The Evolution of Communication

Does it seem like nothing ever stays the same?! We agree! We are excited to introduce you to our new Alburnett Mobile App. The way people access information seems to be ever changing, and we want to be sure we try to stay responsive to your needs. The Alburnett Mobile App is free to download on the Apple and Google Play app stores. Look for the Pirate head to download.

We highly recommend you consider this new tool to continue to have easy access to updated school information. The app will allow us to pass along information via Push Notifications in a matter of seconds. Please note that we will be transitioning away from the OneCall system in the next couple of months. While OneCall has been a wonderful communication tool for us, the Mobile App will process messages in a more immediate fashion. Once you download the app you will be asked to select which push notifications you wish to receive. All weather related announcements will be pushed through the app. The last date of OneCall service will be October 1.

The app contains many other great features, which will allow you to:

  • Tell us your child will be absent through a simple form
  • Submit daily transportation changes
  • Send us a “Shout-Out” to help us recognize greatness
  • Share news with us to help us stay informed
  • Give us feedback
  • Link directly to make lunch account deposits or pay other fees
  • And much more!

We will continue to post timely news items on the district website and use PowerSchool to send more direct batch emails.

It’s a new communication adventure!

Go Pirates!


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Welcome Back!

Our staff has been hard at work preparing for the new school year! In addition to the busy routine of deep cleaning the building, we are excited to see renovations and construction nearing the end. This will certainly make a difference as we begin our new school year! As always we want to pass along our sincere thanks for your on-going support of our efforts to make updates and improvements to our facilities.

Mark your calendars for Friday, August 19 as we officially welcome all of you for an Open House to tour the facilities that have been under construction and renovation this past year. This will be in conjunction with the Fall Purple & Gold Night, so plan to spend your evening looking around and supporting our student activity groups. Staff will be available between 3:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. that evening to answer questions or show you around the facilities.

Please note that this is different from our Annual Back-to-School Open House, which will be held on Monday, August 22 from 4:00 p.m.-6:00 p.m.

Reminder to all that you are welcome to visit, call, or email at any time if you have questions or suggestions. We look forward to seeing you at the School & Community Forum that is held on the first Monday of each month from 6:30 p.m.-8:00 p.m. in the Board Room.

Staffing Changes

Alburnett proudly welcomes the following teachers to the staff this year:

Joe Amsberry, Instrumental Music Teacher

Brenden Drahn, Special Education Teacher

Joe Fagersten, Vocal Music Teacher

Peter Galloway, Math Teacher

Loxley Grafe, Art Teacher

Ann Jameson, Science Teacher

Samantha Kramer, Special Education Teacher

Brianna Lentz, Math Teacher

Erin Moller, Agriculture Teacher

Mark Nall, Science Teacher

Shelby Patterson, Preschool Teacher

Ellie Vasser, Preschool Teacher

Bailey Wright, Special Education Teacher

What Else is New?

With student learning as our constant focus, we continuously challenge ourselves to improve. To this end, we are excited to highlight two areas of emphasis for the coming school year – new computer science coursework and a deeper integration of real-world and authentic learning opportunities.

The first of these, computer science coursework, is available through Project Lead the Way, a nationwide program that provides a comprehensive approach to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) education. All 6th-8th grade students will have introductory computer science coursework, while students in grades 9th-12th will have access to more advanced computer science courses as elective options. Proceeds from the sale of a vintage car and boat given by Keith Elson in honor of his late wife Barbara (Bobbi) McAtee/Elson made this project possible. We were able to repurpose an existing classroom, purchase updated furnishings, and provide all the necessary technology for this program thanks to this generosity.

The second exciting addition for the coming year involves a more focused use of real-world, authentic learning opportunities for all students. We are calling this emphasis Pirate Collaborative. Student projects and simulations have certainly been a part of lesson design already, but this deeper emphasis on connecting what students are learning in school to real-world opportunities, issues, or problems will provide an enriched experience for students.

In addition to these program additions, we are making a few shifts in staff utilization. Some are adjustments due to budget reductions, while others align to changes in programming. The list of new teachers given above highlights some of these changes. In addition, Alburnett PK-5th grade principal Josh Henriksen has been asked to lead the Pirate Collaborative program for students in grades 6-12. Principal Ken Kasper will serve as principal for middle school and high school, and Activities Director responsibilities will now be handled by Mike Mitchell.

