Iowa City School Board may Hire Governance Consultant

Superintendent Stephen Murley and three board members recently met with representatives from Denver-based Charney Associates. The school board will discuss on Tuesday whether to hire the company as a consultant.

Murley said the company would help the district with things like how to write policies and understanding the roles of board members.

The school board follows the Policy Governance model developed by John Carver that defines a board’s role in an organization, but Iowa City is mostly self-taught, Murley said.

Charney Associates provided the board with examples of packages it offers, which run from $5,900 to $13,464.

Creek Squad show Prairie students the ins and outs of Google

CEDAR RAPIDS — Teacher Lindsay Zimmerman-Tippie wanted to bring in some experts to show her eighth grade Prairie Point Middle School students how to better use Google applications.

Her mother, teacher Sandi Zimmerman, had the experts she needed, and it just so happens theyre eighth graders as well.

A group of students from Clear Creek-Amana Middle School spent their early dismissal day demonstrating the use of Google Apps to Zimmerman-Tippies English classes. The group, which calls itself the Creek Squad, conducted seminars to teach the Prairie students how to use the Google Sites application to create their own websites.

The Creek Squad group was formed last year by Principal Brad Fox and Sandi Zimmerman to act as technology gurus for the district, both teachers and students.

Its snowballed from our original plan to the point where theyre our districts first line of defense, Zimmerman said.

The squad taught classes on Google Apps to students and staff at Clear Creek-Amana before, but this was their first time working outside of their district. All school districts in Iowa received access to the web-based programs last summer.

At our school, everyone knows each other, so its easier than presenting to a group of strangers. I think Im good at it, but it takes an outsiders point of view to know for certain, said Miles Lucas, 14, who donned a microphone headset to show a room full of students how to create websites.

The Prairie Point students will be using what they learned in the weeks ahead to create a website for books theyre reading in Zimmerman-Tippies class.

Its hard, but its also fun, said Tyler Sanborn, 14. I think Ill get more used to it as time goes on.

The Creek Squad students got more comfortable as the day went on, said Zimmerman-Tippie. She hopes that this is the first of many collaborations between the two schools.

Some of the students came up to me and said they were going to try creating sites as soon as they got home, she said.

Parents, students, Graduates alike geek out over Robots

Posted November 19, 2011 8:33 pm by Kathleen Serino/SourceMedia Group News

Iowa area high schoolers gathered Saturday to compete in the FIRST Tech Challenge, a youth robotics competition that has burgeoned in Iowa. (Kathleen Serino/SourceMedia Group News)
MARION More than 150 tech-savvy high schoolers, robot fanatics and their parents, as well as local engineers and other community members, gathered Saturday to geek out over robots. Saturday kicked off the first of a string high school robotics competitions that have burgeoned in Iowa, so much so that a statewide final tournament was created to include everyone this school year. Sixteen teams of aspiring teens gathered in the cafeteria of Linn-Mar High School, 2999 N Tenth St. to play Bowled Over! this years FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) competition, a second of a series of worldwide youth robotics and engineering programs sponsored by the FIRST non-profit organization. Founded in 1989 by Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and an accumulation of medical devices, FIRST was created to galvanize young people to become leaders in science and technology. Thanks to the program, one of Mount Vernon High Schools two FTC teams, Activate Go Initiative! has attended the past three world competitions in St. Louis, Miss. Running the show at the state level was 32-year-old Rebecca Whitaker, a K-12 outreach coordinator and FTC affiliate partner with the University of Iowa College of Engineering, who said its phenomenal how much the competition has blossomed. The rate of our growth has actually been very unusual, she noted of the 65 Iowa teams out of the 1,878 teams worldwide. Whitaker said only two Iowa high schools joined the FTC for the 2008-2009 school year.

Rebecca Whitaker
That number increased to 24 the following year, then 50 in 2010-2011. It was two divisions and one-and-a-half days, she said, exasperated, of last years overly crowded 48-team qualifying tournament at the University of Iowas Memorial Union. This school year 65 Iowa teams registered, which entails applying for a grant from the Rockwell Collins or John Deere companies, who offer either a kit complete with a 12-volt direct current motor, range sensors, wheels, Lego brick and aluminum and other automation equipment, or $1000 to cover the cost of one. Whitaker credited the cause of growth to a desire for a bottom-up learning process.

