It was a sweet start to school for students at Castle Heights Elementary when in the first week of school, new Principal Wendy Fluckey had a "popsicles with the principal" day.
"We had the kids come out of their classes by grade level and we all had Otter Pops together," she said.
The day of the interview she had the kindergarten do the same thing, and while it was planned for the playground, it had to be moved inside the cafeteria because of dark skies and lightning.
Being a new principal in the building, Ms. Fluckey is learning a lot about the school and its patrons. One of the things she said that is a major positive is how great the school's PTA is. She said the first PTA meeting of the year packed the library.
"Someone told me that we had three times the number of people sign up for PTA than they did last year," she stated. "And they are so active. A number of them come to the school each morning to help me guide traffic in our front parking lot where parents drop their kids off. It helps to have them keep the traffic flow going, so the students get into the building safely. Everything they do is about the kids."
She said soon the PTA will be doing the Castle Heights Family "Knight" Fun Run. It is an activity where families do a run and then they have dinner. That will take place on September 27.
Back to school night took place on August 28 and Ms. Fluckey said they had a "great turnout and it was a good chance for teachers to talk to parents about expectations for the year."
An important aspect of every school in the district is the School Improvement Plan which contains three aspects: academics, behavior and attendance. This plan is put together by each school's Community Council which includes school employees and parents or guardians of students who attend the school.
This year the academic emphasis will be on reading. As for the behavior segment there has always been a verbal code for student behavior but things were never set in writing. Now the school has put that together and sent the finished product home with students the first day of school for parents to review.
The third aspect, attendance, is not about tardies or not coming to school this year, but leaving early. Apparently in the past many parents would check their kids out early, trying to avoid the parking and pickup problems in front of the school. Everyone from the PTA to teachers have been dealing with the problem. So this year there will be an incentive reward each month for students who are at the school from bell to bell, and it is being sponsored by the PTA. There will also be class awards for those entire classes that have great attendance as well. Until October 1 it will be a week to week thing to get the kids used to it, and then the program will move to monthly rewards.
School Improvement plans are financed by money from the School Institutional Trust Lands. Ms. Fluckey says that money is very beneficial in a number of ways.
"It pays for the gifted and talented teacher, for several instructional aides, for the Meet the Masters Art program, for the music teacher and some supplies for music education as well as art supplies," she said. "It also has paid for our 'reset room' counselor who does interventions with kids who need help."
Ms. Fluckey said the reading assessments for the beginning of the year have already been done, so the staff has knowledge already of the level at which kids are reading. For the first three weeks of school, the aides and the instructional assistants tested the students to assess those levels.
"Now that we have the assessment results, we are taking that information to our professional learning community (PLC) teaching groups and they can set up interventions as needed for students who require help," she said.
She said that regression in reading levels often happens over the summer, especially among those who are not big readers outside of the classroom. "DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) really helps with assessing that. It is a very good diagnostic tool."
One of the important things about PLC groups is that they need to have time to meet to make the process have a lot of impact and be meaningful. Those grade level groups meet on early out day (Monday), but a problem has arisen with the bus schedule running late for some students. That meant that various teachers had to miss some of that PLC time as they held students in class until the buses came. In some cases it was as much as 30 minutes.
"I have changed the time that intervention aides come in to work and now they handle the bus kids so that teachers can meet for the whole intended time in their PLC," she explained. "That also allows those aides to come into the PLC after the bus students are gone so they can be up on what is going on as well. It facilitates that meeting time so we are all on the same page."
As a new principal she said that the reception she has received from the community and staff has been very good.
"Everyone has been warm, wonderful and helpful," she said. "It's all good. I am looking forward to an exciting year."