A group of students, who meet under the name RSVP – Raising Student Voices and Participation – have raised their voices about the 35-minute period of time that comes at the end of the school day, known as “seminar.”
Seminar has been a part of the high school schedule since 1998, being implemented as a way to give extra-curricular clubs a time to meet without taking students out of classes. Seminar was also meant to be used as a time when students could work on school work and receive help from teachers as needed. Seminar is also a time when seniors, regardless of grades, are allowed to leave the school campus, unless a teacher requires them to stay to work on something.
RSVP members point out, however, that seminar comes with some problems and that the most prevalent problem is that students who aren’t using their seminar time effectively create a disruption for other students during that time.
On Monday, high school senior Zach Thomas, representing RSVP, asked the board to allow changes to seminar that would start when the fourth term begins, April 7.
The new proposal does not change seniors’ ability to leave school during seminar, and it adds the same benefit for high school juniors, as long as they have grades of C or higher. (A C- does not qualify.) Juniors must also have a good behavioral standing to enjoy the open campus during seminar time.
Sophomores and freshmen will not have the open campus privilege, but will be allowed, if all their grades are at a C or better, to choose a few different places that they’d like to spend seminar time, rather than an assigned teacher’s room that they all have for that time presently. Thomas said it has been proposed that the library, the commons area and maybe even the weight room, if it is adequately supervised, would be places students could go to during seminar.
What wouldn’t change is that students would still be required at mandatory assemblies and meetings, which are determined by the high school administration.
Thomas said that RSVP believes the new system will be better for two major reasons. 1) it will help teachers – who are currently each assigned a number of students during seminar – to not have so many assigned students in their room, allowing them better opportunity to help students who do report to their room during that time for assistance. 2) It will serve as an incentive to students to keep their grades up so that they can take advantage of the benefits of either leaving the school campus during that time or choosing where they want to be in the school during that time.
For High School Principal Justin Gross, the proposal is significant because it gives students a little ownership in their school, and Gross said he appreciates what the RSVP students are doing to try to improve the school. They take their work seriously, and before coming to the school board with a nine-page report, including their proposal, they surveyed students and sat down with teachers to get input.
Thomas said changes to the seminar time is probably the biggest issue that RSVP has taken on. The group had also heavily discussed the idea of a balanced school calendar and was prepared to chime in on that if the idea had not been dropped.
School board members agreed to allow the changes to seminar time to start in the fourth term of this year and asked that they be given a report at the end of the school year about how it went.
Thomas said that RSVP would be conducting some evaluations on the change, including statistics on whether students had raised their grades because of it, and that information would all be shared with the board.
Standard Based Grading
In what will be a series of presentations on standard based grading, the Nevada School Board heard from two of the district’s teachers — Ryan Brown, who teaches high school science; and Katie Borton, who teaches middle school science — about how they are using and seeing improvement in learning and understanding of material because of this teaching/grading style.
Brown said the goal is to have every teacher at Nevada High School using standard based grading in at least one class that they teach next year.
Standard based grading moves away from the old style of grading in that it requires students to be able to show mastery of every standard that is deemed necessary for complete understanding of a class. Because of that, one of the biggest challenges for teachers is knowing how to show this mastery with the archaic letter grading system. Brown said finding a more common way of utilizing standard based grading will be one of the things teachers need to keep working on. But for Brown and Borton, the transition to having standard based grading throughout the district can’t come fast enough. They are excited about what this style of teaching can do to move students to a higher level of understanding.
Nevada Schools makes
The Nevada School Board approved a long list of new personnel on Monday. Among them were:
• Kyle Hutchinson, who will serve as Nevada’s new assistant high school principal and activities director, earning $85,000/year. Hutchinson is currently a high school instructor at Iowa Falls-Alden Schools.
• Kody Asmus, who will serve as the assistant middle school principal/activities director, earning $80,000/year. Asmus is currently an elementary education instructor in the Ankeny School District.
• Carrie Hillman, who will serve as Nevada’s technology integrationalist, earning $60,000/year. Hillman is currently the district technology coach at Oelwein Schools.
• Will Baumann, who will serve as Nevada’s new head volleyball coach and also teach physical education in the district. Baumann is currently the K-7 physical education instructor at Tripoli.
A number of other teaching positions were approved, along with several coaching positions. Chris Hinson will now serve as co-head boys’ basketball coach for Nevada High School. He will coach with Cary Thompson. Jill Gray will serve as a middle school softball and volleyball coach for the district.
Administrator Joel Fey will have an additional $5,000 added to his contract to become the district’s special education coordinator.
Joe Wakeman, director of technology, will have an additional $5,000 added to his contract to become the auditorium manager.