As you know, we strive to continuously adapt our communication with families and community. Our work with FusionFarm on marketing and positioning the Alburnett district for the future has continued throughout the summer. In addition, please take a moment to review the information on the new Alburnett app that is included further in the newsletter. We look forward to your feedback on this new opportunity to connect with all of you.

Go Pirates!

Dani Trimble




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We Love Working at Alburnett

Several weeks ago I shared a few glimpses of positive activities that take place in our classrooms everyday. Your responses got me thinking even more about the value of sharing the positives in life. So I asked our approximately 90 employees, as an Alburnett employee, what do you love about what you do and/or why do you love what you do? Here are a few excerpts from their responses:

  • I love the sense of community here at Alburnett. The staff and parents are always helpful in professional and personal lives. There is always someone around the corner who is willing to help.
  • The love of helping someone that struggles in school helps me know I’m helping. If I make a difference in the life of just one student, I know I’ve done my job.
  • My fellow staff members and administration are very supportive and encouraging and everyone works toward the goal of making Alburnett a better place.
  • [Our] students are great! Our student population is a great group of young individuals that come ready to learn. Educating students is the best job in the world because no one else can directly shape the future of our community and our world like we do.
  • I love what I do because I get to see growth every day. I get to be a supportive role model and teach students about business/technology related material and life skills. I get to be by their side through the good and the bad. They are changing so fast and have so much potential when they are this age. I just love helping people, being part of their journey, and them being part of mine.
  • There are so many things I love about working at Alburnett. We have wonderful students that we get to work with every day, and they come from very supportive families that are great to work with. We also have an amazing staff.  I feel very fortunate to call the people I work with not only my coworkers, but also my friends!
  • Alburnett is an exciting place to be an educator. I think part of this excitement stems from being given the supportive freedom to explore the possibilities of project-based and competency based learning. This freedom, and feeling included in the conversation toward change, does a great deal for the morale of our staff, making it an enjoyable place to learn and grow together. I constantly find myself in thought provoking conversations with students, staff, and administrators about ways to transform classroom time to better meet the changing needs of students. The key word being: STUDENTS! I can’t express how great it is to have open conversations with students about their opinions of their own learning, and to be a part of transformation. After all, they are at the heart of everything we do.
  • I love the caring people I work with. They will help you or do anything to help anybody! The small town feel is the best! More importantly, I love the kids I have the pleasure of teaching every single day, and their families as well! Loving on the kiddos while they are here and making a difference in their lives is so rewarding!
  • I like working in a supportive environment with an accessible administration that I can actually find and talk to when I need something! I have worked in big districts before when days would go by and you would not see an administrator or would have to travel to another building to find them. I love the close-knit colleagues and how well we work together. I think it is good to know all of the kids and have their families be so involved in school life.
  • I love instilling confidence into students and encouraging them to not be afraid to fail. I enjoy what I do because I can see students achieve their goals and accomplish tasks that they never thought they could do.
  • I love getting to know the students, which you can do so much better at a smaller school. I like to get to know students beyond the classroom and to use that to engage them in the classroom. I love seeing students applying learned knowledge and talking about what they learned in their classes.
  • Our students are amazing. The best part of teaching is the time I have with them in class, interacting, learning, and building relationships.
  • The friendly and supportive environment is what I like about being at Alburnett.
  • I love coming to work every day and feeling like I am with family. I enjoy being able to make a difference in student’s lives, and having a positive impact on their learning. There is nothing better than watching students learn and discover new things on a daily basis. Teaching is truly such a rewarding profession.

It’s no secret that I love this school district for so many reasons. Can you imagine being surrounded by these sentiments each and every day?! Happy New Year!

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How often do we stop to contemplate all that is well and good in the world? We sometimes get caught up in the things we think need to be fixed. Things that we call ‘bad news’ travel much faster than ‘good news’. And like the timeless game of ‘telephone’, often the story we get is not the story as it happened.

