FORT WAYNE – As students from three local districts head back to class this week, so do their superintendents, eager to get the school year off to a good start.
Students at East Allen County Schools hit the books on Tuesday, while students from Northwest Allen County Schools and Southwest Allen County Schools will board the buses today for their first day back.
Superintendent Ken Folks, the newest leader at East Allen County Schools, spent students first day back to class by visiting with each individual school, meeting and greeting students, staff and parents.
Folks said the districts diversity is one of the things that attracted him most to his new position.
Im looking forward to dealing with their needs and concerns and really working with each one individually, he said.
By 11 a.m. Tuesday, Folks, who joined the district on July 1, had made his way through about half of the districts schools, with plans to visit the remaining buildings by the end of the day.
Chris Himsel, superintendent at Northwest Allen County Schools, said Tuesday he planned to continue his back-to-school tradition of visiting each classroom within the first few days of students returning to class.
Because we keep growing in terms of the number of classrooms, its taking into a third day to get through the schools, Himsel said.
Each year, Himsel makes a stop in first-grade classrooms to talk with students about how its OK to make mistakes as part of the learning process and with fifth-grade students about the importance of being good role models for their peers.
Himsel said the students seem to enjoy his visits, but they are also a part of the school year he looks forward to after the summer.
I start every year at an elementary school and the reason for that is because theres nothing better than seeing the kindergartners getting off the bus for the first time, he said. Seeing kindergartners get off the bus is almost as exciting as seeing seniors graduating.
Southwest Allen County Schools Superintendent Steven Yager will begin his last first day of school today.
Yager, who has served the district since 2009, will retire at the end of the school year and pass the torch to Associate Superintendent Philip Downs.
Yager said he has no doubt his successor will be ready to step into his new role in July.
The biggest changes ahead at Southwest Allen County Schools this year are new faces in leadership and a new plan to help push technology forward in schools, Yager said.
We have almost 30 percent of our leadership team that has been changed this year, he said.
Among those changes in leadership are new principals at Aboite Elementary School, Lafayette Meadows Elementary School, Summit Middle School and Homestead High School, and a new assistant principal at Summit Middle School.
The first few weeks will include bringing together the new leadership team to make sure everyone is on the same page, Yager said.
Folks said one of his main goals as the new superintendent is to make some significant changes to communication.
One of my focuses is really the communication piece – letting everyone know that Im accessible and I want to hear from them, Folks said.
He also plans to tweak the way the district uses data from assessments to drive instruction and to make changes to the way students are taught and tested and hone in on the districts safety policies and procedures.
As part of creating safer schools, Folks said the district will apply for a grant from the Indiana Department of Homeland Security
The grant, called the Indiana Secured School Fund, was created to provide matching grants to school corporations, charter schools or coalitions of schools to make schools safer by hiring school resource officers, conducting threat assessments, or purchasing equipment to restrict access to schools or to expedite notification of first responders.
School corporations, charter schools or coalitions with an average daily membership of at least 1,000 can apply for grants up to $50,000 a year. Smaller applicants can apply for grants of up to $35,000, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
Himsel said he doesnt have too many plans for change at Northwest Allen, but the district has been working toward freeing up funding for roofing projects and infrastructure that will make it possible to expand the districts technology in the future.
The NACS board in June authorized the district to refund some of its bonds – a process Superintendent Chris Himsel compared to refinancing a mortgage – to save about $2 million when the district issues new bonds at lower interest rates.
These are projects that weve needed to do for the past four or five years, but we didnt have any money to do it because of property tax caps, Himsel said. So this gave us a mechanism to do that.
Southwest Allen teachers spent their summer piecing together a plan for the districts e-curriculum development and expanding the e-learning program at the middle and high schools.
Yager said the teachers involved with the planning will begin using some of the curriculum in their classes this fall and plan to expand the program as they move forward.
The district will also begin the process of shuffling computers from the middle school into the elementary schools for students in grades 4 and 5 to access during the 2014-15 school year.
It wont be a true one-to-one program, but we anticipate that we will have computers assigned to individual students, something that isnt being done currently, he said.
Superintendents from the three districts said they plan to keep an eye on changes to the A-F accountability system, as well as the future of the ISTEP+ exam.
Yager said he will be awaiting discussions about ISTEP+, the A-F grading system, school accountability and discussions about vouchers and how they impact public schools.
I always say Allen County is blessed with a niche of learning for every type of student, he said. But every one of those categories need to be held accountable for student learning.
Yager said he also hopes to reassure taxpayers and parents that, despite the recent news calling to question the validity of the states accountability system, he understands the district will and should be held accountable for student learning and growth.
On Monday, the FWCS board voted to take a stand against the states A-F accountability model by refusing to recognize schools based on the letter grade assigned to them. Folks said he respects the FWCS board decision but had not discussed the decision with his board.
Whatever we do with grades, weve got to have something more simplistic, Folks said. Parents need to understand it. Teachers and administrators need to understand it.