The Cornerstone – May 2012

The May 2012 issue of The Cornerstone is now available! Scroll down to read articles or click on titles below. You can also download a PDF copy. Enjoy!

Download a PDF copy of The Cornerstone.

Challenging Our Perceptions About Real Learning

I learned about some shocking research this week from Dr. Richard Elmore of Harvard University.  In a nutshell, it says that the level of rigor of the cognitive tasks that we ask children to perform in American schools today peaks somewhere around the fourth grade.  What??!!  It’s true. Independent of the geographical area, if one were to walk into a typical system and analyze the tasks that children were being asked to perform,  the cognitive taxation of those tasks will go down as one goes up in grade.  “What about high school AP courses,” I asked.  “What about calculus?”  I seem to recall upper level math as being extremely taxing (and to a bad end I might add, but that’s a story for another time).  The answer is that we have confused in our country the ideas of complex content with rigorous student tasks.  In fact it is often the complexity of the content that leads teachers to rely on things like mathematical procedure, memorization of complex rules, and step by step approaches to composition or problem solving.  The content of the curriculum becomes increasingly complex, so we rely on kids to recall lots of information or lots of steps to a process, but regardless of the amount of complex information that may be involved, recall is recall and it is a lower level cognitive function.  Even when we ask students to climb up Dr. Bloom’s ladder by applying new knowledge we have a tendency to do so in an artificial context that is closely controlled by the teacher.  Moving beyond application in a meaningful way is even more rare in the system.  This is one of the most powerful differences between the learning experiences of students in America and those of students in other higher performing countries.

Primary grade teachers seem to understand that kids learn by doing tasks and it is the task that drives the learning. They quickly learn that kids need to be “doing” something and that listening for extended periods of time can lead to a disastrous end.  There are three elements to the instructional core and they are the teacher, the student, and the content.  As kids get older, we look more and more to the teacher as the most critical component of that triangle, but what interconnects those three elements and drives the actual leaning is the task.  As kids get older we start to feel pressure to make sure they “know more”.  This results in teachers doing increasingly more of the work (and more of the talking), while students do increasingly more of the listening and more of the remembering as they get older.  Elmore has found that powerful learning predictions can be made by simply looking at the tasks that students are asked to perform.  It’s this practice of prediction around student work that is driving a lot of meaningful reform efforts like gradual release of responsibility, AIW, and data team training.  They all put a focus on student work because they all honor the evidence that shows that learning is driven by the task in the presence of the other three elements, not any one of the elements themselves.  This process of designing and assessing quality tasks in a collaborative setting should be driving the professional development in our schools.

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Great Prairie AEA Board of Directors Recognized

School Board Recognition Week is May 6-12, 2012. Our Agency Board of Directors and the Board members of the local school districts in our Area volunteer countless hours of their time each year to serve their communities and schools. Please consider thanking the school Board members that you know throughout our Area.

Click here to view photos, names and addresses of our Great Prairie AEA Board of Directors.

Iowa Core Literacy Interventions

RtI, or according to Connie Maxson, Director of the Iowa Department of Education, “Really Terrific Instruction” has been an education buzzword for a while. But what does it mean for students and teachers?  RtI, AKA Response to Intervention, is one of the key components of the Iowa Core.

What are the GPAEA Literacy Specialists doing to get ready for RtI?

Quality Universal instruction for all students, based on the Iowa Core Standards, is the foundation of RtI. Districts that are currently working on the Gradual Release of Responsibility are focused on quality instruction.  The goal is for quality universal instruction to be effective for 80% or more of the students in the building.  Once the Core is aligned with and taught to all students, interventions may be considered for students who are not making adequate progress.  The focus of the GPAEA literacy interventions is to match the state as materials are developed appropriate for students and teachers in the effort to accelerate learning.

A “Moodle” has been developed that covers the K-5 Foundation Skills in the Iowa Core:

  • Concepts of Print
  • Phonological Awareness and Word
  • Fluency
  • Vocabulary

These skills are in addition to the numerous literacy standards for every grade level in reading literature, reading informational text, writing, speaking, and listening.   For those districts/buildings that participated in Reading First, these are not the exact same skill areas.  Reading First required Scientifically Based Reading Research at the “gold standard” level.  We are organizing materials that have been proven for increased student learning in these foundation areas.

When will this Moodle be available for use?

The GPAEA Reading Content team will view and interact with the Moodle at their May meeting.   The Department of Education will announce a universal screener in June and a progress monitoring tool soon after.  Because the intent is to not only to be aligned but also to complement the DE work as much as possible, some revisions may be needed after the DE provides that assessment information.  The plan will be to open up access to GPAEA staff working side-by-side with LEA staff during the fall of 2012.

Fran McVeigh
Reading Specialist
641-932-5003 ext. 5817

Secondary Transition Coordination Continues On

Of course there are always interesting twists and turns in any field of study and secondary transition is no stranger to making its own “transitions.”   As a result of Jeff Petersen’s and Bill Dorrell’s retirement at the end of this school year, our remaining GPAEA Secondary Transition Coordinators, Virgil Morgan and Keith Dimmitt, are ready and willing to “retro-fit” future services and supports. They will continue to help school districts across GPAEA with their special education activities and initiatives.  Some of those are the following:

  1. They will continue to strive to provide quality services to our schools on an equitable basis…. meaningful availability with consistent and timely responses.
  2. Their future delivery model with students, teachers, parents and administration will include the use of technology and other emerging ways to communicate.  This will help ensure services regarding the special need domains of living, learning and working.
  3. They will expand the content coach model within each school district.  The content model will be implemented and consistent to develop more capacity within the districts regarding well-written and followed IEPs.
  4. Transition Coordinators will continue to:
    1. Assist school districts as they participate in the Special Education Compliance Monitoring IEP Reviews
    2. Complete transition interviews with 11th grade students who have IEPs.
    3. Provide consultation for Work-Experience or Multi-Occupational programs to support student placement in their communities.
    4. Collaborate with their Parent Educator Connection to research options for families for their living, learning and working needs.
    5. Provide professional development in all areas of secondary transition with a continued focus on Indicator B-13, which includes:  1. Student Interests, Strengths & Preferences, 2. Age-appropriate Transition Assessments for Living, Learning and Working, 3. Post-Secondary Expectations, 4. Course of Study, 5. Annual Goals, 6. Services and Supports.

