SAC CITY - Elementary and middle school students in Sac City are immersed in a new English curriculum that features more interaction among themselves and a little less lecturing by their teachers.
Students at the high school in Lake View have a chance to do some hands-on work with bacterial transfers and tissue cultures as part of a biotechnology course.
Those are some of the academic programs that Superintendent Kevin Fiene is proud of in the East Sac County Community School District.
-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Kevin Fiene, superintendent of the East Sac County Community School District, checks out some oversized cookies being prepared in a high school home economics class by Max Blum, left, and Manny Magana.
The district was established in July 2011 through the merger of the former Sac City and Wall Lake View Auburn school systems.
In addition to the high school in Lake View and the elementary and middle schools in Sac City, the district has an elementary school in Wall Lake. The district has 180 employees, which Fiene said makes it one of the biggest employers in Sac County.
According Fiene, district enrollment is now 1,001 students. He added that the total is up slightly from the 2011-2012 academic year. The increase is led by a large preschool class, he said.
''We're bursting at the seams in our preschool,'' Fiene said.
The new English and language arts curriculum is called concept-based teaching and learning.
''It really goes much, much deeper in assisting kids to see the big picture,'' said Fiene.
He said the goal is for students to understand things and retain that understanding for decades instead of learning just to pass the next test. He described the classes as ''much more discovery-based, much more interactive.'' He added that students have to do more reading, especially of nonfiction material.
''I'm thrilled with the job our teachers are doing,'' Fiene said. ''This is not easy work. Our teachers have responded beautifully.''
Concept-based teaching and learning will be introduced into the math classes during the next school year. In subsequent years, it will become part of the science and social studies classes.
That system of teaching was developed in a partnership with the Newell-Fonda and Laurens-Marathon school districts, the Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency in Fort Dodge and Buena Vista University in Storm Lake.
In the high school biotech class, students can do bacterial transfers to create primitive genetically modified organisms, according to Larissa Rupnow, an agriculture education instructor.
She said in the past, the biotech students have been invited to visit the Monsanto corporate headquarters and research facilities in St. Louis, Mo. The students, she said, flew there from Omaha, Neb., and back at the company's expense.
Last year, a biotech student, senior Brad Pickhinke, of Sac City, was invited to attend the World Food Prize Forum in Des Moines.
Also last year, a veterinary technology class was started at the high school. Rupnow said its students regularly work with Dr. Todd Bettin, a veterinarian in Lake View.
''It would not be the same without him,'' she said.
At the elementary school level, the district received a statewide award for its use of the Positive Behavioral Intervention System. Fiene said that's a process that teachers use to help students with behavior problems ranging from being disruptive in the classroom to merely being disorganized.
Next year, East Sac County teachers will be exchanging information in a more organized format called professional learning communities. Fiene said specially trained facilitators will work with the teachers in those sessions.
Fiene said in the next year, the district's leadership will also be studying facilities and technology.
The district's buildings, he said, are in good shape, but they are old. He said a facilities plan describing what will need to be done to the buildings and how that work will be paid for must be developed.
East Sac County schools are now home to 600 to 700 computers. Fiene said he wants to have a serious discussion about having a laptop or notebook computer for every student.