Time to hit the books

Students head back to schools Tuesday

Tony, and Shari Weyer, along with their sixth grader Kylie Weyer check out information located at the orchestra room at Oak Park Elementary School’s open house on Wednesday afternoon. (Gazette staff photos by Avery Cropp)

Tony, and Shari Weyer, along with their sixth grader Kylie Weyer check out information located at the orchestra room at Oak Park Elementary School’s open house on Wednesday afternoon. (Gazette staff photos by Avery Cropp)

Boy, did that three-month summer break from school go by fast.

Students in Independent School District 834 and several charter and private schools return the classrooms Tuesday morning to start the 2013-2014 school year.

The start of the new school year also marks the 10th anniversary of St. Croix Preparatory Academy in Baytown Township.

And unlike students at some metro-area schools who started school in this week’s heat wave, Valley students head to school Tuesday under sunny skies and seasonable temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s.

The new school year also brings some new faces to ISD 834 schools and the district office. New principals at Stillwater area public schools are:

  • Dr. Don Johnson, a retired high school prinicipal from Owatonna, is interim Stillwater Area High School principal.
  • Nathan Cox, who recently served as principal of a Willmar,  Minn., elementary school at Oak Park Elementary School.
  • Melissa Sonnek, who was an educational leader in the North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale School district, leads Marine and Withrow Elementary schools.
  • Hugh Roberts takes over at Andersen Elementary School in Bayport from the Bloomington School District.
  • Karen Manske, who worked in the Chisago Lakes School District. is administrator of the district’s Early Childhood Family Center.

Several of the district’s new principals said they were excited to start both the new school year and their new jobs.

“I’m really looking forward to connecting with the Marine and Withrow students, families, staff and communities,” Sonnek said. “I value relationships and personal connections. I believe we can give our students the learning opportunities they deserve by working together. I also am passionate about developing both student and adult learners through instructional leadership. I hope to impact student learning by providing professional development for our teachers and creating a culture of learning.”

“I have three children who will be attending the Stillwater schools and my wife is also teaching at Stillwater Junior High,” Cox said. “In regards to my personal family, we are really looking forward to embedding ourselves within the Stillwater community and calling this place home. At Oak Park, I am really looking forward to building relationships with the families and partnering with them to grow our school.”

Sonnek and Cox both said they want to continue existing programs at their respective schools that help both students and teachers.

“Oak Park implemented a new program last year called PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports). PBIS focuses on teaching children positive behaviors in order to change children’s environment,” Cox said. “Parents heard a little bit about it last year, but we are excited to educate them even more about this initiative and grow the program.”

“I also am excited about the Bridge to Excellence plan, which we’ll be able to implement if the levy passes,” Sonnek added. “It gives me a great deal of hope regarding the future of ISD 834, our schools and our students. I’m also excited about the work we are doing as a district regarding Balanced Literacy and implementing Instructional Coaches. We are on the right track, doing the right work.”

At the ISD 834 district office, new personnel are:

  • Kristen Hoheisel, a district resident and parent is district finance director, taking over the position left vacant when former finance chief Ray Queener was named Cambridge-Isanti schools superintendent.
  • Dr. Ryan Laager, former SAHS principal, is executive director for secondary education and Malinda Lansfeldt, former Andersen Elementary School principal, is executive director for elementary education. Laager and Lansfeldt also will oversee curriculum, learning services, technology and innovation, and will play key roles in implementing the new Bridge to Excellence plan.
  • Jeff Brazee, who recently was a technology intervention specialist at SAHS, has been named coordinator of technology and innovation.

Meanwhile, parents should be aware of changes to the district’s elementary school dress code that ban flip-flops and spaghetti straps. Lansfeldt said at a school board meeting earlier this month that the flip-flop ban was encouraged by school nurses when the elementary school handbooks were created.

Lansfeldt said a variety of foot injuries have occurred to students wearing flip flops that include ripped toenails under doors and twisted ankles on the playground. The spaghetti strap rule was implemented because the clothing made some staff members uncomfortable. A suggestion for enforcement of the new rules at the board meeting were to provide extra clothes for students if they break the rule.

As staff at ISD 834 schools prepared classrooms and met with students and families at open houses this week, Sonnek and Cox recalled their youthful memories of returning to school.

“I can honestly say that I have great memories of the first days of school throughout my elementary years as I had teachers who expressed a genuine interest in me, a passion for teaching, and a love for building community,” Cox said.

“My favorite school memory was getting back into a school that I loved,” Sonnek added. “Seeing my former teachers, meeting my new teacher and seeing my friends was always exciting. Something else I loved about the first day of school was new school supplies. There’s just something you have to love about a new box of crayons, fresh sharpened pencils and notebooks waiting to be filled up with stuff.”

Parents can visit www.stillwater.k12.mn.us for more information about schools, registering students and a district calendar of events. Information about SCPA can be found at www.stcroixprep.org.

Contact Avery Cropp at avery.cropp@ecm-inc.com

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