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District approves next year’s calendar, talks of extending school year in future

Talk of implementing exit interviews, the hiring of Director of Secondary Education Services Tina Ross, a discussion of the 2012-2013 budget and approval of the 2013-2014 school calendar highlighted the latest Newton Community School District Board of Education meeting, which featured absences by board member Dennis Combs and Superintendent Steve McDermott.

Several parents, with students who live in the Newton district, turned in forms to have their children take classes in other districts as a part of the Open Enrollment Act. Board Members Don Poynter and Donna Cook spurred a discussion on the district implementing exit interviews and or surveys for students and parents who choose to leave the district.

“That might be some good information for us,” Cook said.

Poynter furthered the discussion.

“We talked about that awhile ago, a long while ago,” he said. “Because I asked the same question, it seems you need a little feedback on why people are only enrolling out. With some, it’s clear, their moving, but those who are not moving… that really went nowhere and maybe we should bring that back up again.”

No final decision was made on the matter, but there are plans to discuss it in the future. Immediately after that discussion, Jim Gilbert, Director of Elementary Education Services, introduced Tina Ross, whose filling in a position that had been empty since November.

Ross came from the Department of Education, has made her home in Baxter for the last 15 years and was delighted to accept the position and on her very first day on the job got to attend a school board meeting.

“I’m very happy to be here, this is a position that I absolutely love,” Ross said. “The opportunity to come back here was very, very inviting. I get to be around kids again, and the teaching and learning aspect of it. I’m just very excited to be here.”

Gilbert then went on to deliver his Education Services update, since the Superintendent’s Report was dropped over due to the absence of McDermott. He noted the Teacher Professional Development Day will be on Feb. 15.

Highlights of the Professional Development Day will be all staff members receiving a copy of “Better Learning Through Structured Teaching” by Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey. Staff will also get a chance to work in a workshop with Frey that day and several smaller workshops will be featured that “will be facilitated by our own in-house experts” according to the board.

Secondary teachers will also receive their iPads by Feb. 13 and there also will be some additional professional development separate from the others as a part of that. The basics of that are iPad 101 training:

• A review of Schoology — a learning management system and social network expected to be in full use by next year.

• A curriculum app review — staff will conduct a search for apps beneficial to their respective department.

• Technology Information — teachers will learn to use Pinterest, and cyber-safety in the classroom.

Also a part of that will be CHAMPS training for the middle school staff taught by Laura Hamilton. CHAMPS is a program that would have the teachers learning to implement the same language and verbiage with the kids and create a tighter structure in the building. This training would also make sure that the district is in line with Heartland AEA standards.

“The school district is mandated to develop a certified budget that has to be approved and adopted by the board by April. 15,” said Gayle Isaac, board secretary. “To help improve public relations with the community and to make it more understandable, since we’re spending approximately $29 million dollars in public funds, I developed this book.”

The book in question is about as thick as a Jasper County phone book and features an incredible amount of details about the district’s funding and expenditures. It covers everything from how much it costs to have teachers teach certain programs to items the board has no control over financially due to regulations. Currently there are very limited copies of the book and board member Sheri Benson addressed that fact.

“How can the public find this?,” Benson asked. She suggested making copies available to the school libraries.

The board discussed the matter some more and agreed that getting a PDF of the book and putting it on the website would be the best bet if citizens want to review it before then they can contact the districts business office.

With the April 15 deadline approaching, no major decisions were made on the 2013-2014 budget. The board did approve the new school year calendar, which will include early-out Wednesdays. The bills were also approved and to close out the meeting there was a minor discussion on extending the school year.

“I know we need to look at cutting dollars as we gone into the next budget,” said board member Donna Cook. “Only, by lengthening the school year do we gain instructional time truly? And while that is a very costly venture, I guess I would like to see us move in that direction.”

Board President Andrew Elbert seemed to be in agreement with the notion.

“Steve (McDermott) and I actually talked about this the other day,” said Elbert. “We did talk about actually looking at exploring some options for next year and the years to come. It’s being looked at right now.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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