Virtual-reality program helps E. Iowa students become the educators

Lisbon seventh grader James Cannon (right) tries to help eighth grader Tait Larson figure out how to mirror a shape in Blender, an open-source virtual reality program, during class on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. Students in the Virtual Reality Education Pathfinders class work with other students and teachers to create virtual reality programs that can be used in other classes, like physics. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

LISBON — A Shelby Mustang races toward the railroad tracks, as a large train looms in the distance. It becomes obvious that the car will not clear the crossing in time.

A collision never happens, though.

The train passes through the car and continues along the track uninterrupted, while the car is frozen in place, unharmed.

“I’m still working on the physics,” Cole Norton said of the images on his computer screen. “It can be pretty realistic once you take the time to put everything in.”

Norton, 14, is a Lisbon High School freshman enrolled in Virtual Reality Education Pathfinders, a computer engineering class popping up at several Eastern Iowa high schools.

The program began in 2006 with the donation of an outdated virtual-reality medical computer from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to East Marshall High School in Le Grand, west of Tama.

No one at the school knew how the computer worked, so Principal Rex Kozak entrusted it

Cole Norton, a Lisbon freshman, created this virtual reality program that shows a train colliding with a car by collaborating with physics students to demonstrate the distance the car would be pushed and the momentum on impact. This screengrab shows the left perspective of the project, which will eventually be rendered into 3D. Photographed on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

to a group of students to figure it out. The students were so successful, the self-directed approach became the basis of the Pathfinders program, which expanded to other schools in 2008.

Since then, more than 40 Iowa school districts have joined the program, which now counts the Grant Wood Area Education Agency and Rockwell Collins as major sponsors.

In the virtual-reality program, students experiment on their own to find ways the 3-D equipment can be used. Lisbon teacher Mark Benesh said his job is to connect students to resources that can help them reach their goals.

“It’s more of a peer-tutoring environment,” he said.

The program uses Blender, an open-source application, meaning it was developed by a community of programmers volunteering their services and that it’s free. Support for the application comes from online communities of programmers and users, not textbooks. Benesh said those communities are his students’ main source of information.

The students enrolled have no shortage of enthusiasm, said seventh-grader James Cannon, 13.

“My teachers all agree, I have no life outside this place,” he said.

One of the goals of the virtual-reality program is to have students create models that enhance other classes.

Norton’s train simulation, for example, ties into a physics class learning about types of collisions. When completed, his model will allow physics students to better understand the laws of motion by viewing the collision from any angle or speed.

The 3-D equipment costs $3,500 per school, but some of that cost is defrayed by private donors, such as Rockwell Collins, who hope to encourage more kids to pursue careers in engineering, science and technology.

Lisbon High School freshman Cole Norton works on a virtual reality project in Blender, an open-source program, during class on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 2011. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

Mount Vernon High School senior Matthew Lichty, 18, graduates in the spring and plans to pursue a degree in a field where he can research artificial intelligence. His Pathfinders experience could come in handy.

“Three-D imaging of the brain is a big part of research into artificial intelligence,” Lichty said.

At Mount Vernon, Pathfinders is an extracurricular activity, rather than a class. The students have created several impressive models this year, such as a simulation of the sun passing over the Chichen Itza pyramids in Mexico and a 3-D caffeine molecule.

Teacher Richard Scearce has no doubts about the technical ability of his students, most of whom are in other engineering-oriented student organizations, like robotics club and cyber defense. He hopes Pathfinders gets them to think beyond programming to the visual aspects.

“Make no mistake, this is art,” Scearce said. “It’s like a Pixar movie. They’re tuning in to their artistic side more than they thought they would.”

Scearce’s only complaint is that most of the students are boys.

Pathfinders is growing fast; expansion to Ohio and Connecticut is in the works, and more Iowa districts are lining up.

Jefferson High School in Cedar Rapids is joining. Teacher Lisa Digman said six students are attending a training institute next week.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for these kids,” Digman said. “They are actually going to be doing all the training, I’m not.”

