Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Benton Community School District is applying TLC Grant

Benton Community School District is applying for the Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grant from the State of Iowa.

For the past few months a group of parents, teachers and administrators have been working diligently to develop the Benton Community Teacher Leadership and Compensation Grant Application.  

The goal is to be receive the grant for the 2014-15 school year.  Our TLC vision is to:   create a teacher leadership system designed to improve the quality of teaching and learning resulting in a world-class education for a lifetime of learning.  The Benton Community teacher leadership system will utilize servant leadership principles by supporting capacity building opportunities for teachers to foster and promote best practices in the classroom while increasing student achievement.

On December 11, 2013 we will have a joint meeting with our TLC planning committee and the Benton Communications Team to help build understanding and gain input from other stakeholders on the district application.  Please contact one of the members of the committee if you would like more information:  Gary Zittergruen, Anna Upah, Andrea Townsley, Linda Brecht, Mark Kenny, Mary Masten, Beth Hlas, Jeremy Kulbartz, Doug Embray, Alex Olson, T.J. Murphy, Jo Prusha, Daralee Schnor, Jason West, Jan Andreesen or Trish Little.

Below is more information taken from the Iowa Department of Education Webpage describing the TLC process in the state (

The Teacher Leadership and Compensation System rewards effective teachers with leadership opportunities and higher pay, attracts promising new teachers with competitive starting salaries and more support, and fosters greater collaboration for all teachers to learn from each other.
The overriding philosophy of the system is multi-pronged, but boils down to this: Improving student learning requires improving the instruction they receive each day.  There is no better way to do this than to empower our best teachers to lead the effort.
Through the system, teacher leaders take on extra responsibilities, including helping colleagues analyze data and fine tune instructional strategies as well as coaching and co-teaching.
Bipartisan legislation created a four-year process to fully develop the statewide Teacher Leadership and Compensation System, with the goal of all school districts voluntarily participating by the 2016-17 school year.

The goals of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation System are:
  • Attract able and promising new teachers by offering competitive starting salaries and offering short-term and long-term professional development and leadership opportunities.
  • Retain effective teachers by providing enhanced career opportunities.
  • Promote collaboration by developing and supporting opportunities for teachers in schools and school districts statewide to learn from each other.
  • Reward professional growth and effective teaching by providing pathways for career opportunities that come with increased leadership responsibilities and involve increased compensation.
  • Improve student achievement by strengthening instruction.
All 346 Iowa school districts have applied for planning grants to support the local development of Teacher Leadership and Compensation Systems. The deadline to submit a plan to enter the system in the 2014-15 school year is January 31, and those selected to participate in the first year of the system will be notified by early March.
The Legislature approved $50 million for the first year of implementation during the 2014-15 school year. In each subsequent year through 2016-17, another $50 million will be added to the program, enabling all districts to eventually participate in the program if they choose.
What happens when a movement starts?  What happens when collaboration is harnessed?  Well, one result of a movement and collaboration within the Benton Community MS/HS was "TIE TUESDAY".  

On November 26, 2013, students and staff at Benton MS/HS could pay $2.00 and wear a tie all to benefit the American Cancer Association.  This movement was a result of collaboration among students and staff and we raised $366.21 for the cause.  We had middle school students who started the idea, staff jumped on board, MS and HS student councils became involved and presto -- a day to think about others and help someone we might not even know was a success.

A HUGE thank you to all who were involved:)

Tie Tuesday Flyer

Monday, November 11, 2013

8th graders share learning with others:

Last week I received an email from one of the 8th grade staff.  His email message said 


Great job.  Thanks for sharing this with me.  You did a great job of showing your steps and it was good to hear you and Marc working together on this.

Have a good day.

Mr. Carlson

I quickly watched the link and then emailed the student asking to post on this blog his explanation to share with others.  I also asked him for a quote to help build background knowledge for his thought process when he made this Educreation video.  

Brody told me,  

"I wanted to show how I could do a problem to help others. For example, if they forgot how to do a problem then they could watch the video and get an idea on how to do a problem."

