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Articles from December 2016

Update on pilot of literacy materials

Finishing first round of piloting materials

We are finishing our first wave of the K-2 Word Study Team Foundational Skills Materials Pilot. As pilot teachers finish their first round of piloting materials, their students will have been given a short assessment to check for learning growth. In January, teams of teachers, administrators, coaches, and TOSAs will collaboratively score their assigned materials using the rubric adapted from the Florida Center for Reading Research. Teachers, administrators, coaches, and TOSAs will also complete a survey to reflect on their experiences with their first set of materials.

The next round of materials will be distributed after winter break. Teachers will have a short training with someone from the company that publishes each of the pilot materials. Then, as was the case during the first round, Curriculum Department staff will provide weekly support opportunities for all pilot teachers.

Clarifying the pilot recommitment process

The Curriculum Department staff, along with Dr. Deborah Reed, as well as board members Tim Rasmussen and Alisa Frandsen who serve on the Board’s Teaching & Learning Committee, met with Fellows parents at the request of their PTO co-presidents. One of the questions raised was whether there was a way for students or teachers to opt-out of the pilot. At the time of the meeting, there was not a plan for opting out.

After hearing questions and concerns from those in attendance, Curriculum Department staff met to generate ideas based on what they heard. Teaching & Learning Committee members were also included in this meeting since they were at the Fellows parent meeting. The question about opting out was discussed at length. The group discussed having each building recommit to the pilot process; if the building chose not to recommit, their data would be excluded and they opted out of the decision-making process.

The recommendation was that this discussion be moved to the elementary principals’ meeting on December 1 for further discussion. At that meeting, the four elementary principals who attended agreed to recommit to the pilot by 4 p.m. on Monday, December 5. The timeline was necessary to be able to communicate with the Iowa Reading Research Center as collaborators in the data collection process. A member of the Curriculum Department reached out to the principal who was absent from the meeting, to ensure all buildings had accurate information about the recommitment.

Four out of the five elementary buildings recommitted to the pilot process. However, late morning on December 5, Fellows elected not to recommit to the pilot. While this is unfortunate in terms of a District-wide pilot that engages the voices of teachers from each of our schools, we are confident that the extensive data collection being done with the support of the Iowa Reading Research Center will help the District make a student-centered decision based on the experiences of the pilot teachers and the rest of the team involved in this pilot.

The Ames Community School District has routinely used pilots when choosing curriculum materials for nearly 30 years. The pilot process allows teachers to use instructional materials to determine whether or not they are the best choice for Ames students. Piloting of instructional materials is common practice in the educational landscape. However, this particular pilot has had unprecedented attention. For that reason, we sought the assistance and expertise of the Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC) at the request of a small group of parents. The IRRC has been an amazing partner in helping us refine our pilot design and collecting data to make well-informed decisions at the pilot’s conclusions.

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Dr. Anthony Jones to serve as interim principal for Fellows Elementary School

Superintendent Tim Taylor announced Tuesday, Dec. 20,  that Dr. Anthony Jones has accepted the position of interim principal at Fellows Elementary School for the remainder of the current school year. Jones, who has been serving as associate principal at Ames Middle School since 2011, will assume the leadership role at Fellows next semester following the departure of current principal Carol Page.

Associate Superintendent Mandy Ross said a transition team composed of Fellows staff representatives and the PTO co-presidents supported Dr. Jones for his ability to collaborate with students, staff, and families, as well as his history with the District.

Dr. Jones said he’s committed to working with Fellows students, families and staff during this transition.

“It’s my desire to help Fellows students, staff and families during this leadership transition, and to continue the District’s work of supporting what’s best for our students.”

Fellows staff will be introduced to Dr. Jones on the morning of Wednesday, Dec. 21.


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Preschool registration launches Feb. 1

The youngest learners in the Ames Community School District will get a head start on enrollment with an on-site event at Northwood Preschool Center.

Northwood Principal Brandon Schrauth said it’s important for families to attend the session to provide the documentation the District needs to program planning and to form a connection with the District before school starts next August.

“We want to reach as many families as possible because early childhood education is so important,” Schrauth said. “Gathering paperwork and completing online forms is a necessary step in getting enrolled in preschool,” he said, “but it’s just as important to meet families and answer any questions they have.”

What to expect at Preschool Registration

Parents and guardians may enroll children in preschool who will be 4 years old by Sept. 15, 2017.

Parents and guardians who meet certain income guidelines may enroll children in the Early Success 3-Year-Old Preschool Program who will be 3 years old by Sept. 15, 2017.