A page of one of the youths engineer notebook, a requirement of the challenge.
A lot of teachers and students wanted more of a hands-on approach to learning about engineering, she said, noting that often students ask when theyll ever actually apply mathematical concepts to real life. But with a robotics challenge such as this, students learn use algebra, geometry and physics to reach game objectives and troubleshoot. And really, [FTC] is a real world problem: they have a limited budget, a limited time frame, and they have to complete a mission, she said. After their 18-inch by 18-inch mobile bots passed a laundry list of meticulous software and hardware inspections, the teams were paired off on a playoff bracket. The object of Bowled Over!, which is played on a 12-foot by 12-foot field, is to be the team to use their bots to place the most racquetballs in crates and then stack them for the most points. But theres a caveat. Each team must enter a 30-second autonomous period where their robots have to play just by how it was programmed prior to the game. Then two minutes of gameplay via remote control. Since its inception, all challenges have been played on the same size field, but the rules and equipment used in the game changes every year. Whitaker said in past years teams have played with wiffleballs and batons.

Jeffery Schons
Its fun to watch, said 19-year-old FTC veteran player Jeffery Schons, who played on the original Linn-Mar team his senior year. He said he declared his major, aerospace engineering, at Iowa State not long ago. Noah Swanson, 16, a team member of Wildcat Robotics for Central City High School, said his team just upset the Linn-Mar Super Ninjas, but their record today was not enough for them to move on to the state level. Each team is allowed to enter one more qualifier before the state final, which Swanson says his team intends to do so. Biomedical groups, hospitals, Boeing, other avionics, Lockheed Martin and John Deere are looking at these kids, one volunteer said. Cedar Rapids resident Chris Simons, a volunteer mentor for the Mount Vernon Linn-Mar

Noah Swanson, 16, of Central City High School
Super Ninjas, and Rockwell Collins engineer, said FTC has been a stepping stone for 20 select high school juniors and seniors each year; Rockwell, a major sponsor of the program, hires a lot of FTC players for their internship program. Moving on to the state final is the Linn-Mar Super Ninjas, and the Linn-Mar Outrageous Finger Socks (for hosting the tournament), the Ankeny High School Robohawtagons, and Mount Vernon High Schools Classified. Those kids have worked so hard, Mount Vernon Robotics Club sponsor Richard Scearce said. Whitaker said she was blown away with the turnout, volunteerism, and especially the teams performances of the whole day. The state championship will take place February 25 at the UI IMU. The world championship is slated for May. Location information on the remaining six qualifying tournaments can be found here.

Its About Our Youth

I talk with community groups all over Linn County, and often find that many are unaware of the recent trends in thetobacco world, the new products being introduced, and how our youth may be impacted. Many of the parents and teachers that attend wish they would have been more informed.

The health risks associated with smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke, which have been well documented, have cost Iowa a billion dollars annually, prompting the state to pass the Smokefree Air Act (SFAA) in 2008. With other states introducing similar smoking restrictions, the tobacco companies have countered by releasing new smokeless tobacco products, causing debates to rage over the potential health issues and their appeal to youth. Some of these new products smell like mints and do not require spitting; as a result, would allow youth to use these products without drawing adult attention. Traditionally, smokeless tobacco products have appealed to boys, but since these new products are spit-less, girls may find them more attractive. It is likely that youth are already using some of these products at school and at home.
One of the first of these products to show up was Snus, a pouch of tobacco that users place between the lip and gums, and then discards the pouch when finished. Snus was originally popular in Sweden, but was banned by the European Union in 2004 due to cancer concerns. Snus was released in the United States in 2008 with a nicotine level of 2.0 mg, but has since climbed to 8.0 mg. Currently, Snus can be found throughout Linn County, and there are videos on-line that show high school aged kids using it.
The new dissolvable tobacco products are designed to fully dissolve in the mouth, allowing consumers to use them easily and frequently. The convenience of these products coupled with nicotine yields that are comparable to that of a cigarette have prompted concerns of potential nicotine poisoning, especially to any small children that manage to get a hold of them. Camel, one of the more popular brands among youth, has been test marketing dissolvable tobacco products called Orbs, Strips, and Sticks. Orbs appear to resemble mints, while Strips resemble melt-away breath strips, and sticks are the size of a tooth pick.