As I listen and watch I think how learning math for me would of been enriched with this tool.  I am also struck by the amount of conversation revolving around math which is happening in the background and that this young man wanted to make sure he could take those conversations outside of the math room to anywhere he and others wanted to revisit their math learning.

Another shining example of student work:)  Thanks for letting me share Brody and thank you Mr. Carlson for involving me in the learning journey.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Conference Info:

Wednesday, November 20th is a 1:00 early dismiss day for students.  Teachers will have professional development from 1:00 until 3:45.  Conferences will begin at 4:00.  Seventh grade students and parents are encouraged to attend student-led conferences in the MS/HS IMC (library).  The following staff members will be involved: Mr. Kauder, Mr. Kenny, Mr. Svare, Mrs. Olen, Mr. Riley,  Mr. Thomae, and Mrs. Thompson. 

Eighth grade parents are welcome to attend, with student attendance encouraged.

An informational meeting will be held in the auditorium from 5:30-6:15 for families to hear about the A.L.i.C.E. program being implemented 
in the Benton district.  Roy Becker ( Active Shooter Response Liason for the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, BC board member, BC parent) will be on hand to inform families about the program and its implementation.   Please plan on attending conferences and this important meeting on November 20th.

   *** A Scholastic Book Fair will also be held that afternoon and evening in the IMC for your browsing and shopping pleasure.  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Change:  the act or instance of making or becoming different or to give a completely different form or appearance to; transform.

Middle School is full of change.  As a parent of three former middle school girls, when I remember those days, I smile.  I remember our oldest daughter being in the Middle School play for the first time and loving being able to be on the big stage.  I remember our second daughter making a skirt out of duct tape with her best friend for a middle school dance and then our youngest having to adjust to her mom no longer being the counselor in the building -- but now the principal -- that's was a huge transformational change for her and our family.  

As an educator, I've been part of many changes in our school system.  I have had the pleasure of working with my former teachers as peers.  What a difference it was from being a student in Mr. Bell, Mrs. Mahood and Mr. VanEtten's classroom to being a resource and processor of student information with them.  Then that role changed again when our own children had some of those same teachers.  What a legacy they (and many others) have left to our family.

I have been able to work in our elementary, middle and high school setting, as well as have our own children attend each of our different attendance centers.  As I write this entry, as an administrator, one of the biggest instances of "making or becoming different" was when the Middle School became a 1:1 school.  This opened up the world to our students in a whole new way with "completely different form or appearance".  

Benton Community's mission statement is: "Quality Education for a Lifetime of Learning".  We also have a vision of what that looks like in the classroom with our Benton Wheel.  
Our staff has embraced the creative side  problem sovling and of being learners right along side of their students -- especially with the iPad's.  We will be showing one of these creative outputs on Tuesday, Oct. 22 to our Middle School Students.  We have been incorporating in our school system the refined definition of being a "Bobcat".  Being a "Bobcat" means we are caring, safe, responsible and respectful students and staff.  On Tuesday, a group of our students will share what this means and looks like with the entire Middle School student body by sharing this video with their peers:  PBIS at Benton

We will also be sharing a new plan of how we will be using Activity Period and Homeroom times differently.  I'll share about that plan in another blog.

Until then

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” 

― Mahatma Gandhi


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Cute mouse,

I never thought I would say those two words together, but a student changed my mind.  Check it out and see if you think the same thing...

A few transferable skills that are evident in this completed art project are:  making connections to construct new learning in order to make decisions and problem solve, meta-cognition, meaningful and authentic project development, development of conceptual and procedural knowledge, deep understanding and mastery of stop motion video.

Great job to all the students who created stories.  This "Mouse Story" is just one of the examples.

Forever a fan of a cute mouse I will be:)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Homecoming 2013

Our cheerleaders and cheerleading sponsors did a FANTASTIC job of decorating our MS/HS building for Homecoming 2013.  Below are three posters that adorn our hallways & lockers.  If you are coming to the parade and pep rally on Friday -- be sure to look around -- the building is full of spirit and Bobcat Pride!

A few reminders regarding attending extra curricular activities:
1.  Once students are in the doors/stadium -- if they leave -- they may not return.  This includes events such as volleyball, school dances, football games, etc.
2.  MS students sit in the stands on the southend of the Bobcat Stadium during outdoor events (unless they are sitting with family members in other locations.)