Slice of Jazz the only Iowa high school ensemble chosen for American Choral Directors Convention

From the Cedar Rapids school district:

Washington High School’s “A Slice of Jazz” was the only Iowa high school music ensemble chosen to perform at the 2011 American Choral Directors Association National Convention in Chicago. The select choir will perform March 11 as part of “Jazz Night” events also featuring five other select ensembles, chosen from schools across the country.

 

The ACDA conference regularly features concert performances by auditioned and invited choirs; honor choir rehearsals and performances; interest sessions presented by noted choral leaders; choral music reading sessions; roundtable discussions; exhibits; and networking. This year, 38 choirs from 20 different states were selected by audition recordings to perform at the four-day convention. In addition to ‘Slice of Jazz,’ the only other Iowa choir selected for the convention was The Norsemen men’s choir from Luther College.

 

Members of “A Slice of Jazz” are: Front row, left to right, Clayton Willett, Nikki Stewart and Ian Butler; Second row, left to right, Rachel Jones, Katherine Bergman, Emma Azelborn, Tori Wheeler, Lindsey Taylor, Ellen Hart and Allison Klasson; third row, left to right, Miles Maurice, Neil Ghosh, Jordan Abben, Brenden Weberg, Connor Zuber and Wes Carlson.

Directed by Matthew and Shelly Armstrong, “A Slice of Jazz” has been named the state champion jazz choir in Iowa two of the last four years. The vocal ensemble is accompanied by the rhythm section of Washington’s top jazz band, The Revolutionists, under the direction of Steve Shanley. The ACDA performance will include the songsMy Kind of Town Chicago,” “Bossa Nova Eyes,” “How Do You Keep the Music Playing,” and “One O’ Clock Jump.”

 

“We’re humbled and honored to perform at ACDA in Chicago,” noted Armstrong. “The honor is not only for this year’s Slice group, but for all of the students that have been in the ensemble in recent years.  In order to be selected, we had to submit a CD of the best song representing each of the last three years.

 

“The kids have worked incredibly hard, but couldn’t have done it without the continued support of parents, administration, and great teachers in Cedar Rapids,” he continued. “Music education is an integral part of the culture at Washington High School and throughout Cedar Rapids Community School District.”

 

A special preview concert will be held Feb. 8 at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church. “A Slice of Jazz” will join with British a cappella group, “VOCES8” for an 8 p.m. performance.

Transportation Mural at Harrison Elementary School to Be Restored

CEDAR RAPIDS – A piece of history at Harrison Elementary School will have a face lift, so to speak.

“Transportation,” a mural created by William Henning for Harrison, will be restored this spring.

Tony Rajer, an art conservation and restoration professional from Wisconsin, will discuss the upcoming project during a community presentation at 2:30 p.m. today at the school.

 

Tony Rajer

“The project will have two components,” Rajer said. “First, there’s the actual restoration. The second is working with the children at the school to help them better understand and appreciate the unique art available to them.”

 

Henning was commissioned to create the mural for the then-new Harrison Elementary in 1934 as a part of the New Deal/Works Progress Administration. A protégé of artist Grant Wood, Henning consulted with Wood on the piece and also used ideas submitted by Harrison students in the design process.

 

The oil on canvas work depicts various modes of transportation including trains, boats, horse-drawn buggies, Indian canoes, and primitive helicopters.

 

“It tells a story,” Principal Linda Reysack said. “Not just the picture itself, but the work that went into the painting. It’s the story of the artists and the kids who gave him ideas.”

 

The mural, which is 22-feet by 5-feet, was appraised at $150,000 in 2009.

The Cedar Rapids school district’s total art collection, which includes original works by Grant Wood and Marvin Cone, was appraised at $16 million that year.

 

Nearly $13 million of the district’s art collection is housed at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, either on display or in storage. The remaining pieces are displayed in the district’s schools and support buildings.

 

District administrators keep this art in the schools as a way to honor its art history with the understanding that the district is responsible for maintaining and protecting the collection.

