BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – As the target for what determines a successful graduate keeps changing, Fort Madison school officials continue to look at the district’s role in preparing those students for life after high school.
Fort Madison Community School District Superintendent Erin Slater addressed the district staff Friday morning as part of the 2017-18 school year kick off. The school year officially starts on Thursday, but freshmen report on Wednesday morning for a half day before a 6 p.m. orientation the same day, according to the district’s website.
Slater challenged the staff to make sure they’re focused on goals of the district to prepare each student from the district’s first encounter to graduation, to instill life and learning skills to be able to compete in a global economy.
She said a survey of the top 300 employers in the country pointed to complex problem solving skills as the number one key employment trait those employers were looking for.
“Higher order thinking skills are what we need to be working on for our kids,” Slater said. “That higher level thinking is what they need to be able to have on their way out. Thinking collaboratively and creatively.
“Our kids need content knowledge – that is a non-negotiable,” Slater said. “But they need more than that and we need to make it relevant for them so they can do these things that companies are asking of them. This is the high stakes arena we’re sending our kids into.”
She challenged the district staff to look at the school from the perspective of a child in their life. She had staff write down one sentence on a card summarizing what they wanted the district to provide for that child, and then share that sentence with a staffer near them.
She then challenged them to keep that card with them at all times and think about what that statement means to them.
“We’re very excited for the school year,” Slater said after the meeting. Teachers have been working hard all summer talking about standards and how to engage students.”
More than 25 new faces are part of the district in either full or part-time status. Slater said that may be a few more than years past, but Teacher Leadership and Compensation program grants have created a few more openings.
“We have some instructional coaches that were grant-funded and that has opened up a few more teaching slots as we have moved a few teachers into the instructional coaches positions.
Slater met with new staff in the district on Thursday and was impressed with who the district has brought into the process.
“They are thrilled to be here and I was surprised at the diversity. Some are brand new and some are second career,” she said. “They bring a lot of work experience and that’s a nice addition to our district.”
Mary Hellige, head of the Fort Madison Education Association, told staff that the district is unique and staff should take pride and responsibility in the the work being done.
“Our district isn’t the only one making a difference in our students lives,” Hellige said. “Our communities do as well. We are the community that has a test kitchen to help our students test scores. We are a community that had 1517 votes for a new elementary building and are continuing to fight for what’s best for our students,” Hellige said.
Middle School Principal Todd Dirth said he’s excited about the new school year, specifically a new P.A.C.K. program that focuses on life skills of the 4th through 8th grade students. The program includes digital citizenship, SET classes and other modules.
He said the program was created with input from the students and will be part of the daily schedule of the students.
“This is the first year of the program and we had a group of students help us put this together with input from the staff,” Dirth said after the meeting. “It’s been in the works for two years and it stands for Pride, Acknowledgement, Courage and Kindness and it focuses on the other side of student development..away from the curriculum.”
Tracy King, the principal at Lincoln Elementary said she’s looking forward to the new year and more collaboration that’s being scheduled.
“We’re going to be collaborating more and cointinuing the work we started last year as afar as completeing an entire data cylce in our PDs and Lincoln and Richardson will have PDs together on early outs.”