Saturday, March 31, 2007

Shadowing Linda in Siouxland

By Wanda Synhorst

(Wanda is pictured here with Sioux City EA president and good friend Donna Walsh.)

Linda invited me to accompany her when she toured Siouxland schools and I eagerly accepted. It was a rare opportunity to watch her in action, but I quickly learned she logs longer days than my retired body is accustomed to.

Linda observed numerous classes over a three day period ranging from elementary to community college. To the delight of students she participated in several of the elementary classes by reading stories aloud. She still has that great teacher gift of holding the rapt attention of her audience. Additionally, students were captivated by the mood pencils she passed out. This was evident from the many “oohs and aahs”.

In every building Linda met with small groups of teachers and support staff to listen to their concerns, answer their questions, and thank them for the efforts they make every day to enrich the lives of their students. Of vast interest was the upcoming salary increases. Linda always emphasized how vital it is to have leaders in the state house who value what teachers do and are willing to pay them for their efforts.

Linda met with the local press on two late afternoon occasions which included a live TV interview and the publication of a newspaper article. Her reoccurring theme was that it is a new day for public education and that teachers are fortunate to have a new majority party that will finally financially reward them.

In the evenings we met with local leaders for leisure meals and to discuss a wide variety of education issues. I met some new people and was also able to renew acquaintances with old friends.

Early mornings and late evenings I could always find Linda working on her blog recounting the day’s events in script and pictures. Our day was always fully scheduled and it boggled my mind to know how Linda kept such a brisk pace for this tour as well as her many school visits over her three years of service as president.

I do thank Siouxland educators for their warm hospitality and Linda for giving me the opportunity to accompany her. However, as for me, I am now going home to rest.
(Wanda Synhorst is a retired Earth Science teacher who spent most of her career at Thomas Jefferson High School in Council Bluffs. She served the association for many years as CBEA's Grievance Chair and continues to lead Team ISEA's efforts in NEA-PAC fundraising.)

A Great Team of Mentor-Mentee's at McKinley Elementary in Sioux City

After a great morning in two school buildings in Sioux City, lunch at Green Gables restaurant, we ended our Siouxland tour at McKinley Elementary in Sioux City.

SCEA leader, 5th grade teacher and Mentor Kris Flewelling (seated at left) arranged for us to have the chance to hear more about Sioux City Community Schools Mentoring program for 1st and 2nd year teachers.

First year 5th grade teacher TaRae Evans (at right) joined us for an informal conversation around the "highs" and "challenges" for a new person to the profession.

Some of the struggles for 1st and 2nd year teachers include additional paperwork, how to implement district assessments, having the computer skills (and time to enter data) with the district "O" drive, having to share teacher's manuals as well as finding time to collaborate with her Mentor, Kris. It really seems overwhelming, doesn't it?! Thank goodness both Kris and TaRae are in the same building (doesn't always happen!). A definite "high" for TaRae is she has only 17 students in her homeroom!

I had the chance to read-aloud to 2nd grade homeroom of Deb Condon. Deb and her 2nd graders are pictured here (on left) after having been such a great audience for Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type.

Our final classroom visit took us to Kris Flewelling's 5th grade homeroom. The students enjoyed sharing their favorite baseball teams (as did Kris) as we prepared to sing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" then listen to the poem "Casey at the Bat". Again, I found yet another group of youngsters that were surprised with the ending!

Emily Mellott, a Senior at Sioux City East High, is pictured here with 5th grade teacher Kris Flewelling. Emily has been a student assistant for the 2nd year in a row in Kris' 5th grade room. She spoke of the interest in starting a "Future Teacher's Club" at her high school. It was great that we had Sioux City EA president along as Donna Walsh took note!

Thank you Siouxland UniServ Unit for an awesome tour of your locals and school buildings! You continue to amaze me with your energy in the classroom and passion for building Team ISEA!

Returning to Sioux City North Middle School for Their Third Year of Opperation

Two years ago Sioux City Community Schools opened the school year in this new, beautiful facility. On Thursday morning I had a glimpse at seeing how comfortable staff and students were in their 'home'.

Greeting our trio as we entered the building was Sue Novak, SCESPA president and Special Education associate. Sue (pictured at right) led us on a tour of the building.

Joining us as guide on our tour and making introductions of staff was Tim Foix, 6th grade Social Studies teacher. Tim is a long-time association leader and a member of the Siouxland UniServ board.