 

Several pieces were identified in the 2009 appraisal as needing restoration, including “Transportation.” Henning himself performed touch-up work on the mural in 1973 and 1984, but the years since have resulted in the cracking and crazing of the paint.

 

A grant from the Linn County Historic Preservation Commission will help fund the restoration process. The mural will be covered with Plexiglas once the restoration project in complete.

 

Rajer calls the project an “exciting challenge,” but it isn’t the biggest he’s faced in Eastern Iowa. Rajer restored the 70-year-old “Communication by Mail” – after removing the 4,000 pound fresco mural from its original home in Marion’s former City Hall.

 

The mural was installed at the Marion Heritage Center in May 2009 – 18 months after work on the project began.

“I hope to work with the art teacher, all teachers, on ways we can get the students involved in this project,” Rajer said. “Maybe they can do their own interpretation of ‘Transportation’ – crayon or pencil drawings – and we can have a little expedition.”

William Henning commissioned to create the mural for the then-new Harrison Elementary as a part of the New Deal/Works Progress Administration in 1934.

31 CR Wash performing arts students earn All-State honors

The Iowa High School Music Association held auditions on October 23rd at West Delaware High School in Manchester for local high school students to select All-State Music Festival participants.

 

31 students from Cedar Rapids Washington High School earned All-State honors this year.  Of course we are pleased when any student is selected for All-State, but the real joy comes from watching the development of all students as they prepare for the auditions, said Steve Shanley, one of Washs band directors.  All of the students had to balance their All-State preparations with school work, as well many other activities including fall plays, concerts and marching band competitions.

 

Washs list of All-State performers includes an impressive number of multiple year honorees and several rare accomplishments.  Orchestra has 2 students earning their 4th All-State awards, Celia Garner-Prouty and Grace Walker, as well a freshman, Anne Wolle, earning All-State on violin.  As described by Natalie Brown, Washs orchestra director, violins is the one of most competitive instruments for orchestra, highlighting the rare and impressive nature of Wolles accomplishment.  The vocal music program has 6 multiple-year All-State students this year, including senior Miles Maurice, tenor, earning his 3rd All-State appearance.  2 band students from Wash also earned their 3rd All-State honor, Liz Townsend (oboe) and Toby Ziemer (trombone).  Additionally, Kate Ernst, a sophomore, captured the singular honor of being named 1st chair All-State for clarinets.

 

While the individual honors are highly prized, all those who prepare and audition for All-State benefit and the experience helps them become leaders within their programs.  As Steve Shanley notes, regardless of the outcome, all of the students benefit from All-State preparations.

 

The complete list of CR Washington students selected for the All-State Music Festival:

 

Chorus
Emma Azelborn alto (junior)
Katharine Bergman alto (junior)
Ian Butler tenor (sophomore)
Wes Carlson bass (senior)
Andrew Clair bass (senior, 2 year All-Stater)
Drake Hickok tenor (junior, 2 year All-Stater)
Rachel Jones soprano (senior)
Anna Noreuil soprano (junior, 2 year All-Stater)
Miles Maurice tenor (senior, 3 year All-Stater)
Emily White alto (senior, 2 year All-Stater)
Clayton Willett bass (junior, 2 year All-Stater)
Band
Emily Arkenberg bassoon
Nathan Benya percussion
Bradley Birchansky baritone sax
Eric Carson french horn (freshman)
Sarah Coleman bass clarinet (sophomore)
Kate Ernst clarinet (sophomore, 1st chair, 2 year All-Stater)
Neel Ghosh alto sax (senior)
Megan Hepker clarinet
Hannah Johnson flute
Max McGee tenor sax (senior)
Emily Meyer flute (alternate)
Liz Townsend oboe (senior, 3 year All-Stater)
Sean Valentine clarinet (senior)
Zoe Wolter french horn (junior)
Toby Ziemer trombone (senior, 3 year All-Stater)
Orchestra
Ian Draves bass (senior)
Celia Garner-Prouty violin (senior, 4 year All-Stater)
Grace Walker violin (senior, 4 year All-Stater)
Anne Wolle violin (freshman)
Lucy Young viola (senior)

Student Volunteers Make a Difference

A team of 33 Cedar Rapids Jefferson High School students spent Sept. 15 sharing their skills as part of the local “Block By Block” flood recovery program.

