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by By Chris Steinbach · August 22, 2012


It’s an annual rite of each new school year: The arrival of new teachers.

This year, the West Liberty Community School District added 11 teachers to fill vacancies created by those who have left since school was dismissed for the summer. The district held a welcome lunch and orientation session Monday for those new teachers, who will begin teaching on Wednesday, Aug. 22.

“That’s about 10 percent of our teaching staff,” Superintendent Steve Hanson said. He said that turnover rate has been typical for the district for the past few years.

“Actually, I think we had more (than that) last year,” he said.

Filling the open positions is sometimes a challenge for Hanson and other district officials right up until the first day of school.  And this year is no different.

“We have a last-minute opening that just developed last week,” he said.

The district’s kindergarten through eighth grade talented and gifted program coordinator is leaving, Hanson said, but a successor should be in place by the time school starts.

Of the district’s 11 new teachers, nine are in their first or second year of teaching. To help those nine teachers succeed, the district has paired them with mentors – veteran teachers. The mentors and their new colleagues met for the first time Monday.

“I’m really excited to get started,” said Stephanie Ewing, 23, who grew up in Lansing and graduated in December from the University of Northern Iowa with Bachelors of Art degrees in both early childhood development and elementary education.

“I’ve been living here since February,” Ewing said. “I (substitute taught) here before I got a job.”

Ewing, who will teach preschool and special education at the district’s Early Learning Center, has been paired up with Erin Fitzer, 32, who teaches kindergarten.

Fitzer, a teacher in the district for nine years, is serving as a mentor for the first time. “I don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’ll let you know at the end of the school year.”

 After teaching for six years in Burlington, Robert Nelson, 35, didn’t need a mentor for his first year of teaching English and drama at WLHS.

“I moved up to the area to get married,” said Nelson, who lives in Oxford and worked last year as a substitute teacher.

“I’m really excited to get back to a classroom,” he said.

New teachers in the district include:

• Ned Kelly – Assignment: high school English; From: Ames. College: University of Northern Iowa. Experience: Student taught at Cedar Rapids Washington High School. Family: Rachel Weber, fiancée.

• Robert Nelson – Assignment: high school English; From: Rochester, Minn.; College: University of Iowa; Experience: Taught six years at Burlington High School; Family: wife, LeAnne Nelson, and daughters, Beatrice and Eliza.

• Joshua Levai-Baird – Assignment: Fifth grade dual language-English; From: Fort Madison; College: UNI, California State Polytechnic University and Iowa; Experience: Student taught at West Liberty Elementary School; Family: wife, Elizabeth, children, Grayson and Marian.

• Stephanie Paulsen – Assignment: high school counselor; From: West Des Moines; College: UNI; Experience: Student taught in West Liberty; Family: husband, Joe, and first child on the way.

• Stephanie Ewing – Assignment: preschool/special education; From: Lansing; College: UNI; Experience: Student taught at Postville and Monona, Iowa.

• David Velasquez – Information not provided.

• Melissa (Chapin) Wackwitz – Assignment: first grade dual language self-contained; From: Mukwonago, Wis.; College: University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire; Experience: Student taught in Fall Creek and Altoona, Wis.; Family: fiancé, Dan Wackwitz (getting married on Sept. 29.)

• Tara Hansen – Assignment: middle school Spanish; From: Cedar Falls; College: UNI; Experience: Waterloo and Tampico, Tamaulipas, Mexico.

• Jason Vaske – Assignment: fifth-grade special education; From: Dundee, Iowa; College: Coe College and University of Iowa; Experience: Taught elementary music.

• Shawna Converse – Assignment: middle school art; From: Postville; College: UNI; Experience: Student taught in Urbandale.

• Alajandro Perez – Assignment: third-grade Spanish; From: Spain; College: University of Castilla-La Mancha and University of Jaen; Experience: Taught first and second grade in Spain.

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