By Susan Miller
Missourian Staff Writer
Opening ceremonies for all Washington School District staff took place Friday afternoon in the high school theater.
Superintendent Dr. Lori VanLeer welcomed back all 600-plus employees for another school year.
New teacher orientation and professional development for all educators took place last week.
On Tuesday, students returned to their classrooms. VanLeer visited several schools opening day and even rode the bus with some students.
At the back-to-school program, VanLeer did an “icebreaker” exercise with all of her administrators, including all building principals and assistant principals, to drive home the point that everyone — teachers, staff, students and parents — play a part in orchestrating a great school year.
VanLeer had the administrators line up and each take a turn acting as a conductor, with music playing. The different moves of the administrators had teachers and staff laughing and cheering.
The district’s technology department also was recognized for all it its “behind-the-scenes” work over the summer. VanLeer read a lengthy list of tasks the tech department completed before the start of school.
The superintendent also encouraged all staff to “orchestrate some camaraderie” and asked each to turn to the people around them and introduce themselves and offer a compliment.
The back-to-school program also included a United Way presentation and pledge cards were passed out.
A highlight of the program was the presentation of the WINGS Foundation Support Staff Person of the Year. This year’s recipient is Kim Siem, a special education paraprofessional at Washington High School.
Siem, who has 31 years of experience, was recognized for her “tireless” service working with special education students. She annually coordinates the list of students and their case managers to share with staff, and is the designated “math pro” in the resource room.
She also helps organize end of course testing for students with disabilities and manages the different modified tests for each of the students.
School officials said Siem treats each of her students with dignity and respect while holding them to high standards.
The award is presented annually for exceptional support staff service. WINGS also presents an Outstanding Educator award at the end of the year.
Brad Mitchell, WINGS Foundation chairman, made the presentation. He also encouraged teachers to make a pledge to the organization.
Following Friday’s program at the high school, all staff was invited to a barbecue hosted by WINGS.
The Washington Way
VanLeer said the Washington School District’s mission is to educate and care about “every child, every day — the Washington Way.”
She also talked about the school board’s new five-year strategic plan which focuses on six 21st century learning elements: increasing student engagement, transforming learning environments, supporting innovators, personalizing professional growth, enhancing communication and collaborating to make decisions.
“The expectations for students, teachers, support staff and leaders center on the four Cs — creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration,” VanLeer said. “These areas resonated to the top during our discussions with the technology and achievement focus groups.”
As part of the new strategic plan, VanLeer also unveiled a new learning initiative —iBelieve — for the school district.
“This is an exciting time, the beginning of a digital transformation,” she told the staff. “This learning transformation can take educators and their students to new heights.”
She then presented the iBelieve team of educators who each came out on stage, with music in the background, and talked about what they believed for instructing, informing, innovating and inspiring.
The first phase of the iBelieve initiative is a pilot program this year at Washington High School called BYOD or Bring Your Own Device. The team will lead different class sections in piloting various digital tools in preparation for a more broad scale launch.
VanLeer said the project is starting at the high school because it’s the first building to go live with wireless infrastructure.
In closing, VanLeer told teachers and staff to never underestimate the power of their influence.
“Our ability to connect with students is the most important aspect of our jobs,” she said. “Although we are always look for ways to improve our craft, the way we treat every kid, every day, is the most important thing.”