Parents and guardians will complete an information form online.

Parents and guardians should bring proof of the child’s age such as a birth certificate or passport, student physical report and immunization records; and adoption or guardianship papers, if applicable.

Northwood Preschool Center is at 3012 Duff Avenue.

Learn more about preschool registration



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Important dates and times for Winter Break

We hope you enjoy your Winter Break. Here are dates and times to keep you organized.

Early dismissal schedule for Wednesday, Dec. 21

  • No afternoon early kindergarten classes at Northwood Preschool Center
  • Elementary schools dismiss at 1:30 p.m.
  • Ames Middle School will alter its Wednesday schedule to start at 8 a.m. and dismiss at 1 p.m.
  • Ames High School will alter its Wednesday schedule to start at 7:50 a.m. and dismiss at 1:15 p.m.

Winter Break begins Thursday, Dec. 22. District Offices are closed Dec. 22 – Jan. 3

Classes resume on Wednesday, Jan. 4 for students in early kindergarten through Grade 12, following the usual Wednesday schedule:

  • Early kindergarten and elementary schools start at 8:25 a.m. and dismiss at 2:05 p.m.
  • Ames Middle School starts at 9:30 a.m. and dismisses at 3:15 p.m.
  • Ames High School starts at 9:15 a.m. and dismisses at 3:05 p.m.

Preschool classes resume Thursday, Jan. 5.


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Kindergarten registration starts Jan. 26, 2017

Kindergarten enrollment sessions have long been a tradition for Ames Schools, and this year, Registrar Barbara Peterson is hosting the sessions at the new District Offices.

“Gathering paperwork and completing online forms is a necessary step in getting enrolled in kindergarten or preschool,” Peterson said, “But it’s just as important for us to meet families and answer any questions they have. Our new offices offer a welcoming and functional space to do that.” 

What to expect at Kindergarten Registration

  • Parents and guardians may enroll children in kindergarten who will be 5 years old by Sept. 15, 2017.
  • Parents and guardians will complete an information form online and a Home Language Survey, 
  • Parents and guardians should bring proof of the child’s age, such as the original birth certificate, or duplicate with raised seal or passport,  proof of residency (lease, mortgage, house title, or utility bill with current address), and adoption or guardianship papers, if applicable.

The Ames Public Library will provide story time, and representatives from busing and school meal services will be available to provide information. Other community organizations with early childhood services will be on hand. District Family Ambassadors, who are parents of current students, will be available to give support and supervise a playroom for children aged 2 and over.



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Ames High School Business Collaborative gives students soft skills employers seek

High school business studentsAs a junior in high school, Stephen McKown imagined that a boss’s expectations in the realm of employment would be similar to what his teachers at school expect.

“Your boss would be like a teacher who assigns projects that you complete and you move on to the next project. One thing after another,” he said.

As a student in the Ames High School Business Engagement Collaborative, however, McKown is working beyond the classroom to understand the skills and attributes employers need and expect.

Vicki Hales, the Ames High School business teacher who designed the program in cooperation with Alison Doyle, Marketing Director of the Iowa State University Research Park, said businesses are looking for new employees who come ready with employability skills.

“Those soft skills are hard to teach in the classroom,” she said.

The Collaborative provides high school students experience working with businesses to gain skills in entrepreneurship, communication and project management. Iowa State University Research Park provides space in its new, state of the art building, and mentorship and guidance from Doyle.

Doyle said ISURP was motivated to implement the program because its tenant companies are increasingly looking further back into a student’s educational process to begin recruiting talent. They also want students to be more prepared when they enter the workforce with soft skills.

Hales said students learn the value of showing up on time, learning how to speak in a professional manner to someone they don’t know, how to collaborate in and communicate with a group, and how to understand someone else’s perspective, for example.

“Having students learn in an authentic business setting working on projects throughout the community helps them naturally acquire and enhance those skills,” she said.

One of the benefits of the program is the opportunity it gives students to test out an array of interest areas through the various projects business partners are providing, she said.

“We’ve already had students discover they don’t have as much interest in a particular area as they thought they did, but we have also had students find talent and passion in things they never considered.”

Tatiana Tankhai, a senior who’s currently working on three projects, said she’s learned she’s talented at planning and organizing.

“Students do learn and grow from this program,” Tankhai said. “This class gives us people to guide us. We get feedback and we’re learning something new every day.”

McKown said the process is usually harder than he thought it would be.