So, I invite you today to start a positive game of ‘telephone’. There are so many positive things happening in our school building and communities each and every day. Ask your children and grandchildren to share with you…and then spread the news! Here are a few conversation starters that have recently been shared with me…

  • The two days before Thanksgiving the 8th graders had a “campfire” in the classroom where they practiced their Iowa Core speaking and listening skills by performing campfire tales of suspense.
  • Mr. Hinrichsen and Mrs. Kibbie collaborated on a writing assignment about Mars for the 8th grade. The essays will be entered in a contest. The prize is a chance to win a book signed by Buzz Aldrin.
  • 6th graders were observed laughing out loud during a recent read aloud and enjoying literature.
  • Each and every day Alburnett offers a colorful array of fresh fruits and vegetables on their salad bar as another healthy lunch option. Lots of time and effort go into planning, cleaning, cutting and preparing these choices for the students and staff to enjoy.
  • Fourteen seniors and two juniors are enrolled in college classes at the Kirkwood Regional Center in Hiawatha to get a jumpstart on their futures. Out of the fifteen academies offered, Alburnett students are enrolled in nine of them.
  • Our elementary music students are very musical!
  • The book fair was a great success – $656 worth of books were added to the library collections with a $596 cash profit. It is great to have students excited about new books.
  • This fall the P.T. O. received $1,120 from Box Tops for Education! Keep sending Box Tops to the elementary library.
  • The class of 2019 has raised $200 with Stars for Heroes to kick off the Martin Complex Memorial.
  • AP Lit students collaborated on a Skype discussion over the novel Frankenstein with students from North Carolina, and they will take part in a Twitter #Frankenchat with students from across the US on November 19th.
  • First graders came up with some awesome reasons to thank veterans. They put all those reasons into cards that will be handed out around the VA hospital!
  • From attending the Iowa Library Conference, Ms. Fear won $2,000 worth of new books for the elementary library.
  • Did you hear about the awesome fall seasons our student-athletes had?
  • The student planned pep assemblies have been very entertaining.
  • We moved into the new weight room in November! It’s an awesome facility.
  • Pirate Time has started in the elementary – a great way for us to provide individual student attention.
  • What an amazing outpouring of support for the Lions Club’s completion of the trail to the Complex!
  • To date we are in first place in the School Cents program.
  • Students in grades 6-12 are participating in Honor Bands.
  • There has been great turn out for Math Counts for 6th-8th graders!!
  • Fifth graders look forward to working with their kindergarten buddies every week. Buddies enjoy reading, playing, creating, and learning together. Buddy time each week is a positive learning and growing experience for both kindergartners and fifth graders!
  • The elementary students are working hard to collect canned foods for a food drive!
  • The day before Thanksgiving Break we had a November Feast for each class, thanks to the work of the preschoolers and the help of some dedicated parents.
  • Mrs. Prihoda’s afternoon preschool class gets to have Mrs. Arment’s Child Development Class help preschoolers meet their goals through small group activities every Thursday afternoon.
  • Preschool is preparing for the State Verification Visit in December.
  • Preschoolers have their own “Pirate Time” through literacy stations every morning.
  • Ask a fourth grader in Mrs. Kaestner’s class to rap the rounding rap for you.
  • Did you know that multiplying with zeros in large numbers is soooo easy for the fourth grade? That magic zero is amazing!
  • 22 students did a wonderful job during their mock interviews on November 12. A special thanks to the community members that volunteered their time for this.
  • FBLA is off to a great start this year. The Veteran’s Day assembly went off without a hitch!
  • Kindergarten students have worked hard to learn all their letter sounds and are excited to be using these sounds to read words now!
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Priorities & Norms

Jamie Vollmer wrote a book called Schools Cannot Do It Alone. A few community members may remember participating in a related book study with me a few years ago. One of the main premises of Vollmer’s book was understanding, respecting, and working on the valuable relationship that exists between communities and their schools. I believe strongly in this relationship and welcome any feedback about where you feel this relationship can continuously grow. There is a valuable a two-way communication stream that must be maintained between school and community in which we are in a constant cycle of listening and sharing. With this two-way flow of information in mind, it is important that school share openly with our community about our goals, what is working, and what we are continuing to work on to stretch ourselves. It means that we talk openly about all areas of school and take input from our community. We must continuously strive to be transparent about the care and upkeep of facilities, school finances, academic programming, and the focus of this update – the work we do together when we are not with students. We call this professional development, but what we mean is that we use this time to focus our energy on growing professionally for the benefit of our students and our profession.

During professional development, we worked toward clear and aligned plans. With clarity and alignment, we increase our success rate. We strive to be focused during the valuable time we have together by establishing priorities and setting norms for our professional behaviors. We believe so much in the power of identifying priorities and holding ourselves to the prioritized work, that this year we asked our school board to support our work by making the priorities part of the district goals. The point is to be clear with ourselves about the work to be done and to be transparent with our community about what we are investing precious time in when we dismiss students early each Wednesday.