 

“The student service group wanted to help fellow citizens who are still recovering from the flood of 2008,” explained Brian Reynolds, teacher and service group advisor. “The group had worked last year mucking out flood damaged homes and was interested in doing more.”

 

The day of volunteering included a morning of painting, with some students priming and painting the exterior of a house while others painted interior walls, from the basement to the second floor. After a lunch break, the teen volunteers were back at work, this time emptying and dismantling a flood-damaged garage.

 

“This type of service project helps student recognize that they really can make a difference in our community,” Reynolds added. “It also helps to encourage students to continue volunteering throughout their lives.”

 

During the school year, the Jefferson service group will also be involved in volunteer projects supporting Habitat for Humanity, Greene Square Meals, Bowling for Kids Sake, Sleep Out for the Homeless, and Waypoint Wonderland, as well as a breast cancer awareness walk/run and a series of food/clothing/toy drives to benefit local organizations.

Viola Gibson students wrap up Great Depression unit with hobo lunch

Viola Gibson fourth grader Ben Bjornsen listens as school principal Kevin Uhde plays guitar during the first annual Hobo Lunch at the school on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010, in Cedar Rapids. Fourth graders at the school have been studying the Great Depression, and dressed as hoboes, sang hobo songs and ate a typical meal of meat, potatoes and vegetables for a culmination to the unit. (Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Ben Bjornsen picked at the food in the foil packet, separating the beef from the carrots and potatoes.

“It’s disgusting,” the Viola Gibson Elementary School fourth grader said.

What if it was the only food available? For several days?

“Then I’d eat it all,” Ben, 9, said.

The meal, termed a ‘hobo pack’ by the school’s fourth grade teachers, was a hands-on wrap-up of the Great Depression social studies unit.

“The goal of the unit was for the students to have a deeper understanding of the Great Depression and how it affected our culture,” said Stephen Probert, a fourth grade teacher.

Viola Gibson fourth grader Kassidy Lovig eats a lunch of meat, potatoes and vegetables during the first annual Hobo Lunch at the school on Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010, in Cedar Rapids.(Liz Martin/SourceMedia Group News)

Using the Cedar Rapids school district’s new “Bringing History Home” elementary social studies curriculum, Viola Gibson teachers brought the Great Depression to life through books, movies, pictures and music. The theme of the was hands-on  learning, finding ways to make the lessons relevant so students will want to know more.

This included watching clips of The Grapes of Wrath, analyzing photographs to determine what it was like to live in the Dust Bowl and constructing a timeline detailing important events. On Tuesday, the students traveled to West Branch to visit to the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum.

Still, the teachers wanted their students to become immersed in the time period in a real way, so the teaching team focused their studies on the era’s traveling workers – hobos.

Did you know hobos have a national anthem and their own language? Did you know hobos looked out for each other, letting others know on their travels what towns had work and other to avoid?

“They cared about each other,” said Kassidy Lovig, 10. “If somebody offered them money, they wouldn’t take all of it in case somebody else needed it more.”

“At first, I thought hobos were like bums, they were sitting around being lazy, but they were willing to work hard for food,” said Ben Koester, 10. “They took trains to places that had work so they could eat.”

On Wednesday, that train stopped at Viola Gibson, where hobos of all sizes gathered on the playground.

Dressed in various degrees of hobo attire, from the ripped jeans and flannel shirts to sticks-and-knapsacks and drawn-on beards, the students ate their ‘hobo pack’ – some with more enthusiasm than others – and snag along with Principal Kevin Uhde, who performed several hobo songs. Later, the students decorated the blacktop with chalk symbols advising the next round of visitors of the treatment they received

“I think it was fun learning about the Great Depression because we got to watch a movie and write about it,” said Nikole Slinger, 9.