“It’s more like climbing up a rock wall, finding one foothold after the next,” he said. “You learn to conquer something new.”

Students have help finding that foothold through guidance from Hales and Doyle.

“The students receive mentoring so they understand the business expectations and hone their work until it’s top notch,” Hales said. “By the time the businesses see a project proposal, it’s a good product and not the first draft.”

The research park provides the space and Doyle’s time at no charge to the District.

“We see this as a way to expose students to a variety of possible career paths, company brands and provide a true experiential learning experience. It’s a win win for our students and our companies.”

Hales said businesses are encouraged to give feedback and fine tune students’ projects until they meet their satisfaction.

“Their grade for the class, however is based on an assessment of their soft skills, which are the competencies required to be met for DMACC credit,” she said.  “More important than their grade, this program helps students become better employees for our local businesses, and that comes back to benefit our community.”

Students in the Business Engagement Collaborative receive both Ames High and DMACC credit upon successful completion of this course.

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District takes community conversation on student attendance to deeper level

group of adults meeting around table

Left to Right, Superintendent Tim Taylor, Story County Supervisor Rick Sanders, Student Services Director Yonas Michael, Sen. Herman Quirmbach, and Board Vice President Alisa Frandsen are some of the leaders who attended a meeting Friday, Dec. 2, to discuss student attendance in the Ames School District.

When students aren’t in school, they’re missing the building blocks of instruction and the social-emotional foundation the learning environment provides. That’s why student attendance is a major priority for the District in terms of supporting students’ success. Board members and community leaders met Friday, Dec. 9 to discuss current policies, practices and intervention strategies related to student attendance. They took take a high-level look at their effectiveness in order to begin to explore strategic support that the community may be able to provide.

In attendance: Superintendent Tim Taylor, Story County Supervisor Rick Sanders, Student Services Director Yonas Michael, Sen. Herman Quirmbach (D), District 23; Ames Middle School Principal Pam Stangeland, Board Vice President Alisa Frandsen, Community Relations Director Kathy Hanson, City Council member Tim Gartin, Ames High School Principal Spence Evans, Board member Tim Rasmussen, Associate Superintendent Mandy Ross, AmeriCorps Vista member Melissa Asklof, and United Way of Story County Executive Director Jean Kresse. 

The group will meet again early in 2017 to formulate more specific next steps.

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Student leading effort to collect coins for Blank Children’s Hospital

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UPDATE: Students raised $2,806.59 by collecting coins in homeroom between December 6 and December 16.

Raising $10,000 for Blank Children’s Hospital on her own got 11-year-old Grace McCunn thinking about what the experience taught her.

“I learned a dollar helps more than you think, and every little bit really does help,” she said. McCunn said she also learned that most people want to help if they know an actual need exists.

Now the sixth grade student at Ames Middle School hopes to get her peers involved so they can learn, too.

McCunn said when she was a patient at Blank Children’s Hospital, she discovered the need for books, games and toys for children her age.

“The variety of things available was limited, and they were more for much younger children,” she said.

Over the past couple of years, Grace has sold hot chocolate in winter and lemonade in summer, catching the attention of adults who sponsored her efforts with sizable sums to donate to the cause.

Although McCunn was told that a $10,000 donation is enough to get her name on a plaque at the hospital, she hopes to raise at least $2,000 more.

“I want so see how much students can raise just by collecting coins in homeroom,” she said.

Students at Ames Middle School are collecting coins in homeroom December 5 through 16.

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K-2 Literacy Pilot Frequently Asked Questions

How were the materials selected for the K-2 Literacy Pilot?

Last January, the K-2 Word Study Team identified a gap in the District’s literacy program in the areas of phonemic awareness and phonics. Phonemic awareness and phonics are foundational skills that comprise a small part of the Literacy Block, a 90-minute allotment of time devoted to teaching all literacy skills, including comprehension.

The pilot  was not intended to address a comprehensive literacy program; rather, the materials selected will help provide common language and a consistent scope and sequence to our phonemic awareness and phonics instruction across the District.

To select materials to address the foundational skills, the Word Study Team (WST) members took a survey to narrow down programs that appeared to align with foundational skills from 15 programs to six. The next step was for the WST to vet the programs in order to have three or four programs to pilot to fit the number of programs that would be piloted. The process used two sections, Phonemic Awareness and Phonics, from the Florida Reading Research Center’s (FRRC) rubric.

The WST worked collaboratively to conduct this initial vetting. Each WST member was part of a team tasked with scoring three out of the six programs. At the end of the scoring, every program had been evaluated using the indicators on the rubric.