One of the great educators we met in our school tour was the 2007 Sioux City Teacher of the Year Sheila Coyle. Sheila is an enthusiastic person with a great sense of humor. Sheila is a Middle School Art teacher. Congratulations, Sheila as Sioux City's 2007 Teacher of the Year!

Making time in their busy day of leading this great Sioux City Middle School to visit with us are building leaders Nancy Ferding (on the left) building leader/assistant principal and Shawn Chesteen (pictured with me) building leader/assistant principal. Assistant Principal Nancy Ferdig has been awarded the School Administrator's of Iowa 2007 Iowa Assistant Principal of the Year. Congratulations Assistant Principal Nancy Ferdig!

We had the chance to visit about legislation before the Iowa General Assembly as well as delivery of Professional Development at North Middle School. How fortunate the staff of North Middle are to have such progressive thinkers and leaders in assistant principals Nancy Ferdig and Shawn Chesteen!
Our last stop before leaving North Middle School took us to the school's Media Center--always a hub of activity. Here I captured a photo of a mural that students in the Talented and Gifted Art class painted.
It is obvious that the staff at North Middle School work to find common ground in the best interest of students to provide quality public education for their students. Thanks for your leadership, North High staff!

Our Siouxland Tour Winds Towards the End of the Trail With a Visit to Sioux City West High

The air was full of humidity and the skies were overcast as we headed into our final day in Siouxland. Our first school visit on Thursday, March 29th took us to Sioux City West High School. Here we were greeted by local leader Leslie Dake. Leslie is an association leader in Sioux City Educational Support Professional's Association (SCESPA) and a member of ISEA-PAC Central Committee. Leslie is a Bookeeper and Prom & Graduation Secretary here at West High.

We were first whisked off to one of the school's gyms where long-time association leader, Math teacher and Dance team coach Julie DeGroot was holding practice with her team. Julie has led the dance squads at West High for the last 34 years!

Julie shared she has 100 students involved in her dance squads. Her teams annually compete in state competition and every other year compete at the national level. This year her squads placed in nine events--bringing home eight first place awards and one second place award.

The most touching part of our conversation was when Julie shared the story of Marcus Williams. Marcus (surrounded by a new set of "fans") is like too many of our students--having more challenges in his personal life then any young person should have in a full-life. One area of Marcus' challenges was his struggle with some areas of academics, but found the dance squad was a true passion. It was his involvement on the Dance Squad that motivated him to stay in school. And as we know, there is no "bubble test" that checks for understanding for activities such as the Dance Squad. Both Wanda Synhorst, retired Council Bluffs EA leader and Donna Walsh, Sioux City EA president were moved to give generous contributions towards the cost of Marcus' "bill" for Dance Squad so he can continue his part-time job to pay off the bill and graduate this spring.

Also joining us in the gym before the first bell to mark the start of the school day was Amy DeGroot, Julie's daughter. Amy is a Counselor here at West High and joins her mother as a Dance Squad coach.

We next had a few minutes to relax in a conference room to enjoy Leslie's homemade coffee cake and coffee. Stopping by before heading to class was Jody Kennedy (pictured at left). Jody is a Math teacher--teaching Algebra, Geometry II, and Consumer Math. Amy also finds time to be an assistant Dance Squad coach. She shared how she is a graduate of West High and was a member of Amy DeGroot's Dance Squad in her high school years.

We next had the chance to stop by classrooms and greet some local leaders. Steve McHugh is a Math teacher here at West High, Treasurer of the Sioux City Education Association and a veteran of the War in Iraq. It was a treat to get to thank Steve personally for his service to our country as well as stepping up to take a leadership role in the SCEA!

We had the chance to stop by the classroom of West High Math teacher Ron Colling. Ron and his wife Katie are long-time friends. Ron continues to volunteer as a member of the Sioux City EA Negotiations team. It was great to see Ron again!

Our tour of West High ended in the school's Media Center. The murals (below) depict the regional Siouxland history. These photos really don't do justice to the beautiful work.

In the school's Media Center we met Director and teacher-Librarian Shelley Sweeney. Shelley (pictured with white sweater) shared how this is her 3rd year as a member of the West High staff. She shared just a few of the many activities that take place here in the Media Center.

Jan Fridley, Media Center Secretary and past president of SCESPA, joins her colleague Leslie Dake for a photo. Jan was generous with her praise for the work of Shelley Sweeney in increasing usage in the school's Media Center. Jan said that usage has increased ten-fold under Shelley's leadership. I think this team of Shelley and Jan is a great example in continuing to find ways to meet the ongoing needs of students and staff!