Ariva is another dissolvable tobacco product that resembles breath mints; reports indicate that it has recently become available in Cedar Falls and appears to be popular with young tobacco users. A study conducted by the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth revealed that 40 percent of kids under the age of 18 thought Orbs were candy or mints. The study further indicated that 27 percent of the kids not currently using tobacco would still be willing to try Orbs. Additionally, parents and teachers may have a difficult time detecting a youth using Orbs or Arriva if the adolescent were to place them in a Tic Tac container.
These new products are available in mellow, frost, winter chill, spearmint, and peppermint flavors, increasing their potential popularity among youth. The chance of youth obtaining these products increases once they have been released to retailers within the community. Even the containers that many of the new products are packaged in may assist youth in concealing them. For instance, a container of Snus in a student’s pocket may look as though they were carrying a cell phone. Furthermore, there appears to be a perception among those that use these products that they are a safe alternative to cigarettes. Research on the exact health issues is still limited, but given what we already know from past products, the outcome has the potential to amplify the health issues and addiction that are already destroying the lives of so many. With all that the schools are currently dealing with, I can’t imagine that the introduction of these new products would make their job any easier. Regardless of how communities choose to address these issues, our first step in this process is to stay informed.

Grant Wood AEA expands PowerSchool Options

Thousands in Eastern Iowa log into Power School, Pearson’s online school information system, every day.

Teachers enter grades. Office staff track school absences. Parents check on homework assignments.

Grant Wood Area Education Agency introduced the system to Eastern Iowa schools in 2007. Today, the program is used by nearly 40 school districts in the area, serving roughly 90,000 people. On an international scale, PowerSchool supports nearly 10 million students in all 50 states and 65 countries.

What many don’t know, though, is that PowerSchool is enhanced regularly by Grant Wood AEA computer technicians who add programs by request from teachers, principals and AEA staff.

Some of the programs are visible to parents. eRegistration is one example.“eRegiatration was an awesome additional to PowerSchool,” said David Canaday, director of technology for the Marion school district. “With the adding of the registration process, parents could go online and update their information. It really streamlined the process. Parents didn’t have to go to multiple schools.”

Canaday said about 75 percent of Marion’s registrations for the 2011-12 school year were eRegistrations. Patrons without access to a home computer had the option of using school computers.

Deb Broghammer, an administrative student record consultant with Grant Wood AEA, said districts can customize the program to include permission forms – internet use policy, media release forms, etc. – as well, eliminating paper and saving time. Everything a staff member needs to know about a student is available with the click of a button.

It works the same for internal programs available only to schools and their staff

“It keeps things integrated,” said Gary Warner, director of technology for the Linn-Mar school district. “All the information you need for a student is on one site.”

“The more we’re able to document and keep these records accurate, the better the experience for students and parents,” Canaday added.

This includes behavior records, also a Grant Wood add-on. Technicians added the behavioral management system to PowerSchool during the 2009-10 school year. This program tracks student behavior instances and teacher referrals, and also cross references with other students involved in incidents, if applicable. This helps school personnel identify areas of concern.

The program was designed by request from educators throughout the area.

“We try to listen to what the districts are looking for and how we can better put information together,” Broghammer said.

All PowerSchool apply to Grant Wood AEA districts only. Grant Wood also handles all PowerSchool technical support and training for its AEA districts.

“Our goal is to serve schools and to serve students in those schools, and the parents,” said Bob Neilly, administrative student record consultant with Grant Wood AEA.

Grant Wood recently piloted online report cards at City High School and West High School in Iowa City. This program gives parents the option of downloading their child’s report card from their PowerSchool account.

Neilly called the pilot a success, adding that the program will soon be available to more schools.

“We’re looking to expand it, eventually including student transcripts,” he said.

A new intervention database program would give all parties working with a student requiring these services, from the classroom teacher and school principal to social worker and resource teacher, access to the same information. This would allow everyone to track a student’s progress and weigh in on what’s working and what isn’t.

Neilly said the program will be turned on in select Cedar Rapids schools. The program will be reviewed before it is offered to more schools.