After all of the scores were averaged and shared, the group negotiated around piloting the highest scoring programs. After discussion, the WST engaged in a Fist-to-Five process where all members indicated their support  of the decision by submitting a score of two or higher. The proposal that the WST reached consensus on included 1) three programs would be more manageable to pilot than four programs, and 2) the top three programs would be piloted: Fountas & Pinnell Phonics Lessons, Fundations, and Reach into Phonics.

What support did the WST receive for implementing the pilot and collecting data?

After the programs were selected, a pilot schedule was created to help each member of the WST develop a deeper level of understanding for each set of materials. As the process unfolded, the Iowa Reading Research Center was able to support student data collection and teacher implementation.

How did each program score on the initial vetting rubric?

The District has received requests to see the results of the vetting data. We recognize that the process is important to understanding the data and how those data are best used in the process.

With a rank of 6th, PASS scored 28.2% of the possible points available by 3 of the 4 groups tasked with vetting it. It earned 70.11% of the possible points in Phonemic Awareness, but earned none of the points available for Phonics.

With a rank of 5th, Words Their Way scored 37.5% of the possible points by 3 of the 4 groups tasked with vetting it. This program may be still have appropriate uses in our District to meet the needs of our students, but will not be included in our pilot.

With a rank of 4th, Open Court scored 71.18% of the possible points by 4 of the 4 groups tasked with vetting it. Although it scored near the next highest program, Open Court was not included due to a lack of consensus on the quality of the program and the scope and sequence it contained.

The remaining programs were selected for the pilot: Fountas and Pinnell Phonics Lessons (71.30% by 3 of 4 groups), Reach into Phonics (80.09% by 3 of 4 groups), and Fundations, (88.89% by 2 of the 4 groups).


The only purpose of this data was to determine the top three programs, not to make any determination of rank beyond which programs were to be piloted. The rank of the top three programs will be determined by the entirety of the pilot process.

Moving forward, each of the pilot programs will be evaluated on the merits of the program, the impact they have on student achievement, and the opinions of our administrators, teachers, and parents, and each program has an equal chance to be adopted.

How will my child be successful in reading if s/he changes materials three times this year?

Because of the nature of the scope and sequence of these materials as vetted in the phonological awareness and phonics sections of the rubric, all of these programs follow a similar learning path through the year. Teachers will not re-teach units during each different rotation; rather, teachers will work with the support of the program representatives, TOSAs and instructional coaches to best determine where to enter into the new program in order to ensure continued student success.

Students who are already identified as needing more assistance in reading will continue to receive the support already in place. As teachers continually assess student learning, they will be providing ongoing support to each student to ensure growth. Additionally, teachers will continue to work through the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) process in order to identify and provide interventions for students who are in need in compliance with the Iowa Department of Education’s expectations.

How will the decision be made?

Because all WST members will be more familiar with each of these programs after the pilot, only the scores from the final evaluation will be used to make the decision. The scores from the initial (pre-pilot) evaluation will have served their purpose of narrowing down the number of programs for the pilot. After each rotation of the pilot, each team member will score his/her assigned program using a rubric for the phonics, phonological awareness, instructional design, and assessment sections. Once all teams have completed a rubric for each program, these new scores will be used in the final decision (see FAQ below regarding final decision weighting).

The data will be collected and analyzed, and the final decision will be based on the following weighted categories:

  • Rubric Scoring – 30%
    • 8 rubrics averaged together for each program
      • 2 per rotation from teams engaged with that set of materials  
      • 1 from Curriculum & Instruction for each program
      • 1 from the Iowa Reading Research Center for each program
  • Student Growth Data – 30%
  • Teacher/Coach Survey – 17.5%
    • 15 teachers (3 teachers from each building)
    • 5 instructional coaches (1 from each building)
  • Admin/TOSA Survey – 17.5%
    • 2 directors
    • 5 elementary principals
    • 4 TOSAs
  • Parent Survey 5%
    • This survey will include discussion questions about materials for students’ parents to discuss with them.

Why are you videotaping my child? How will that video be used?

Teachers are videotaping themselves using the materials in order to allow the Iowa Reading Research Center (IRRC) to gather data on how teachers are implementing the instructional design of each pilot program. Students are not the focus of these recordings, and the IRRC will destroy the videos on conclusion of the pilot. Additionally, the primary source for the IRRC work will be an audio recorder that the teacher wears, which will also be destroyed at the end of the pilot. Video will only be examined to clarify or as a back-up.

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