Our priorities for the 2015-2016 school year are:

  1. Clarity around what we want all students to learn and what each student should know and be able to do as a result of each unit, grade level, and/or course
  2. Utilize building level and individual action plans with predetermined checkpoints for District Student Achievement Goals
  3. Relevant, ongoing learning that is innovative, collaborative, and connected to the surrounding world through any and all life experiences
  4. Ensure that students know we care that they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged people

To achieve these priories, the board set these goals:

Annual Goal 2.1   To create clarity around what we want all students to learn and what each student should know and be able to do as a result of each unit, grade level, and/or course, this year, all content areas will complete a clear articulation of essential standards by grade levels or course.

Annual Goal 2.2    In order to fully support building level and individual action plans that include predetermined checkpoints for District Student Achievement Goals, we will write individual career development plans focused on teacher learning and individual professional growth that include clear linkage to and individual ownership of district student achievement goals.

Annual Goal 2.3    Each building will write a SMART goal to address the priority placed upon relevant, ongoing learning that is innovative, collaborative, and connected to the surrounding world through any and all life experiences.

Annual Goal 2.4    Each building will write a SMART goal to address the priority of ensuring that students know we care that they are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged people.

To do this work together, we hold ourselves to specific norms. We say that: to be our best in our work together…

  • We will resist admiring problems and engage in resolutions.
  • We will encourage the asking and raising of tough questions.
  • We will take responsibility for identifying what is troubling us and for sharing it with the appropriate person.
  • We will respond to criticism with curiosity.
  • We will listen for the quiet voice, reach out to those who don’t speak quickly in groups, and monitor our personal airtime.

We tell our community these things as partners. We of course ask for your support, but this means that we also ask you to ask us questions, expect us to give you updates, and challenge our thinking. Because as Jamie Vollmer wrote, schools cannot do it alone.

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2014-2015 Budget Preparation Process

In February we provided a brief update on the financial recovery progress for Alburnett CSD. Today we invite you to participate in more in depth conversations as we continue planning for our future. Please note these important dates:

March 17        Presentation of information during the Regular Board Meeting

April 7            School & Community Forum – question & answer session regarding budget

April 8            Special Meeting – Public Hearing and Board approval of budget

April 15          Budget certification deadline

Alburnett CSD Welcomes You With an Invitation to Become Well-Informed

A Presentation of Information Regarding the Financial Health of the Alburnett CSD

During the March Regular Board Meeting

March 17, 7:00 p.m.

Additional seating will be added to accommodate visitors

In preparation of the 2014-2015 School Budget, the Alburnett CSD Board of Education will be receiving a comprehensive review of finances. Topics will include:

  • Review of School Funds, Ending Fund Balance, and Unspent Budget Authority
  • “Big Picture” Understanding of Financial Health Recovery – understanding hard decisions
  • Financial Recovery Progress Report
  • Financial Health Work-Out Plan Part 1 – Decrease Expenditures
  • Financial Health Work-Out Plan Part 2 – Increase Revenue
  • How do we arrive at a total Tax Asking?
  • A Tax Asking Relative To Our Circumstances – Revisiting Our Recovery Plan
  • Publication Requirements and What Happens After Publication?

Visitors will leave with valuable information about the past, present, and future of district finances

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In 2014

Several years ago, I was asked to share in writing what my hopes were for the coming calendar year. This visioning and reflection process quickly became an annual tradition. It’s always fun for me to look back to what I wrote the prior year to see if my hopes were realized. Some years I have written about challenges that lie ahead. Other years I have been more reflective of the challenges of the past. Last year I wrote about redesigning education, coupled with honoring history and adapting to the ever-changing world. Today, I propose we turn our attention to action and the challenge of nurturing tomorrow’s creative entrepreneurs.

In 2014, I hope that…

…we conquer the debate between high-stakes standardized testing and the development of creativity and entrepreneurship in our young adults. To be clear, I am all for accountability. We all must be held to high standards. But in the framework of standardization and conformity that is reflective of the Industrial Age, there is a disconnect with the multi-faceted dynamics required in today’s workplace. Perhaps the Montessori model of education, developed by Maria Montessori in 1897, is more relevant now than ever. Widely accepted but not uniformly adopted in public education, this model is characterized by mixed age classrooms, uninterrupted blocks of work time, and a constructivist or discovery model – all of which sound very unlike the standardization of education in the Industrial Age, but remarkably like the entrepreneurial spirit of the Information Age.

