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Superintendent’s Message: Celebrate What’s Right!

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of Schools

Theresa Davidson, Superintendent of Schools

It can be easy to get bogged down in the challenges and barriers to success and lose  sight of the good things that make up a school year.  So what a pleasure it was to open  The Gazette last week and read about a parent’s positive experience at one of our  elementary schools over the past year. Jessie expressed appreciation for the  contribution each staff member had made to educational excellence and the feeling of  comfort that her family had found at the school.

 When we come to the end of a school year, it is customary for our administrative team  to look back on what worked well and where we can make improvements for the year  ahead.  We discovered that in Emporia Public Schools, we have much to celebrate!

 In May, nearly 300 students of all ages received a high school diploma from our district.  These students included our first graduate from Turning Point Academy and 59  graduates from Flint Hills Learning Center. Among them, we proudly handed diplomas  to a father and his son, a mother and her son, a mother and her daughter, and a  husband and wife. What an extraordinary privilege to share such tender moments with our students and their families.                                                

From preschool through high school, our administrative team recanted successes large and small for both students and staff.  In the course of our work, we get to witness students who learn to walk, learn to read, conquer math equations, or connect to school through an extracurricular activity.

Many heartwarming stories had ties to our STREAM project, unique grant-funded learning opportunities designed to extend educational experiences beyond the classroom through Science, Technology, Reading, Engineering, the Arts and Mathematics.

This effort promoted partnerships with community agencies, individuals, organizations, and district operational services. The STREAM days required tremendous planning on the part of our teachers and principals and sometimes presented scheduling challenges for our transportation, food service and custodial staff members. Even our Business and Human Resources Offices were stretched to maintain the detailed records required for a 21st Century Community Learning Center Grant.  But everyone agreed that watching the smiles and sighs of understanding for all the new things our students were learning made it all worthwhile.

We opened the school year last August with nearly 30 teachers just starting their careers in education. We paired them with veteran teacher mentors and sometimes overwhelmed them with support from the building and district level.  Our goal was to help them survive the trials and adventures of that first year but we were thrilled to watch them thrive amidst the growing expectations and educational challenges they encountered.  We anxiously await their return in August.

In our mission to prepare all students for college and career opportunities, Emporia High School graduated the second class of AVID students and added even more options for students to take dual (high school and college) credit courses. Enrollment procedures were restructured so that eachstudent meets privately with his or her counselor to establish a program of study to guide their high school years and anticipate their post-secondary ambitions.

EHS is excited to join the Kansas Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) Program. JAG focuses on graduation, career exploration and planning, and development of employability skills with an emphasis on post-secondary education for students who have lost sight of the possibility. We’ll start the school year with two JAG education specialists working to select the first 90 students for 2014-15.  Together they will strengthen partnerships with local and regional employers to assure that college and career ready opportunities are guaranteed for all Emporia students.

Emporia Middle School launched Capturing Kids Hearts last fall, a framework that focuses on building positive relationships between adults and students, students and their peers, and adults to adults. Students and adults have reported a distinct difference in the school culture. Mirroring the data shared by teachers and administrators, bus drivers reported a 30 percent drop in discipline referrals for middle school students.

Emporia Public School students learned a lot about community service this year. Our students and staff raised thousands of dollars for a variety of causes, donated food and clothing to others in need, gave blood, and ran or walked in a number of worthy fund-raising efforts. The benefactors included: United Way, Salvation Army, Abundant Harvest, SOS, Read to Your Bunny, American Red Cross, Ronald McDonald House, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, an elementary school in Honduras, and students and school employees experiencing difficult medical situations.

While core academics are the primary focus of our mission, our students enjoy a wide range of co-curricular activities in aspects of fitness, arts, music and athletic activities. At Village School, the physical education teacher enlisted the third grade to participate in the Kansas Kids Fitness Day Physical Activity Challenge. I am proud to report that Village won the 2014 Rick Bowden Champion Award, far exceeding the competition requirements in this fitness activity.

It is typical for our District Transportation Department to earn a perfect score on the annual state Transportation Safety Review. But what we recently learned is that only about one-third of Kansas districts actually receive a perfect score.

The district consolidated some existing programs and expanded duties for personnel in those programs to form a new office of Student and Family Resources this year.  The office expands service to our families, offers parents a central location to enroll students, and connects families with community resources and services. At the end of our first year, the feedback from families has been extremely positive.

There are so many points of pride in our school district and in our community.  Many more will be highlighted in the second edition of COLLABORATE – another successful venture shared with Emporia State University and Flint Hills Technical College this year!

We started the year positioned to address some lofty goals and challenged ourselves to also Celebrate What’s Right!  Indeed, we have found a lot to celebrate in Emporia Public Schools!

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