11 took the Iowa Assessments. Student results will arrive in the next couple of weeks. Principals will notify parents when the reports are available.

Parents can access helpful information and resources now. See what scores mean and how parents can use the reports to support student learning.

Iowa Assessments Parent Information

 

 

Board Meets at Indian Hills

School BoardThe West Des Moines Community Schools Board of Education will hold its next workshop and regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 12 at Indian Hills Junior High, 9401 Indian Hills Drive, in Clive. The workshop begins at 5:15 p.m., followed by the regular business meeting at 7:00 p.m. These meetings are open to the public.

 Workshop & Regular Meeting Agenda & Materials

 

Valley Hosting Robotics Meet

Valley High School is hosting a robotics meet at 3:45 p.m. today, Thursday, Jan. 7, 2015, in the cafeteria. Along with 12 other teams in the area, including teams from Valley Southwoods Freshman High School and Walnut Creek Campus, the two Valley teams have created robots to compete in a task where the robots score goals with wiffle balls. The Valley teams were started by students and are coached by science teachers Karl Goldsmith and Marc Pedersen. Goldsmith’s team is made up of nine seniors, and includes the original team members. Pedersen coaches a team of eight sophomores and juniors who joined the team later.

“It’s really amazing what these kids can accomplish,” Goldsmith said. “The coaches — we just manage. We make sure they get the parts they need and show up where they’re supposed to. The problem solving and the programming and the thinking is all from the students…Seeing what these kids can come up with is just amazing.”

Seniors Michael Litscher, Grant Gullickson, and Ian Adams with the robot their team designed.

Seniors Ian Adams, Grant Gullickson, and Michael Litscher with the robot their team designed.

The teams must design, build, and program a robot that will complete the task. This is the third meet of the 2014-15 year. Meets in November and December helped to prepare the team for this one by showing them what parts of the robots needed improvement.

“The idea behind these meets is to let the students design and build their robots and compete with them,” Goldsmith said. “Then they have about a month to work out the kinks before they compete again.”

 

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Adams, Gullickson, and Litscher discuss the robot before competition.

For the first thirty seconds of the competition, each robot must run the program the students designed on its own, with no student control. After that, the students take charge, using a simple controller to direct the robot in its task. The robots release several wiffle balls from a clear box, then gather the wiffle balls and put them in different goals.

To see the robots in action and support the robotics team, visit the cafeteria starting at 3:45 p.m. today, Jan. 7. The robots will undergo inspections before competing, and the task will start between 6–6:30 p.m. and last about three hours.

 

Robotics Teams Rosters

6691
(Borderline Obsessed Technicians)
7617
(Elemental Fusion)
Ian Adams
Grant Gullickson
Sunita Kolareth
Michael Litscher
Charlie Napier
Kellon O’Connor
Ojas Pradhan
Ryan Thompson
Arun Velamuri
Ani Bidar
Benjamin Burright
Curtis Craven
Zach Graves
Graham Hagan
Abby McCullough
Luke Rustin
Jacob Summers

School Start Date

Iowa school districts and the public were notified December 12, 2014 that the Iowa Department of Education news_calendar_photowill stop granting automatic waivers to school districts seeking to start school earlier in the summer. The current law states that districts must start school no earlier than the calendar week that includes September 1.

At this time, the West Des Moines Community School District does not know how this change will affect our 2015-16 school calendar or future calendars. The School Board approved a 2015-16 calendar with a start date of August 12, 2015.

The district will seek further guidance from the Iowa Department of Education and begin discussing what this means for the West Des Moines Community School District.

 

Parent Group Alphabet Soup: Comparing and contrasting types of parent-teacher groups

feature_pto-pta The many different names for parent-teacher groups can be confusing. There are PACs, PFCs, PTCs, and the two most well-known: PTOs and PTAs. It is hard to know which type of group is right for a school or if they differ from each other at all.

In reality, there are only two types of parent-teacher groups: PTAs and independent groups. Independent groups go by many different names and abbreviations, and individual groups may have unique goals or missions. Most common for the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) is PTO, or Parent Teacher Organization. PTO is also sometimes used as a generic term for any kind of independent parent-teacher group.

One name independent groups cannot go by is PTA. PTA is a shortened version of National PTA® and affiliates the group with the National Parent Teacher Association, a membership organization and non-profit association.

Affiliation with the National PTA® is the main difference between PTAs and independent groups, but it leads to several smaller differences. PTAs automatically get 501(c)(3) non-profit status, as part of National PTA®. Independent groups can choose to become non-profit groups or not. PTAs must also pay membership dues to the state’s PTA and National PTA®. PTO Today, a “media and services company focused on the world of parent-teacher groups,” estimates that yearly dues total $700 per local PTA. Independent groups can decide whether they want to have membership dues or not, but either way, the money goes directly back into the school the group is focusing on.