So, while last January I proposed that we talk together about truly redesigning education, today I propose action. Throughout the last year, we have experienced thought provoking conversations, sometimes even debates, through small group meetings, monthly Forums, and informal conversations. We have discussed how most of us were educated in a system that was created for a time that no longer exists. And we seem to be coming to consensus around the fact that the Information Age presents new challenges for us all.

To be frank, the transformation required from the Information Age is well underway within the classrooms at Alburnett. While not in every room or occurring every day, Alburnett staff has been given supportive “permission” to explore the possibilities of project-based and competency-based learning. And in the true spirit of creative and independent thinking that characterizes entrepreneurial thinking, they, meaning staff, are being encouraged to experiment with their ideas. We promise our community that within this exploration we will stay true to our responsibilities within the Common Core, meaning the core and very important concepts that our children need to learn. There will be no “tinkering” with foundational skill building. But beyond that, our mission is to help develop creative problem-solvers.

In summary, I recently read the following excerpt from Brian Caldwell, Professor for the University of Melbourne that perhaps sums it up best:

“The unrelenting focus on high-stakes testing, the narrowing of the curriculum, and the continuing faith in outdated models of schooling ensure that [schools] are short-changing students and weakening their societies and economies. The good news…is that there are outliers of preferred practice in schools around the world. The challenge is to provide schools with the autonomy to innovate with an entrepreneurial spirit and to resist the pressures for more centralized command-and-control approaches to change in schools.”

At Alburnett ~ Everything we do, we do because people matter, and with people as our focus, we provide an educational environment that challenges the status quo, provides a student-centered environment, and challenges through innovative and real-world experiences. Can we do this work together?

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School Elections & September Board Meeting

Thank you for your participation in school elections this past week. Your involvement in the process is so important. Few important topics are ever entirely unanimous, but we always place high value on the input from a broad spectrum of our population.

While we will have official results in the very near future, unofficial results from Linn County indicate a 9.8% participation rate in elections for the Alburnett district. 78% of those voting approved of the PPEL renewal ballot language. The results of the school board member elections were Avery Reed 180 votes, Jennifer Slife 200 votes, and Write-ins 17 votes.

The full packet of materials for the board meeting this coming Monday night, Sept. 16 at 7:00 p.m. will be posted later today at

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August Regular Board Meeting Agenda

The full packet of materials for the August Regular School Board Meeting is now available at The meeting will begin at 7:00 p.m. on August 19.

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School Elections

One of our very important civic duties is participation in the school election process. We all have a vested interest in decisions that affect our school and community. While we do not always agree on the best course of action, we need to come together and participate in the process.

Two items will appear on the school portion of the ballot. Two school board director seats will be open for your consideration. Incumbent directors Jennifer Slife and Avery Reed will appear on the ballot. The question of renewing the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) will also be on the ballot.

The PPEL ballot item is a renewal process not a new tax. The PPEL has been used by Alburnett to support facility updates for many years. Renewal means continuing to update technology, transportation, and building projects. Non-renewal means plans for future projects will be rewritten.

PPEL Funds cannot be used to operate the district – no salaries, no instructional supplies – only items that appear on the ballot can be supported with these funds. This includes items such as:

1)             Facility Updates

  • Additional parking lot in 2012-2013
  • Repainting gym in 2012-2013
  • Swings for playground in 2012-2013
  • Additional playground updates in the future

2)             Technology

  • iPad carts for Elementary in 2012-2013
  • Additional iPad carts in the future
  • Annual upgrades for existing technology

3)             Transportation

  • Expedition purchased in 2012-2013
  • Final pay-off of 2 newest buses in 2012-2013

Why now? PPEL must be renewed after 10 years. Yes, 10 years have come and gone already! PPEL was approved by Alburnett voters during the 2004-2005 school year.

What is the same? The amount would remain the same at $.67/$1,000, and permissible expenditures such as improvements to buildings, purchasing equipment, and purchases of vehicles would also remain the same.

What is not the same? Income Surtax has been added to the proposed language. Districts that include this language have the ability to decide each year if it best for their community to support some of this revenue through income surtax. Doing so does not increase the amount generated. Instead it distributes the asking between property tax and income surtax. This additional language does not mean that income surtax would be included each year, but rather that it could be included. Additional changes to the ballot language include updates such as permitting expenditures associated with costs do to natural disasters.

You might also be interested to know that 336 Iowa school districts generate PPEL funds through property taxes and/or income surtax, and that the voter-approved portion of the PPEL generates approximately $100,000 each year for Alburnett. Voting, whichever way you vote, is an important responsibility. School Elections will be Tuesday, September 10th.

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