Thanks Leslie Dake for your continued great leadership on behalf of students and the association. Thanks, West High for your warm hospitality! You do indeed have great things going on!

A Relaxing Dinner With Siouxland UniServ Leaders

After a full day in the classroom, Siouxland UniServ leaders joined us for a relaxing meal at Minervas in Sioux City.

Siouxland Team ISEA leaders gathered (left side of table-front to back) are Brenda Zahner, Sgt. Bluff-Luton 5th grade teacher and local president; Bruce Lear, Siouxland UniServ Director; Donna Walsh, Sioux City EA president and 2nd grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary; Leslie Dake, SCESPA UniServ Rep and Book Keeper at Sioux City West High School; Wanda Synhorst, my guest for the week; and Julie DeGroot, Math teacher at Sioux City West High School.

On the right side of the table (front to back) Jan Olson, ISEA Executive Rep from Siouxland, Counselor at Sioux City East High and Mentor trainer; myself; Diane Cox, English Language Learner teacher at Sioux City North High School; Vince Cox, Math teacher at Sioux City East High School; and Gayle Jeffers, NEA Board of Directors and French teacher at Sioux City East High School.

These are some of my very favorite people in all ISEA! Dedicated professionals that have a passion for providing challenging opportunities for Iowa's students in helping them discover success! Thanks Siouxland leaders--you exemplify the "team" in Team ISEA!

An Appointment With the Sioux City Journal

After visits to Western Iowa Tech Community College, three buildings in Sgt. Bluff-Luton, (don't forget lunch), a stop at Hinton Community Schools on Wednesday, March 28th our day was still not complete. UniServ Director Bruce Lear always does an awesome job of having opportunities to sit down with the local media. Here I'm getting ready to head to my interview with the Sioux City Journal.

Right outside the entrance to the Journal's office is a statue of Seaman. Seaman was explorers Lewis & Clark's dog. A few years back local artist painted the Seaman likeness and this little guy looks just like he is ready to take on the role of a newspaper reporter. Pictured with Newspaper Seaman is Sioux City EA president and 2nd grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary Donna Walsh. Having Donna along on Wednesday and Thursday gave her the opportunity to connect with members throughout the district.

Conducting the interview was reporter Jenny Welp. I'm pictured in one of the conference rooms at the Sioux City Journal with Jenny. I had the chance to applaud the efforts of local legislative leaders Rep. Roger Wendt and Senator Steve Warnstadt for their work on raising Iowa's teacher's salaries. I told Jenny, "It is a new day for public education, with a majority party that really does stand up for kids and public education."

A New Picture Book to Share for Read-Aloud Time

A new picture book I discovered in a book store while in Iowa City last week is Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann, Peggy Rathmann illustrator.

Here is a brief summary:

None of the children listen when Officer Buckle gives his talk about safety tips. But when Gloria the police dog accompanies Officer Buckle, his speech is suddenly in huge demand. When the talk is videotaped, Officer Buckle discovers the real secret to his popularity - Gloria's slapstick enactment of what happens when you don’t follow the tips. Rathman's humorous illustrations contain a lot of feeling, and her portrayal of the earnest Officer Buckle and the expressive yet well-meaning Gloria is priceless.

Students I shared the read-aloud with this week truly enjoyed this book! It gave us the opportunity to talk about team work. After all, all we do in education is about team work--we need the community, our parents, students, administrators, teachers and support staff all working together in order to provide great public schools!

Just North of Sioux City We Visit Hinton Community Schools

On Wednesday afternoon March 28th my guest for the week retired Council Bluffs EA leader Wanda Synhorst and I knew we were traveling in style! Sioux City EA president Donna Walsh (our driver) collected NEA Director Gayle Jeffers, then we were off to the community of Hinton.

I was familiar with the building and knew right where to find good friend Laurie Bird. Laurie is a long-time association activist and a member of ISEA-PAC Central Committee. Laurie (in pink) pictured with her Kindergarten class along with teacher associate Holly Davis. Laurie has the most engaging classroom--filled with Susie's Zoo characters! I would want to come back to school every day with a teacher like Laurie and a welcoming classroom as her's! I read aloud the book Officer Buckle and Gloria.

The other classroom we had the opportunity to visit was in 4th grade teacher's Darcy Kuchel's room. Darcy's students were off to specials so she had her rare planning time. She was gracious enough to visit with us. She shared how this was her 10th year teaching. She spoke of the numerous preparations she has to meet all curriculum goals and meet the needs of all her students. It just never ceases to amaze me how teachers "do it all"! I felt lucky that I got to read-aloud two favorites ("Take Me Out to the Ballgame" and "Casey at the Bat") when the students returned to the classroom. Oh how I love reconnecting with students!

