USD 234 gears up for school year

As school starts, students are getting ready for another year of learning. However, most teachers, school administrators and support staff have been preparing all summer for several changes.

One change students will notice immediately is the addition of 14 new faces. “There are 14 new-to-the-district teachers,” USD 234 Superintendent Diane Gross said. “That’s a larger number than most years.” Gross mentioned that the district does have a “pretty veteran staff,” but that the district is “excited about the possibilities and the enthusiasm” that new teachers bring with them.

Another change students will see in the coming year is a change in state standards. Kansas¬† adopted the Common Core standards on October 12, 2010, and full implementation is expected during the 2013-2014 school year, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Of the standards, Gross said that teachers in the district had spent “quite a bit” or in-service time in the past year working with the standards in grade level teams or departments. Gross said that the teachers had worked toward a grasp of what the standards ask the students to do, and that the next step is to identify what teachers need to do in delivering content to help students succeed according to those standards. “It’s really about asking students to engage in higher level thinking and processing skills,” Gross said. Gross said that once teachers are comfortable with the standards, they will have greater latitude to teach depth of knowledge in their subject area. “I think it’s a positive thing for teachers as well as students,” Gross said.

In addition to work related to Common Core, Gross said that the district is training teachers in a Literacy First program. Because only 40 teachers can go through the program at a time, Gross explained that half of the Fort Scott Middle School and half of the Fort Scott High School teachers are going through the intensive, year-long training at the moment. “We’re establishing a consistent, coherent instructional framework,” Gross said. Gross indicated that though teachers may already be using some of the strategies outlined by the training, the conversations among teachers that occur may allow for sharing of ideas and a greater awareness of instructional practices.

A third change for the district comes in the form of changing extracurricular activities at Fort Scott Middle School. “This year we’re going to be adding interscholastic sports at the Middle School,” Gross said. Gross explained that the middle school will still offer some intramural activities for students who do not wish to compete outside of their own school.

A final change students, parents and the community will see in the school calendar during 8 months of the school year is an early release day. “We have some very focused time that is built into our calendar,” Gross said, to allow teachers collaborative time to work on instructional practices.

When asked about budget cuts from the state, Gross indicated that the school would find ways to keep the quality of education in the district high. However, as a result of a steady decline in enrollment, Gross said that the district had analyzed the staffing needs of each school. Through number crunching and discussions involving the staff and administrators, the district has determined what adjustments need to be made in staffing. “We lost two positions in each building, if my calculations are correct. They all ended up being people who were retiring or looking for a job elsewhere,” Gross said. In addition to evaluation regarding numbers of staff, Gross said that district buildings were slated for analysis by engineers. According to Gross, the district refinanced bonds and has set aside the funds to do a “major engineering analysis” of the school buildings. The school should get that report during the second semester, Gross said.


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