Middle School Hallway poster
We love our staff too!
Best wishes for all fall activities

Conferences September 25, 2013

Healthy Family Challenge 2013

September 23 - November 1, 2013
Registration opens August 19
Cost: $25 per family team
(For the purpose of this challenge, a family is defined as a group of people (up to 10) residing together with at least 1 adult and 1 youth.)

NEW!!  This 6-week challenge unites youth and adults in effort to educate and empower Iowa families to improve their nutrition and physical activity habits.  Throughout the challenge, registered families will receive weekly educational lessons and supportive resources, as well as simple challenges to complete.  Completing each of the weekly mini-challenges will earn families a $5 Subway gift card and an opportunity to be included in prize drawings!
Each family team receives:
•    Team toolkit containing printed resources and activity tools
•    Weekly email containing a motivational message, weekly lessons and challenges and a healthy recipe
•    Access to a team tracking page on the LHI website
•    Unlimited access to online recipes, workouts and health information
•    Opportunities to earn team incentives and win prizes!

To get started go to and click JOIN TODAY!


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Blooms Taxonomy Revised

Blooms Taxonomy was created in the 1950's as a way for educators to build higher-order thinking skills in students during the lesson planning and delivery process.  In the digital age, we in education have raised the bar in terms of higher-order thinking skills to the top level now being creating versus the previous level of evaluation.  Some terms that correspond with digital creativity are:  programming, filming, animating, blogging, video blogging, mixing, remixing, wiki-ing, publishing, videocasting, podcasting and directing/producing.

We have an example of how one of our students incorporated many of these skills into her "Careers Project".   

We are thrilled to have our students and staff back in the building and look forward to being part of their creation of ideas and sharing them with you.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A look at the year in review

This picture was taken last week when we sorted all of the returned student iPad's, cords and charger.

Our students and families have been great participants in this journey.  We knew as a school district we were taking a risk by putting this device into the hands of middle school students.  The risk paid off.  Our students and staff demonstrated their learning in many different venues this past year -- some of which has been documented in this blog.

To share a little perspective on our year -- we had one device with a cracked screen that was returned to Apple for a replacement (utilizing Apple Care) and one device that need to be replaced without the use of Apple Care.  This is a testament to our students, staff, families and our case.  We are now in the process of re-imaging the devices and getting them ready for the 2013-14 school year.

Here's to a HUGE thanks to anyone who had a part in the 1:1 iPad program here at Benton Community Middle School.  We are looking forward to another year of learning in the Middle School and based on our success the high school will becoming 1:1 with iPad's next year.

I hope you all have a great summer -- filled with sunshine, family time and reading:)

Friday, May 3, 2013

7th Grade Science
                  Over the past several weeks, our 7th grade science students have become experts at using the compound light microscope.  They can adjust the stage using the course and fine tuning knobs to focus on just about any object, from 40X magnification all the way up to 400X magnification.  Their level of skill on the microscope now is truly impressive!  However, what has impressed me more is the way students have discovered, on their own, how to harness the power of their iPads to enhance their experience with the microscopes.
                  They have figured out how to use their iPad cameras to capture pictures and even videos of the specimens we’ve been examining using the microscopes!  It does take a steady hand to hold the small iPad camera in the eyepiece of the microscope to get the perfect picture, but that challenge definitely has not held back the students.  They have taken pictures of their own cheek cells, stomates on plant leaves, microorganisms from a local pond, radish roots, xylem and phloem from a celery stem, and even themselves hard at work!  They have taken videos of paramecium swimming around on a slide, water fleas, planaria worms, and brine shrimp!
Once they figured out the cool pictures they could take, most students wanted to take a picture of everything they were seeing.  When they get a good picture, they are so excited to show me and their classmates!  From there, students are able to share those pictures with me and each other through email.  It’s nice to hear a student say, “Great picture!  Email that one to me.”  On top of that, they can insert the pictures into our lab worksheets on the iPad, label them, and use them to answer questions about the labs.  The power the iPad gives the students, each with their own camera to document their lab work, has really brought a new excitement to our 7th grade science lab activities!  ~Ben Kulbartz

Monday, April 22, 2013


A HUGE thank you to all of you who have turned in HyVee receipts.  And more good news, it's not too late if you still have some hanging on your frig, in your purse, vehicle or grocery sacks.  