“There’s been a lot of enthusiasm for today, for everything we did in this unit,” said Deb Siebenga, fourth grade teacher. “It took a lot of work to plan it, but this is what school should be.”

Probert called the new curriculum refreshing.

“I think it increases the likelihood that the kids will remember it for the rest of their lives,” he said.

Students take control with virtual reality program

150 particpants from 21 school districts demostrate what they learned creating vitual reality and 3D applications at a Virtual Reality Education Pathfinders event at the Grant Wood Area Education Agency in Cedar Rapids on Friday, August 6, 2010. (Cliff Jette/Sourcemedia Group)

CEDAR RAPIDS — A bunny composed of squares and rectangles did a somersault on a large television screen Friday, August 6, 2010, at the Grant Wood Area Education Agency as Tyler Priem, a 16-year-old high school student going into his sophomore year at Edgewood-Colesburg High School, pressed a series of buttons on his laptop.

It took about an hour and a half to make, he said. It wasnt really that complicated, it just took a while to learn how to move the bones and everything.

Priem is one of the 150 high school students from 21 schools across Eastern Iowa who came to the agency to learn how to create three-dimensional graphics at the Virtual Reality Education Pathfinders institute.

The Pathfinders program is an educational initiative sponsored by the agency and corporate partners to give high school students a chance to learn how to program virtual reality applications. Virtual reality is used in both engineering and medical science to create lifelike models of objects that are not accessible or do not exist yet.

It began in 2006 when the Mayo Clinic donated an advanced virtual reality imaging computer to East Marshall High School in Le Grand. Principal Rex Kozak decided to have his students take the lead on figuring out how to use the new equipment.

We just let them set up, show us what theyre going to do, watch them grow and then get out of the way, Kozak said.

The East Marshall students became engrossed in the technology and have used it to create some advanced models for their classes. Some of the simulations Kozak has seen his students create include a simulation of a car engine as it is moving and a model showing a red blood cell, both of which are used by teachers involved with the program to help demonstrate the concepts.

What makes the program unique is that it puts students in the drivers seat of their own education by having them create models teachers can then use in the classroom, according to program coordinator Dr. Trace Pickering.

We see this as a way to transform schooling. We talk about students leading their learning, but teachers seem to be leading all the learning, Pickering said. With this program, (students) utilize teachers as the content experts to make sure their figures are accurate.

The Pathfinders institute on Thursday and Friday introduced new students to the world of virtual reality. It allowed the incoming learners the chance to get right into creating three dimensional models, instead of having to go through the slow trial and error process of the first students, according to instructor Tyler Richard, one of the original East Marshall students.

We started from no knowledge going into a steep curve of understanding. They probably covered what we covered in 3 months in two days, Richard said.

Richard now is a computer engineering student going into his sophomore year at Iowa State University. He confessed that he used to fall asleep during trigonometry, and would spend every spare moment he had in the band room playing the drums. Pathfinders helped change his priorities.

As soon as I found a tool to help me design things that you couldnt normally design in real life, it really brought me into engineering, Richard said.

Pickering hopes to expand the program into a region-wide effort. The program has grown by more than 172 percent in the last year. Despite missing out on federal grants, Pathfinders was successful in attracting the interest of business that use virtual reality, such as Rockwell Collins and John Deere, who have donated almost $3 million. School districts in Ohio and Connecticut also are working with the agency to join the program.

Mount Vernon seniors Matthew Lichty (left) and Forrest Scott play a virtual reality game soccer game with three balls that they created at a Virtual Reality Education Pathfinders event at the Grant Wood Area Education Agency in Cedar Rapids on Friday, August 6, 2010. (Cliff Jette/Sourcemedia Group)

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Class Sizes key in College Community Bond Vote for New Elementary School

CEDAR RAPIDS — With less than a week left until the April 3, 2012, $15 million bond election, College Community School District residents are making up their minds on whether or not the district should build a new elementary school.

A handful of voters came out to an open house at Prairie Ridge Elementary School for more information on the election Thursday, March 29, 2012, evening. The district also has made more than 17 visits to local community groups to present its case for the bond issue and new school.

