Pekin staff equipped to handle ever-changing academic challenges

The Pekin School District started the year with two new administrative staff members, a new superintendent and an almost completely new kitchen and cafeteria. But if there's ever a staff working together to reach academic goals, it's Pekin.

"We've really formed a very good team-type of concept and relationship and we have the same thoughts on how to move the district forward, taking what's been working and build on that," said Dennis Phelps, Superintendent of Pekin School District. "Then trying to look really carefully and objectively at what can we do to help make some adjustments we feel is needed and then trying to work through them."

Phelps comes to Pekin after being superintendent at Harmony School District and said three main points drew him to Pekin: the size of the district, the advantages of having all buildings in one main campus and the tremendous involvement of students in athletics and activities. As for goals, Phelps said staff will focus on curriculum alignment, as well as implementing initiatives such as RTI, or Response to Intervention and PBIS; Positive Behavior Intervention Support. PBIS was introduced to the elementary a year ago and is now being used in the high school and middle schools as a more positive way to support and encourage students.

The remodel of the school's kitchen and cafeteria also align with another district goal, which is looking towards the future of the facility and making sure it is properly equipped for all students and their academic success. The new facilities should be ready for use in the next couple of weeks.

Pekin received Kuno Tablets, an android device that makes the district a one-to-one school and further prepares kids for academic success.

"As a district focus, we're looking at the Iowa Core and aligning that with every content area, as well as trying to get those 21st Century skills of employability, preparing those kids for outside of school," said Heather Buckley, Pekin Curriculum Director. "One of the things we're really diving deeper into is finding interventions, as well as enrichments, that align with the common core that's going to meet each student's needs."

Aligning with those core standards is a specific goal of the elementary school, along with focusing on proficiency in reading, math, science and social studies. Every district in Iowa is learning how to incorporate the changes the Iowa Education Reform Bill brings, but step one is making sure teachers are on board and Pekin has that covered.

"One of the things that we have as a great resource here are our teachers and the knowledge and the skill, the background, the experience they bring to it," said Kim Ledger, Pekin Elementary Principal. "I'm pleased to say that we have a lot of work to do in education as far as dealing with reform issues, but my staff is more than willing to do the hard work that it takes to do what's best for kids."

Middle school staff are focusing on fluency in reading and student accountability and at the high school; increased use of non-fiction in the classroom. A district-wide challenge is how to stay competitive and provide access to the best resources, but online programs and the availability of technology are ways to stay innovative and meet academic standards.

"There are lots of questions, ideas, emphasis that is being brought out," said JoAnne Morenz, Pekin Secondary Principal. "We don't want to necessarily be reactive, we want to be proactive, on the cutting edge. But at the same time, we need to be aware of what the long-term effects are going to be."

The fact that academic standards and goals are ever-changing requires ongoing effort on the part of Pekin staff, but it is a challenge they're well-equipped for.

"This is going to be really difficult," Phelps said. "So there'll be a few bugs to iron out, but I kind of look forward to that as well."