Getting a redesign

Principal Evan Yoder (in maroon) and Counselor Autumn Hardey (standing) visit with parents during an informational meeting held at Rhubarb Market on Thursday, Dec. 20. The meeting was held to explain the redesign process that USD 410 is now involved in. Parents heard from both the elementary school and from the middle/high school. Laura Fowler Paulus/Free Press
Principal Evan Yoder (in maroon) and Counselor Autumn Hardey (standing) visit with parents during an informational meeting held at Rhubarb Market on Thursday, Dec. 20. The meeting was held to explain the redesign process that USD 410 is now involved in. Parents heard from both the elementary school and from the middle/high school. Laura Fowler Paulus/Free Press
USD 410 staff held an informational meeting for parents of children in the school district to talk through the Gemini Project that staff have been working on and implementing. The district is working on a redesign based on new information about how kids learn best.

The meeting was held in the Rhubarb Market where parents could sit and listen to both schools (elementary and middle/high) explain some of the changes.

Hillsboro Middle/High School

Nathan Hiebert, a teacher in the high school, spoke on the project in the middle/high school.

“Our hope is that when kids come through, we understand that they may not love every subject, but we hope that they find some love in learning and they end up being excited about life,” said Hiebert. “The state is giving us some data that says that 70 percent of kids who graduate will need some type of certification, four-year degree, trade school or something. Right now, Hillsboro is right around 69 percent so we are close, but we are not there yet. The state is around 40-50 percent which is not good.”

One main goal is to get students connected with the community.

“We are finding that students are wanting something that is very relevant, they need to see why are we learning this? Why does this apply? How is this gonna turn into a real world situation? How can we get our kids connected with businesses? Community members? Volunteering? The more that they are doing these things, the bigger the increase in their success rate,” said Hiebert. “We’ve met with the churches, the Chamber, the Lions to try to communicate what is happening.”

Principal Clint Corby also spoke for the school. He explained some of the benefits academically if a new schedule is in place.

“The other thing we are looking at is the flex mod which provides more resource time with individual teachers for kids who are struggling during the day so kids aren’t having to come in before school and after school,” said Corby. “The biggest benefit of the flex mod, as kids get into the 10th through 12th grade, there is time in their schedule where there might be a 20 to 40 minutes assigned class so during that time, that is when they can go get that extra help as needed. They wouldn’t have to be in class but just in the building working on stuff unless their grades are suffering and then they would be assigned something different.”

But it isn’t just grades and academics the district is focusing on.

“We are working on improving the social and emotional things. When kids are not coming to school with the right emotional and social tactics, they have a harder time learning. So when they come through our doors, we are trying to provide that assistance and that help,” said Hiebert. “But that can’t all just come from within. Again, this is a community thing. We need that community partnership.”

Hiebert gave an example of one way the school and community partnered up. He had his students work on their resumes and interview skills, and then he sent them out to five different organizations to do interviews.

I had the best resumes I have ever seen. They really represented our school well because they were also representing themselves and their family and their community,” said Hiebert.

Both men talked about the way that some things have not had as much success as they had hoped. They have had to make changes along the way. But they consider that all part of the process.

“We’ve had some training with project based learning to allow students to have some hands on experience in solving problems. We’ve seen some great things in our middle school, high school. And we’ve learned some things,” said Hiebert. “We overdid it with trying to implement a bunch of projects at once.”

Corby added, “I take 100 percent of the blame for that brief period where it was very rigorous and we had to pull it back.”

They closed with reminding parents that input is needed.

“We want to know what you value. What do you appreciate about our school system? What is working for your kids? Are there things you are seeing that need to be improved? It’s a time to be critical, but we may ask you what some of your ideas are,” said Hiebert.

Corby said, “As we go through this and you have questions and concerns, do not hesitate to come up to the school or call me there. We are open to questions.”

Hillsboro Elementary School

HES has a Gemini Team in place that consists of Principal Even Yoder, Counselor Autumn Hardey, first grade teacher Julie Linnens, second grade teacher Michelle Berens, fourth grade teacher Emily Dalke, fourth and fifth grade special education teacher Carisa Funk and music teacher Jill Siebert. The team meets every other week for varying amounts of time.

“We are looking at the scheduling in our building. Do we need bigger blocks of time of reading in the morning? Do we have more recess time? We are looking into everything and nothing is off the table for us. We’ve asked teachers to give us suggestions, parents to give suggestions and even the kids,” said Hardey.

Some of the changes are physical changes that can be seen in the building. For example, they are looking at changing the lunch room tables from long, rectangular tables into circle tables to create a more inviting atmosphere for students, parents, Tabor teams and other guests who come at lunch.

They are also discussing what to include on the playgrounds as well as if they should put more things on hallway walls to make it more appealing.

“We are looking at communication. And when we are talking about communication, we are looking at staff to staff, staff to parent and staff to student. So we want to really focus on what’s best for parents and for students when talking and communicating. This also involves the staff spending more time together not just for work stuff but for bonding as staff, as humans, and just being together,” said Hardey.

The last focus is on building a behavior mission.

Hardey said, “We want the terminology in our building to be universal so our first graders are hearing the same words that our fourth graders are hearing. It’s already overwhelming for kids going from first grade to second and having to go from a short hall to a long one. It’s even more overwhelming when they have to learn new systems and terminology so we want to take that part and make it easier by having it all be a peaceful change. It will help our staff, too.”

Hardey explained that the areas mentioned are very broad. They are also looking at many details within those areas. And while some of the changes have already been implemented, this project is long term with more changes happening gradually over time.

“We want to implement a few more things this year, but then we are focusing on more changes in August of 2019. We will keep evaluating things. So keep telling us. We need to keep hearing from parents even down the road a ways,” said Hardey.

One question that came up was the term one to one. It was explained that this meant one computer to each student so all have access. Fourth and fifth graders all have their own Chromebooks. They have docking stations to store them. They don’t take them home with them, but they stay in their classrooms. They use them throughout the day. K through two do not have their own chromebooks but share the desktop monitors that are in the classroom.

This explanation lead to a parent expressing concern about their child having too much screen time.

“It’s not that they have more screen time. They are learning how to do their projects on Google classroom and Google docs. They can work together on projects as well on the chromebooks. Part of the purpose is to get them comfortable for working on computers in middle school and high school and getting them used to technology. It is also allowing for a lot more group time working together and learning how to be a part of the group as well. This is helping them interact better,” said Hardey.

Yoder closed the evening with a word to parents.

“What would an ideal school day look like for your child? Comment on that because to me it would be very interesting to know that. When they come home excited from school, what is it that made them excited? That’s what I want to know. I have ideas about what it could be, but I would like to know from you. We need to know those things. What do they like? That is the real question to me. Knowing that and changing things to include those is what redesign is,” said Yoder.

All who spoke encouraged parents to ask questions and give input as the process continues.