 

Superintendent Dick Whitehead has a good feeling about the election, but said the result would depend on voter turnout levels, with a high turnout making a yes vote more likely.

 

Theres strong community support for this, but we need to let people know that the way to express that support is by coming out and voting, he said.

 

Mary and Brian Morrill were undecided when they showed up for the open house. The Walford residents have several children in College Community schools and were concerned about whether the new school would do enough to lower rising class sizes.

 

The average elementary school class size in College Community is around 25, up from 21 during the 2006-2007 school year. The rise is due to an all-around increase in enrollment for the district during the last decade, from 3,115 students in students in 2000, to a projected amount of more than 5,000 in 2015, a year after the new elementary school would open.

 

The new building would allow the district to add at least three sections for most grade levels to help bring those numbers back down, which led both Morrills to say they would vote in favor of the bond.

 

I would vote yes, even if my property taxes would increase, Mary Morrill said.

Property taxes will not increase next year if the bond passes, but it is difficult to predict beyond that as much depends on the state of the economy and decisions made in the state Legislature, said Whitehead. He told the Morrills he felt the district finances were in good shape, and that the district has 30 years of tax base growth, which helps keep property tax rates low.

 

The Morrills also had questions regarding how many students College Community accepts via open enrollment, an issue Whitehead said he gets a lot of questions about.

 

College Community only allows open enrollment to students from outside to students who previously lived in the area and are seeking to continue there education. In those cases, the district the student currently lives in compensates College Community for that students portion of state funding.

 

The district is planning for growth to continue, recently purchasing a 73 acre property adjacent to the district along Kirkwood Boulevard for $1.4 million. There are no plans to build on that property yet, but the purchase is necessary for future expansion to continue the districts central campus vision, something community groups have indicated they would like to continue, said Whitehead.

 

He said the property may be developed in the future, or traded or sold in exchange for other adjacent property.

ELECTION INFORMATION:

WHEN: Tuesday, April 3, 2012

THE QUESTION: Shall the Board of Directors of the College Community School District in the Counties of Benton, Linn, and Johnson, State of Iowa, be authorized to contract indebtedness and issue General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $15,000,000 to provide funds to build and furnish an elementary school building, remodel, repair and improve schoolhouses, and to improve land?

WHERE TO VOTE: Registered voters living in the district may cast their ballot at any of the below locations from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., regardless of their address.

About 40 Percent of Local School Bus Drivers Have at Least One Traffic Ticket

A Cedar Rapids school bus driver was charged Sept. 21 with failure to yield to a pedestrian after she struck an 84-year-old woman in a crosswalk. An 11-year-old boy was killed Oct. 31 when he walked in front of his school bus in rural Janesville.

 

Prompted by the accidents, The Gazette and KCRG checked the names of corridor school bus drivers on Iowa Courts online to identify the ones with criminal convictions and traffic violations. Our findings include:

 

Of 366 drivers for Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Linn-Mar and College Community school districts, 155, or 42 percent, have at least one non-parking infraction since 2000. The bulk of violations are for speeding, but there are also citations for failure to yield, unsafe backing, failure to stop at railroad tracks and unlawful passing of a school bus.

 

Local school bus drivers have convictions for drunken driving, assault, disorderly conduct, child endangerment, theft and selling tobacco to a minor.

 

Linn-Mar had the highest violation rate with 47 percent of bus drivers having at least one traffic infraction since 2000, while Cedar Rapids is the lowest at 37 percent.
Many Eastern Iowa parents said they don’t know the driving record of their children’s school bus drivers, despite research linking prior traffic violations to future crashes.

 

“This was news to me,” said Chris Swehla, of Iowa City, whose daughter rides the bus to and from City High. “I would venture to say few, if any, parents know what the driving records are.”

 

Andi Londquist, a Cedar Rapids mom whose kindergartner rides the bus to Monroe Elementary, said she expected the district to do “due diligence for our children.”

 

School districts check applicants’ driving records through the Iowa Department of Transportation, run criminal histories and check for applicants’ names on registries for sex offenders and child abusers.