One notable difference between PTAs and independent parent-teacher groups is the focus on advocacy. Some independent parent-teacher groups get involved in advocacy, but most tend to avoid it, focusing on their schools, districts or cities. On the other hand, the National PTA® website declares the organization “the oldest and largest child advocacy association in America.” With national offices in Alexandria, Virginia, and a national network of members, National PTA® focuses on issues that affect children and students outside of school, as well as in school. Because of this, local PTAs do sometimes focus some of their energy on advocacy. Universal kindergarten, the National School Lunch Program and the juvenile justice system all came from PTA advocacy.

The main similarity between the two types of parent-teacher groups is their focus on benefiting students. All parent-teacher groups are working to support the students in the schools they represent. The WDMCS parent-teacher groups have this same goal. Along with two PTAs and six PTOs, WDMCS hosts two Parent Advisory Councils (PACs), two Parent Faculty Clubs (PFCs) and one Parent Teacher Club (PTC). These groups are all their own entities, not a legal part of WDMCS.

WDMCS Parent Group Breakdown:

  • Two PAC (Parent Advisory Council: Indian Hills and Stilwell
  • Two PFC (Parent Faculty Club): Fairmeadows and Jordan Creek
  • Two PTA (Parent Teacher Assocation): Crossroads and Westridge
  • One PTC (Parent Teacher Club): Crestview
  • Six PTO (Parent Teacher Organization): Clive, Hillside, Western Hills, Valley Southwoods, Valley, and Walnut Creek Campus.

Joining a parent-teacher group can be a great way to contribute to a school and effect change in the district with  teachers and other parents or guardians. The Valley High School/Valley Southwoods (VHS/VSW) PTO and the Westridge PTA are doing similar work in the schools, even though they are different types of parent-teacher groups. Both contribute to school events and activities and support the faculty and staff with volunteers and other efforts. The main difference between them is funding. The Westridge PTA pays dues to National PTA®. Each member pays $5 per year. To fund school activities and events, the PTA organizes fall and spring fundraisers. Traditionally, the fundraisers had focused on selling products, but the current PTA organizes reading and spelling challenges. Donors can pledge a flat amount or make a by-unit-of-effort pledge.

“In the past, it was all about selling, but we wanted to focus on learning,” Nikki Johnson, president of the Westridge PTA, said.

All money from the fundraisers goes into the Westridge PTA’s budget for the next year. The VHS/VSW PTO, co-chaired by Sally Crowley and Daryl Anderson, does not fundraise.

“The only funds we have are from memberships,” Crowley said. “[The] only way we have money to do things for teachers is people joining.”

Membership fees for the VHS/VSW PTO are $20 per family per year. The two groups both use the funds they have to support teachers and students in the schools. Besides the fundraisers, the Westridge PTA helps with the school play and many school clubs, like Chess Club and Geography Club, usually by providing and organizing parent volunteers. They also put together the Westridge Garage No-Sale, which provides free clothing to Westridge and community families in need. There are about 150 active parent volunteers at Westridge.

“I think we’re really fortunate in that sense,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of parents who get involved; even if they work, they want to get involved.”

The VHS/VWS PTO also focuses on organizing parent volunteers. It has a list of parent volunteers available for things like chaperoning school dances, putting together conference dinners for teachers and helping with the Cookie Box event. The PTO also organizes Tiger Pride, a school supply drive that provides students in need with backpacks full of school supplies at the beginning of the year and stocks a supply closet with extra supplies for the full academic year.

PTAs and independent parent groups have the potential to be very different, but the WDMCS parent-teacher groups seem to stay focused on the faculty, students and staff. For WDMCS parent-teacher groups, group names sometimes come down to history, not an interest in advocacy or opposition to views of National PTA®. For example, the Westridge PTA was formed as a PTA and simply has not changed because the group is still successfully serving the school. The two types of parent-teacher groups may work towards it at different ways, but their goal is the same: benefiting the students in the best way they can.

“They all sort of serve that same function of wanting to be parents who serve the students,” Anderson said.

Parents or guardians who want to get involved should reach out to leaders of the parent-teacher group at the appropriate schools. Most of the WDMCS parent-teacher groups have webpages with contact information on the home school’s website.

Spanish-speaking parents and guardians who want to get involved can watch this video from PTO Today for more information: http://www.ptotoday.com/video/13-more-videos/detail/212-la-participacion-de-los-padres-es-clave

Sources: PTO Today website, National PTA® website, parent-teacher groups pages from the West Des Moines Community Schools website, Westridge PTA president (Nikki Johnson) and president-elect (Jennifer Adair), Valley High School/Valley Southwoods PTO co-chairs (Daryl Anderson and Sally Crowley)