Turn in HyVee Receipts to the MS/HS office -- last day to turn in receipts for the 2012-13 school year will be on 4/30/2013.

Cash 4 Students
The Cedar Rapids and Marion Hy-Vee stores are excited to announce a local fund raising program for area schoos, Cash 4 Students.

The program is simple -- just save your Hy-Vee grocery receipts and turn them into
 the Middle School Office anytime that is convenient for you by April 30, 2013.  For
 every $200 in receipts collected our school will be awarded $1.00.  Every little bit helps 
us purchase technology for our 1:1 program.

If you have any questions about this program -- 
please email: 
or call:  319-228-8701 ext. 351

Thursday, March 21, 2013

College 4 Kids
A great option for summer learning is right under our noses is  College 4 Kids.  This is a great learning experience our middle school students can participate in.

Grant Wood AEA's College for Kids is a summer program offering advanced level academic and fine arts courses in the college setting to eligible students who have completed 6th, 7th or 8th grade. Through the College for Kids experience, students are offered advanced or specialized curricula, and have the opportunity to further explore a hobby or a topic of interest not typically available in middle school general education.

To find out more info -- check out the links above.

June 10-21
College for Kids - Session A
8:30 – 11:50 a.m.
July 8-19
College for Kids – Session B
8:30 – 11:50 a.m.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Have they made a difference?

As I was walking down the hallway between classes a few days ago, a senior student asked me that very question, referring to the iPad's.  Instead of me answering the question, we went straight to the source and we stopped three individual middle school students on their way to class and had them respond.  Each of them said they "definitely have made a difference in their learning" and mostly in the area of being in charge of how they document and demonstrate their learning.

Today, when I was reading an article entitled, "How free play can define kids' success" by Katrina Schwartz, I was struck by her description of students discovering their interest(s) and how she tied those interest into creativity, control and the development of resilience in our youth.  Resiliency is a topic that has resonated with me since I was a peer counselor in high school, which helped lead me to a path of being an educator.

In my office I have a magic wand held over from my days as a school counselor and attending play therapy training.  If there is one gift I wish the "magic wand" could give it would be the gift of resiliency.  In Schwartz article, she writes about Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician and author of the book Building Resilience in Children and Teens.

In Ginsburg's book he shares the 7 C's of Resilience: 

  1. 1) COMPETENCEYoung people need to be recognized when they’re doing something right and to be given opportunities to develop specific skills.
  2. 2) CONFIDENCEConfidence comes from building real skills that parents and educators can teach and nurture. Confidence can be easily undermined, but also bolstered by tasks that push learners without making the goal feel unachievable.
  3. 3) CONNECTION: Being part of a community helps kids know they aren’t alone if they struggle and that they can develop creative solutions to problems.
  4. 4) CHARACTER. Kids need an understanding of right and what wrong and the capacity to follow a moral compass. That will allow them see that they cannot be put down.
  5. 5) CONTRIBUTION: The experience of offering their own service makes it easier for young people to ask for help when they need it. Once kids understand how good it can feel to give to others, it becomes easier to ask for that same support when it’s needed. And being willing to ask for help is a big part of being resilient.
  6. 6) COPING: Kids need to learn mechanisms to manage their stress by learning methods to both engage and disengage at times. Some strategies for doing this include breaking down seemingly insurmountable problems into smaller, achievable pieces, avoiding things that trigger extreme anxiety, and just letting some things go. After all, resilience is about conserving energy to fit the long game and kids need to know realistically what they can affect and what should be let go.
  7. 7) CONTROL: In order to truly be resilient a child need to believe that she has control over her world. Feeling secure helps engender control, which is why kids test limits.
As I reflect on these 7 C's of Resilience, I know as a middle school staff we are trying to instill these skills within our curriculum for students and if in turn this builds the level of resiliency in our students -- FANTASTIC:)  Based on the examples of the students in the hall showed us, our students are sharing and creating in our classrooms and this helps me believe my magic wand may work better than I had previously believed!  

