Southeast Valley: Working together

Prairie Valley, SWG close gaps; Bringing the two together is an ongoing project

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Southeast Valley School District Superintendent Brian Johnson talks about potential uses for the Macke Motors building Friday morning as he announced that the district has nearly completed the purchase of the former dealership. A bus barn and office space are among the uses under consideration.

GOWRIE — The Prairie Valley and Southeast Webster Grand schools are expanding their fleet of propane-powered buses next year. They’re remodeling a former dealership into a new bus barn, and planning security improvements to the high school in Gowrie.

But perhaps the biggest project is the continuing work to bring together two school districts into one Southeast Valley system, Southeast Valley Superintendent Brian Johnson said.

“What I’m really excited about is updating our standards, our benchmarks, our curriculum so that we have no gaps between our elementaries, and our middle and high school,” said Johnson.

The school will be using the Marzano research on Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum, Johnson said, to guarantee students will have some things in common as they go from grade to grade in the PV and SWG elementary schools, before moving to the shared middle school in Burnside.

“We’re trying to get all our procedures and protocols the same so it doesn’t matter if your kid is attending Farnhamville or Dayton, it’s the same protocols when they go to Burnside, and Burnside to Gowrie,” Johnson said. “That may seem like common sense to most people, but when you bring two schools together, they have different ways of doing things, so we’re just trying to make it harmonious and easy for our kids.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Prarie Valley School Board President Shannon Miller looks over one of the service bays in the Macke Motors building Friday morning. The Prairie Valley School district has nearly completed the purchase of the building.

It’s a long process that requires lots of staff collaboration, said Johnson and High School Principal Kerry Ketcham.

“Even though this is a very involved and intricate process, we are willing to take the time to do it well and to get it right,” Ketcham said.

Bringing the schools together and agreeing on a curriculum can’t be rushed. Ketcham said he was hired in July 2017, and was told by Johnson then that he wanted the standards determined by Jan. 3.

“I told him that wasn’t a reasonable expectation,” Ketcham said. “I’ve been through this process in two other districts, and the process just takes a long time. It takes as long as it takes. Teachers need to be able to study and think and have those difficult conversations to determine what’s really essential for students to know.”

Ketcham added, “After having several conversations like that, he said ‘I know that, but if I don’t give a deadline, people don’t move.'”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
High School Principal Kerry Ketcham, left, and science teacher Devan Walker inspect the robotics challenge course framed by “Steve” — the robot built by the students. SV’s robotics club is new this year, and Ketcham said the students won fourth place at their very first competition.

Ketcham said he sometimes feels impatient himself, and it can be frustrating for teachers and board members who want the process to move faster, but it’s important to get things right.

“It’s a little frustrating to have to wait for everybody to come to consensus before we move forward, but it’s essential that we do that. We can’t leave anybody behind in that process,” Ketcham said.

The difficult work keeps Ketcham energized.

“This is what I was hired for, and I love this work,” he said. “This is energizing for me. It makes me want to come to work every day. I like the hard questions.”

“Our goal is to be the best,” Johnson said. “We’ve got great people in place and we just need to go to work.”

-Messenger photo by Joe Sutter
Middle School students board the shuttle bus recently on their way to Southeast Valley Middle School in Burnside. The two districts which make up SV will both be getting new buses this year, some of which run on propane, and building a new bus barn out of the former Macke Motors in Gowrie.

The high school has started a robotics team this year, which has seen encouraging success.

“The grant paid for the parts we needed to build the robot. It was a combination of funding from Rockwell Collins and John Deere,” Ketcham said.

There are eight students on the team, four building the robot and four programming it. The team learned by visiting Fort Dodge Senior High, which has had a robotics team for two years, and Manson Northwest Webster which started its team last year.

“Those trips helped us really jump start our process,” Ketcham said, “so when we went to our first competition, … our team took fourth out of 15 on our first attempt. So that was very encouraging.”

In middle school, the students are learning with the FIRST Lego challenge, programming and building skills that will prepare them for the FIRST robotics challenge in high school, said Sharon Jaeschke, high school science teacher and one of two teachers facilitating the robotics team.

The high school also was awarded a NASA space challenge grant.

“They’ll be traveling to the Marshall space center to learn how to incorporate space related STEM activities into science and math,” Ketcham said. “And they’ll be bringing lessons and materials back that are usable k-12.”

Ketcham’s office may move next year, as the school board again considers renovations to the Gowrie high school building.

The plan is to move the office next to the main entrance and add a vestibule, Johnson said. This will mean any visitors to the school will have to pass through the office in order to enter, or be faced with locked doors.

Officials will be meeting with an architect before putting out bids once again for the remodel. The school hoped to perform this work last year.

“Last year we only had one bid, and we did not open it because we were not going to guarantee that contractor the price with just one bid,” Johnson said.

The remodel is likely to add air conditioning to that wing as well, and could start by spring if bids are favorable and the school board approves.

The school made some security improvements last year. The doors on all four buildings are now equipped with biometric readers, which take a thumbprint to get in, Johnson said.

This year the school district purchased the former Macke Motors in Gowrie, with plans to make it into a bus barn.

Johnson said the facility will be primarily used as a bus barn for the four buses currently stationed in Gowrie. Buses stationed at the district’s other schools in Burnside, Boxholm, Callender and Farnhamville will remain there.

There are advantages to a downtown location rather than at the school, including protection against possible vandalism, weather protection and making it easier for the drivers to avoid such chores as ice removal from bus windows.

Putting the facility into use will require building a firewall between the bus garage and the office space, Ketcham said.

The districts have also ordered some new buses, Johnson said; three for Prairie Valley and two for SWG. Both SWG buses will be powered by propane, as will one of the PV buses, to increase the propane fleet that was started last year.

“Once these arrive,” he said, “half our regular route buses will be propane.”