Trips to Nashville, New Orleans, or the Mississippi Gulf Coast are popular during the summer as adults and children alike look for ways to break out of their work and school routines.
For students and staff in the Newton Municipal School District, trips to these locales were less about play and more about learning. Students, faculty, and staff from all over the district spent at least some of their summer representing the district in learning activities for students, professional development for teachers, or collaboration among administrators.
Superintendent Dr. Glenda Nickson was just one of the many participating in conferences this summer. “I always try to do a couple of conferences to help with the next school year to see what the most innovative things going on, new strategies, new policies that are coming out just to keep our district updated,” she said. But, she wasn’t the only one traveling to gain new perspectives.
Teachers and administrators attended conferences to pursue learning and collaborate with other educators in areas of parental involvement, student engagement, school safety, and professional development while several students from the district attending learning camps around the country. Career and Technology students traveled with school personnel to Washington D.C. for competition while nursing students went to Nashville and Future Business Leaders of America members went to Chicago for conventions. In addition to learning at the conferences, Nickson said she was truly excited that those students spent some of their summer days learning through these travel and competitive experiences.
“It was a lot of traveling, but it was all for our district goals to improve our student achievement, to make sure that our teachers are informed and involved with up-to-date strategies, and then also to make sure that our administrators are aware of all of the state of the art things that are out there to help to continue to move their schools and provide their teachers with the things they need,” Nickson said. “We had a busy summer.”
Even if they weren’t out of town, students were still able to work on personal achievement in June. With Elementary Secondary Schools Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) money, the school district held Camp Impact. The camp, directed by district teachers, provided instruction in English, Math, Science and arts and crafts activities. Though not a traditional summer school, it provided enrichment and remediation opportunities for participants from elementary through high school. “This was an opportunity to recover from the 20 percent learning loss during the COVID shutdown,” she said.
From traveling with students, to conducting Camp Impact, to attending professional development programs teachers have sacrificed many summer vacation hours for their students, Nickson said.
“They give up their summers to go and get trained because they want to know and want to do what’s best for their students,” said Nickson. “So, to sacrifice your summer time to work with Camp Impact, and then to turn right around from that to a conference, and then come up for individual leadership training at your schools — that says a lot about what our teachers are willing to do. That’s a testament to their commitment and dedication to our students, to the profession, and to themselves.”
From the conferences and additional training of administrators and teachers, Nickson said students will begin to immediately reap the rewards of new ideas and innovations. “They have received enlightenment, enrichment, education, and are invigorated for the new year,” she said. “After COVID stopped everyone, now we’re getting our momentum back and we’re just excited for everything that is coming our way. Everyone is just passionate, and that passion and drive that I see in our leadership and the drive that I see in our teachers’ eyes is the drive that we’re going to see in our students’ eyes this year.”
Additional changes around curriculum this year include moving ACT test components to the middle school instructional program, and Spanish will no longer be taught online with the hiring of a certified Spanish instructor. Additional electives in fine arts have also been added, and students will now have more opportunities to complete college courses while still in high school.
In addition to the acquisition of knowledge, there have been several additions that aid students’ learning by providing comfort and safety, Nickson said. Faculty and staff members recently participated in an active shooter drill to learn better and more efficient ways to respond in an emergency. The school has purchased three new buses that are equipped with air conditioning, wi-fi, and tracking features. Reflective windows are currently being installed at Newton Middle School with more to be installed around later in the year. The student resource team has been expanded to include three officers who will rotate duty at the elementary, middle, and high schools.
The middle school facility has also received a new roof, air conditioning in the gym, and renovations to the middle school fieldhouse have been made for storage and weightlifting equipment.
The administration and staff have also spent time developing programs such as Tiger MOMS and Tiger DADS to encourage parental involvement on campus while social media programs are being revamped to aid in better communication between schools and families.
Nickson said all of these changes reflect the four core goals of the district - academic achievement, safety, financial stability and parental involvement.