 

“We look at frequency, duration and when they got the violations,” said Denny Schreckengast, transportation manager for the Cedar Rapids School District. “Some (violations) would be disqualifies immediately.”

 

School bus drivers must have a valid Commercial Driver’s License, or CDL.

The DOT can suspend a driver’s CDL for commiting two or more serious traffic violations within a three-year period while driving a bus or other commercial vehicle. A driver can also lose his or her CDL for driving drunk in a commercial vehicle, leaving the scene of an accident in a commercial vehicle or committing a felony involving the use of a commercial vehicle.

School districts often have stricter standards.

“We primarily follow our insurance carrier’s guidelines,” said Scott Grabe, transportation director for the College Community district.

The district prohibits the following violations within a three-year period:

“Two preventable accidents without regard to payment, more than four moving violations, more than three moving violations in a 12 month period, reckless driving, drunken driving, hit and run, revocation of driving privilege and serious violations.”

 

Most districts require bus drivers to report any citations or traffic accidents immediately, even if the violations happen in their personal vehicles. Cedar Rapids, Linn-Mar, Iowa City and College Community do ongoing checks for drivers already on the road.

 

Criminal convictions dealt with case by case

Districts vary on how they handle criminal convictions.

College Community’s insurer, Holmes Murphy, requires bus drivers to have no drunken driving convictions for the previous three years, but the district expands that to five years.

“An OWI third is a felony conviction,” Grabe said. “I don’t touch anyone with a felony conviction.”

Iowa City’s bus contractor, Durham School Services, goes further.

Iowa City drivers can have no drunken driving offenses within the past 10 years. Felony convictions, including drugs, sex, weapons or burglary, within the past 10 years would also bar a driver.

The most recent OWI included in The Gazette review of corridor bus drivers was from 1998. A second driver was convicted of drunken driving twice in 1997 and a third driver convicted twice in 1996.

None of the bus drivers identified in The Gazette review has a felony conviction.

For misdemeanors, district officials talk with applicants about the charges and determine whether the incident has a potential effect on the job, said Jill Cirivello, human resources director for the Cedar Rapids school district.

Cedar Rapids bus driver Vicki Laird, 43, is not driving a school bus while the district investigates the Sept. 21 collision. She has no other traffic or criminal convictions and said she was blinded by the morning sun when she struck Bonnie Nielsen. Nielsen suffered broken bones and a serious head injury, her family said.

Michaela Siems-Dighton, the Janesville bus driver who struck and killed Justin Bradfield on Halloween, has three speeding tickets since 2000. However, she was cleared of wrongdoing in the fatal crash as investigators learned Bradfield was hit when he went in front of the bus to pick up an item he had dropped.

 

Research links past record with future crashes

Some parents said they aren’t bothered by bus drivers getting speeding tickets or other minor citations.

“I think sometimes speeding violations are overblown,” said Dennis Cronk, of Iowa City, whose three children ride the school bus to Lemme Elementary.

But research by the Center for National Truck and Bus Statistics at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows that previous traffic infractions are linked to future crashes.

CDL drivers with two or more speeding offenses or two or more serious offenses were involved in 40 percent more crashes than drivers without previous crashes or offenses, according to the center’s study of more than 190,000 Michigan CDL holders from 2001-07.

School buses accounted for 40 percent of fatal accidents nationwide from 2004 to 2008, according to a 2011 study from the UM center.

“I think it’s largely exposure,” said Center Director Dan Blower. School buses “are on the road regularly, in more congested areas and operating in more stop-and-start mode.”

It’s hard to compare the driving records of school bus drivers with those of passenger vehicle drivers, but the UM center found that CDL holders had slightly higher rates of offenses per driver, per year in an analysis of Michigan drivers from 2001 to 2005. School bus drivers have lower rates of moving violations compared to other bus drivers, Blower said.

College Community is considering installing GPS units in each school bus that would record the speed of the bus as well as sudden stops and collisions, Grabe said.

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.