Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Karla Pomeroy

Teachers, students adjusting to grade-level schools


September 30, 2017

WORLAND — While there were a few hiccups with transportation at the start of the school year, the switch for the Worland elementary schools from neighborhood to grade-level schools has gone relatively smooth.

The district hired Pat Hilmer to assist with the transportation transition that went with a switch to grade-level schools. At a recent school board meeting, Superintendent David Nicholas said, “She was born for that job. She’s done really well getting kids around and getting them on the right bus.”

He added that there was signage developed to help direct students to the right buses.

“As we visited K-1, 2-3, 4-5, our teachers, I want to congratulate them publicly, they’ve just embraced the work and are jumping in with both feet,” Nicholas added. “I’m very proud of them.”

East Side Principal Chris Peterson said at an August board meeting that they were still fine tuning the shuttle bus program. “By far it has to be the most difficult at our level with those kiddoes coming and going. Kudos to Pat Hilmer who has taken that challenge upon herself and bus tags for all the kiddoes who ride the bus,” he said. East Side is the kindergarten and first-grade elementary school.

South Side Elementary Principal Ken Dietz said at Monday’s school board meeting, “I did want to give a shout out to our transportation department because things are flowing very smoothly. I think that’s something that people were concerned about with this transition to grade-level schools. We continue to get kids where they need to be.”

In an interview Friday, Peterson said the busing is going smoothly now.

The shuttle bus system allows students to walk to what was their neighborhood area elementary school and to be shuttled to their now grade-level appropriate school and back again at the end of the day.


As for the students, Peterson said the switch has been good. “They are with peers their same age. They are finding friends easier. If there’s a quiet student they can usually find another quiet student. The kids are more than willing to play with others.”

He added, “It’s neat with the age group I have. It’s a fun group to be around. They are super excited to see their teacher and excited to be at school every day. It makes our jobs easier when they come eager and excited to learn.”

At West Side, the new fourth- and fifth-grade elementary school, Principal Bruce Miller said the benefit to the students has been great.

“The students are doing really well. They are finding friendships that probably didn’t have before, for one reason because there’s a lot more to choose from,” Miller said, adding that instead of having about 35 students in the same grade there are now 190.

“They’re starting to enjoy it and just now starting to get out of comfort zone of kids they had gone to school with before. It has been neat to see friendships develop,” Miller said.

He said they are also noticing benefits of having older elementary school students all in the school including adding a salad bar at lunch and beefing up technology. All the fifth graders have their Chrome books and Google passwords to help them prepare for entering the sixth grade.

“The kids have adjusted really well,” he added.

Dietz said, “The students have done wonderful. They are enjoying having more students in their peer group and building new relationships.”

He added that he has not heard anything negative about the change from any second- or third-grade student at South Side.


Both Miller and Peterson said the collaboration with teachers has been ideal.

Peterson said the grade-level school system is ideal “when talking about collaboration, whether it is for remediation or enrichment.”

He said the kindergarten teachers meet at least weekly as a grade-level team on Tuesday mornings. The first-grade teachers meet right after lunch on Tuesdays. The meetings are planned when students are in the “specialty” classes including art, music, physical education and library.

Prior to the board adopting the grade-level school system, surveys were taken with about 50 percent of teachers in favor. Peterson said the teachers are seeing the benefits of the grade-level system, but added, “it will take a while to get everything fine-tuned.”

One concern from teachers and parents was having interaction between kindergarteners and fifth-graders and Peterson said he and Miller are still working on logistics to bring the fifth-graders over to East Side.

Miller said the teachers have been hit with a lot of change this year with many adjusting to new buildings, new principal and new expectations. “We need to commend them for that. They don’t get the credit they’ve deserved for adapting to it.”

He said his fourth-grade teachers and fifth-grade teachers also have formal meetings once a week.

He said in the fourth grade they have also split duties between teachers on social studies and science.

At the fifth-grade level, he said the teachers have divided social studies into three areas — geography, government and history — and each student will be with each teacher for that particular subject.

He said they have also done the same thing with science.

“Every fifth-grader is going to see every fifth-grade teacher,” Miller said, adding that this helps bring a unity to the school because the teachers look at the students as “our kids.”

He said the fifth-graders also get a little taste of middle school going to different teachers for different subjects.

Dietz said at Monday’s board meeting, the grade-level teams are meeting consistently. “It is so exciting to have all five of our second-grade teachers meeting and talking about instruction, what do we need to do for these kids; and all five of our third-grade teachers, which is one of the huge advantages we got from shifting to grade-level schools this year. It’s really exciting but we’re still working through some things because the dynamic changes when you shift from two [teachers] to five. It’s an exciting process.”

Dietz said South Side has started an after-school program this week on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. “We’re treating it like an extension of our response-to-intervention,” he said.

Miller said one issue a lot of parents were concerned about was parent-teacher conferences. “Our secretaries have done a great job getting together and doing the schedule so a parent can go to one building and on to the next on the same night,” Miller said.

He said they had several families that had students in every school and some with children in more than one school. Miller said they coordinated the conferences so a parent could spend time at one school before needing to go on to the next school.

The school parent-teacher organizations also formed an overarching organization, he said, called the WE PTO (Worland Elementary Parent Teacher Organization). One of the goals for WE PTO is to coordinate all PTO events so they are not scheduled on the same evenings, as well as scheduling some all-elementary school events.

Dietz said he has been stressing safety with the transition, making sure students and staff know where to go and what to do depending on the type of emergency.

Miller said, “I would like to stress how hard everyone has worked to try and make this [grade-level successful,” adding that parents, staff and students have made it work.


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