On another note -- best wishes to the Benton Girls Basketball team as they work to achieve their goal of being state champs!   Go BOBCATS!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Why Middle School?

Being a Middle School Principal, I often get asked this question, "Why Middle School?"  My response always is "I love working with Middle Schoolers!" 

The reasons I love working with this age are multi-faceted.  Middle School students are old enough to understand my sense of humor and yet young enough to think I'm funny.  Everyday, I get the opportunityto observe students searching for their own identity, while trying to fit in with whomever they want to impress at that particular moment and moments happen a lot with middle school students. 

Middle School students are incredibly inquisitive and problem-solving by nature.  Typically, they are willing to help others, including their peers and staff members.  This was demonstated to myself and other people who attended a meeting I was at this week.  On Wednesday night (January 16, 2013), during our monthly school board meeting, I saw these attributes (and others), in two young men and one young teacher, as they presented to our school board on how being a 1:1 school with iPad's has impacted their learning and teaching. 

This presentation all started last summer when our Superintendent, Gary Zittergruen, and our administrative team were brainstorming topics to share with the board during the board agenda item entitled "School Improvement Update".

Naturally a 1:1 update from the Benton Community (BC) Middle School (MS) made sense being the board gave the middle school a thumbs up to become a 1:1 school last spring.   Normally, I'm not a nervous person, but in July -- October sounded way to soon to present.  So, luckily our team made a decision to have the January "School Improvement Update" be about the 1:1 in the BC Middle School.  In hindsight -- our MS students and staff would of been more than ready to share with the board in October.

Two 8th graders, Spencer Sahu & Brandon Thoennes, along with one of our MS Social Studies teachers, Wade Riley, presented to the board on how having iPad's in the teacher and students hands has changed the way learning is happening here at BC Middle School.  Below is a schematic of their presentation which they collaborated on to develop.  Spencer was the brainchild behind the flowchart -- but Mr. Riley, Brandon and many other students and staff were very willing to share their own take on how having an iPad has changed their teaching and learning.

While the board listened and asked questions, Spencer, Brandon and Mr. Riley shared information and changed their presentation on the fly.  They collaborated and problem-solved right during the presentation to give the board a dynamic view of ways in which the iPad is being used in the learning taking place.

I hope the school board saw that their decision to support the MS in this learning initiative has paid off.  So why do I love working in a middle school?  There isn't enough space in the world wide web to write all the reasons -- but resoundingly the biggest reasons are the people:)

P.S.  Thanks to the two mom's who took time out of their schedules to drive their son's to the meeting and sat and watched them sharing, and even were willing to share their insights as parents of middle schoolers who have iPad's in school.

P.S.S.  My proofreader says I love working with Middle School students because I'm nuts myself:)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hy Vee Receipts

Apps, Apps, and more Apps!

There are so many different apps out there for our staff and students to use for their learning.  One recent app that we added to our 8th grade vocal music students iPad is the app "Video Star".  Our students created music video's using this app.  They did a fantastic job and enjoyed being introduced to this creative side of producing, acting and directing.  One student commented to me that he had to come out of his comfort zone to get into "character" for the video.  We are stretching our students and staff to create an environment that connects their learning to the world outside of educational walls.

One way we pay for these Apps is through the Hy-Vee "Cash 4 Students" program.  Hy-Vee customers save their Hy-Vee grocery receipts, turing them into the the Middle School Office.  At the end of the school year, collected receipts will be delivered to the our local Hy-Vee store.  Based on the receipt total, a donation from Hy-Vee will be made to Benton Community Middle School.  Below are some of the receipts we have received to date. 

So please,
  • Save your receipts from any Cedar Rapids/Marino Hy-Vee store.
  • Give these receipts to your children, your grandchildren, your neighbor's children, anyone willing to turn them into our Benton Commun ity Middle School Office.
  • Hy-Vee donates $1 for every $200 in receipts collected!
  • The top 5 schools receive an additional $500 each!
  • We'll use this money to continue our 1:1 learning.