School is back in session

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, August 20, 2014
The West Liberty Community School District opened its doors Aug. 20 to grades 1-12, officially kicking off the 2014/2015 school year with a half day.

Not to be left out, preschool and prekindergarten classes will begin in the Early Learning Center two days later on Friday, Aug. 22.

There isn't a student count as of yet, the district won't have a finalized number until October. However, last year there were 1,240 students in Pre-K through high school.

According to Superintendent Steve Hanson, WLCSD projects that, long term, those numbers will stay the same over the next five years.

This will mark the first year that the district will keep track of its calendar in terms of hours instead of days. The state of Iowa requires 1,080 hours or 180 days from its districts.

The switch came about because Iowa legislation changed the required length of school days from five and one-half hours to six hours for those using days for measurement.

Since West Liberty lets out at the five and one-half hour mark every Wednesday for professional development, it would have lost a day every week.

However, changing to hours provides several benefits for WLCSD. For one, it will help the district deal with early outs and snow days.

The 2014/2015 calendar has several extra hours built into it, that way when the winter season comes along and causes late starts or cancellations many of those lost hours can be taken from the extra hours.

While there may still be extra days tagged onto the end of the year due to cancellations, this new hours system should help keep them to a minimum.

This year also marks a few changes in the way of technology for the district; from new software to computers, WLCSD is moving into the digital age.

Firstly, it recently purchased an automated substitute placement and absence management system known as Aesop.

The system, already in use by 4,000 other school districts, is able to manage absences and automatically call in substitutes that are available. It was officially implemented in July.

Teachers can register their absence by phone or online and Aesop, in real time, begins searching for substitutes. It also keeps records of the information.

Secondly, the school district switched its student record management software from Admin Plus to JMC Inc.

"We have been thinking about this for a couple of years," said Hanson, "But the elementary's move to FAST helped make a decision."

The FAST assessment, which is aligned with the Iowa Common Core, is slowly becoming the district's assessment of choice.

However, West Liberty missed out on being a part of the FAST pilot program last year because its administrative software was incompatible with the state.

The State of Iowa uploads student enrollment and specifics from each of its districts student management software; however, West Liberty consistently had problems with the info exchange because of its old software.

WLCSD chose JMC because much of the staff was already familiar with the program, plus there was no installation fee. JMC had been used before by the district.

Thirdly, computer technicians set up two new mobile computer labs, one in the high school and one in the elementary building.

The district began using mobile labs years ago, which are several laptops on a cart. Rather than having a dedicated computer lab teachers schedule the use of one of the carts.

The carts are rolled over and laptops are handed out to the students for the day. It makes computer access easier for students and scheduling easier for the teachers.

Finally, the district is working on the installation of interactive projector systems in the elementary and ELC building.

As a whole, the district received more than $30,000 worth of technology upgrades from the Ryan Trust. It was granted the money, which will go towards everything from tablets to equipment upgrades.
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