The Riverdale School Board received an in-depth update on the work of Becky Gehrke at their meeting on Monday evening, Feb. 8.
Gehrke wears several hats at the school district, heading up technology integration, while serving as the district library media specialist and district assessment coordinator.
Hired in March of 2013, one of Gehrke’s early assigned goals was to help the school achieve one-to-one technology access, or a device for every child. And they have achieved that, she explained, though that doesn’t mean you will see every child toting a device around school.
“The needs are very different at every age, every grade,” Gehrke explained. “So I have worked with the teachers to determine what they needed so we could respond in a useful way.”
What you will find, Gehrke noted, is a lot of iPads and chromebooks throughout the school, used according to the student’s age and the demands of the curriculum. Additionally, the school works to ensure that by high school, students are learning to work with different technology platforms to help them prepare for the future.
This has involved creating some differences in the learning environment. One change is the “flipped classroom” where the teacher lectures are recorded and watched as homework when the student is either in study hall or at home. That frees class time up to become hands on and interactive, rather than simply listening to a lecture and taking notes. Other classes use the “blended classroom” approach, where lectures occur in class and assignments are done online.
“The idea is to develop a variety of tools for the teachers and the students both,” Gehrke said.
Central to Gerke’s work is the BOOST consortium of which Riverdale is a partner. The consortium is using telepresence technologies to allow the participating districts to share resources without incurring additional costs. It allows schools to share teachers, thereby expanding what classes each participating school can offer. Because of this project, the five participating schools – Riverdale, Mineral Point, Kickapoo, Pecatonica, and Highland – were able to offer their students a college level Introduction to Literature class through the University of Wisconsin-Platteville this year in which all participants were high school students.
This sharing of resources reduces the financial demand of offering more classes. At the same time, Gehrke is working on fundraising to continue expanding interactive technologies that help increase the school’s competitive offerings.
Gehrke also works with the district teaching staff to help them understand how the technology works and to implement its use in ways that aid or improve learning.
“Are other school districts expressing interest in joining BOOST?” asked school board president Clay Dean.
“They are, though they do have to meet some requirements to do so,” responded Gehrke. “Scheduling has to be the same or very close, for one.”
Gehrke went on to explain that the school now uses a program that allows them to collate all the testing assessments and other student data so that is can be viewed comprehensively. The district can view full data sets in one place, showing testing results, attendance, discipline, activities, and other data in order to assess what an individual student’s need may be.
Elementary and middle school principal Shari Hougan discussed issues of low attendance at the spring parent-teacher conferences.
While fall parent-teacher conference attendance is nearly 100-ercent in the elementary and 50-percent in the middle school, it falls precipitously in the spring to around 50-percent in the elementary and 10-percent in the middle school, Hougan noted.
“I hesitate to say we shouldn’t have them, but we do need to do something,” Hougan said.
She explained that the school does set up individual meetings in March for individual students and parents if the students are failing multiple subjects. Hougan surmised that timing and the success of the Skyward electronic grading and attendance updates may be reducing parents feeling that the spring meetings are needed.
In the meantime, the elementary has been working on participating in additional math and reading competitions for the students in need of greater challenge. A group of sixth through eighth grade students is preparing for the Battle of the Books competition and younger students are being prepared for CESA Lit Wars. There also student teams being prepared for three different math competitions.
In other business, the Riverdale School Board:
• were invited to participate in the bookkeeper-business specialist interviews on Tuesday, Feb. 9;
• heard an update on bids being sought for the multi-purpose building floor;
• heard an update on insurance costs and possible ways to reduce costs;
• heard an update on the middle school building transition and elementary grade sections;
• heard that fifth grader Gracie Anderson in one of seven finalist who will compete in the Telegraph Herald Regional Spelling Bee at Clarke College in Dubuque. The winner of that be will advance to the national bee;
• heard an update on high school sports;
• heard an update on high school testing dates, including the ACT on March 1 and 2;
• heard an update on the high school Academic Showcase planned on Saturday, May 7;
• heard that Michael Schaefer, Caleb Johnson, and Ty Hougan finished second at the FBLA leadership conference in Lancaster in the Sports and Entertainment Management competition;
• heard that the FFA will sponsor games and activities throughout the last week of the month in honor of National FFA Week;
• approved accepting the resignation of Linda Eveland as the middle school yearbook advisor at the end of the year;
• approved accepting the resignation of Liberty Kientz as an aide effective Feb. 5;
• approved accepting the retirement of third-grade teacher Lisa Farness (31-1/2 years) as at the end of the year;
• approved Jen Mau as the middle school track coach and Keegan Franklin as a volunteer track coach;
• approved hiring Sam Kientz for the kindercare program;
• approved three courses recommended by the curriculum committee - Workplace Communication, Adventure Education and Outdoor Pursuits, and College Prep Math; and
• approved the first reading of policy revisions and new policies, with discussion focusing how the school should respond to lunch bills being left unpaid by parents who did not qualify for free or reduced lunches that resulted in young children being cut off from the meal program.