At the end of the school day in Hinton, a half dozen teachers gathered in association leader Laurie Bird's room to visit. They anxiously wrote down details about SF 277 the Teacher Quality legislation ready for House floor action so they could share details with their colleagues.

Thanks Laurie Bird and the Hinton EA for all the great things you continue to do to provide great public schools for Iowa's students!

Friday, March 30, 2007

A Mid-Morning Visit to Sgt. Bluff-Luton Schools

Our schedule permitted stops at three of the four buildings in the Sgt. Bluff-Luton Schools mid-morning on Wednesday. Our first stop was in the classroom of Deb Rinehart. Deb (pictured at left) leads her 1st grade students at the Primary building. As the students were released for their playground time, Deb gave us a tour of the building.

I had the chance to read-aloud a favorite book, Click Clack Moo: Cows That Type with the kindergarten class of Terri Gotch. Terri is pictured with her homeroom of kindergarteners here on the right.

We were next off to the Middle School. Sgt. Bluff-Luton EA president Brenda Zahner joined us over her lunch time at both the Middle School and Intermediate building. Brenda (pictured with me at left) is a former student of ISEA Vice President Chris Bern when Chris taught in Woodbine (Vice President Bern currently teaches in Knoxville).

Teachers and Education Support Professionals that took time to visit with us during their brief lunch time are pictured below.

Our final stop in the Sgt. Bluff-Luton Community Schools was at the Intermediate building. As we entered the building our eyes were drawn to the strikingly beautiful mural on the wall of the multi-purpose room. President Zahner shared that it depicts the history of Sgt. Bluff and was painted by the elementary Art teacher.

One of the first persons to join us in the staff lounge with their lunch was long-time association activist, member of the Negotiations team and 5th grade teacher Dan Hunter. It was fun to see Dan again--he's quite a character!

We weren't the only special guests in the Intermediate building on Wednesday. The Sgt. Bluff-Luton School Board held a board meeting earlier in the morning here to purposely be able to join us for a conversation during the staff lunch time. Pictured (from left to right) are school board members Neil Stockflth and Mark Rinders.

A third school board member to join us over their lunch was Brad Baird (at right). I thanked the board members for their service and we all agreed there is much more we agree on then disagree on. Teachers anxiously listened and asked many questions when I shared details of the SF277, the Teacher Quaility legislation that is now ready for floor action by the Iowa House. The majority party and Governor have promised an additional $280 million over the next four years to bring Iowa's teacher salary ranking from 40th to 25th in the nation by the 2008-2009 school year.

Joining our conversation were Lesli Lien (on left) a 5th grade teacher and Lynn Kerrigan (on the right) Music teacher.
It was great to see the familiar welcoming faces here at Sgt. Bluff-Luton. Thank you all for all you do every day for Iowa's students!

Reconnecting With Top Quality Educators at Western Iowa Tech Community College

Wednesday morning, March 28th, brought us to the Sioux City campus of Western Iowa Tech Community College. Bursting through the doors to welcome me with open arms was Helen Lewis. Helen (pictured at left) is a Humanities instructor at WIT and the WIT rep on ISEA's Higher Education standing committee. Helen did an awesome job of notifying members to visit over coffee the first two hours of our day.

Penny Schempp (at right) is a Counselor at WIT. Penny shared with me her responsibilities include both personal and career counseling.

A welcome face to stop by was that of Donnin Custer. Donnin (at left) is vice president of the association and a member of the Negotiations team. I first met Donnin on my first visit to WIT two years ago and got to see him work his magic--standing before his Electronics classroom and leading instruction!

Also able to join us was Bea Houston. Bea is an instructor for Spanish. She shared her excitement for her upcoming trip to Spain this summer where she will complete work on another Master's degree.

Dr. Pat Simmons (at left) an adult Reading instructor for those with special challenges shared how every student is given a test to check for reading and math skill level as they enter WIT. Dr. Simmons heads the program for providing developmental education.

The final WIT HEEA member to stop by for conversation was president of the association Brian Smith. Brian (seated at right) is an instructor for Cyber Crime Investigations. Isn't it exciting to know that our Iowa Community Colleges continue to provide the most up-to-date curriculum to meet the needs of Iowans?!

Thanks Team ISEA leaders at Western Iowa Tech Community College for your continued leadership in the classroom and in the association!