During the 2011-12 school year, Transition Coordinators also interviewed a sampling of juniors from 14 high schools throughout Great Prairie AEA in order to assist in the IEP Transition Planning process.  They also collected and generated data pertaining to Continue reading

Successes in Secondary Transition at Ottumwa High School

It is always important to give credit where credit is due and place a spotlight on any district that has shown great strides in making things happen!  Secondary Transition service is one such area of focus that reflects an excellent model found at Ottumwa High School.  Their Special Education Department Head/Transition Coordinator, Michele Cooper, has led the way over the years, along with a supportive administration, a great faculty, knowledgeable GPAEA core team providers and an active Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, to bring in different levels of future services for students.

Here are some of the other building activities that make transition development so successful:

  • The area of transition is a priority for students at the point of entry to OHS through their graduation. Parents and students are routinely asked for their input at every staffing when considering the future for post-secondary work or educational planning.
  • The students have a Guided Study class in which they meet with their special education advocates daily. The students remain with their advocate all four years to encourage the relationship building.  By the time students become seniors, their advocate knows the strengths and career interests of each student.  During this Guided Study period, each IEP student meets with his/her Special Education teacher to improve skill areas, check on course progress, complete transition assessments and further planning opportunities for the future.  Each student is involved in their own IEP process, working with their advocate to develop the appropriate IEP to meet their needs.   Many of the students direct their own IEP meetings.

Second Chance Reading Professional Development 2012-2013

For previously trained Middle School SCR Teachers (two locations):

  • Tech SCR MS Teachers who have already been trained in Second Chance Reading and Technology Enhanced SCR will have two days of training during 2012-2013.  Purposes:  Increasing connections with the Iowa Core for Middle School students and Increasing the use of technology including 1:1 computers in SCR.
Burlington AEA
Tech Center, Room C
Ottumwa AEA
Tech Center, Conf.  B
Day One Friday, October 12
(9 AM – 3 PM)
Thursday, October 18
(9 AM – 3 PM)
Day Two Thursday, January 31, 2013
(9 AM – 3 PM)
Friday, Feb. 8, 2013
(9 AM – 3 PM)

For previously trained High School SCR Teachers (one location):

  • HS SCR Teachers who have already been trained in Second Chance Reading will have two days of training during 2012-2013.  Purposes:  Increasing connections with the Iowa Core for High School students and increasing the use of Technology including LCD projectors, Interactive White Boards, and 1:1 computers.
Ottumwa AEA
Tech Center and Conference Room B (Promethean and SmartBoard)
Day One Thursday, October 25
(9 AM – 3 PM)
Day Two Thursday, Feb. 21
(9 AM – 3 PM)

New SCR Teacher Academy

  • For teachers and administrators new to Second Chance Reading (one location):  Purpose:  To train teachers to add to an existing team
Ottumwa AEA
Summer Academy Times Location
Follow up day 1 August 6, 7, 8,and 9
(9 AM – 4 PM lunch on own)
GPAEA – Ottumwa – Conference Room A
Follow up day 2 Monday, September 17
(9 AM – 3 PM)
GPAEA – Ottumwa– Conference Room A
Follow up day 3 Monday, October 15
(9 AM – 3 PM)
GPAEA – Ottumwa– Conference Room A

Snow date:  Monday, Feb. 4th, GPAEA- Ottumwa

Fran McVeigh
Reading Specialist
641-932-5003 ext. 5817

Cardinal Elementary Implements “Thinking Thursdays”

Students in 2nd and 3rd grade at Cardinal Elementary School are starting to mix it up.   Every Thursday, just before noon, all the students start to line up to find out what teacher they are seeing that day.  To the casual observer, it almost looks chaotic, but they still all manage to quickly and efficiently criss cross the hallways to the designated teacher.  “What are we learning today” is an often overheard question.  As any student would tell you, it is time for “Thinking Thursday.”

“Thinking Thursday” is a collaborative effort from the 2nd and 3rd grade teachers, Title, Special Education and TAG focusing on math skills.  For one hour a week, students are broken up into small groups to work on targeted needs in math.  Teachers evaluate student skills through the use of NWEA Map scores and classroom assessments and divide the students into 7 small groups focused on skills they are ready to learn.  “The teachers are assigned a group to work with once a week for an hour” said Deb Swope, Title.  “Instruction is based on what that particular group may need.”  “The program and it’s framework allow for intensified differentiated instructional groups based on pin-pointed skills which are determined by collected and analyzed data” said Stephenie Welch, Spec Ed.  Students stay with that particular teacher or group for 2 to 4 weeks until they are mixed up again around other mathematical skills.  Your group focusing on geometry could look very different than your group focusing on multiplication.  “Once the groups are arranged, we look over the Iowa Core and the DesCartes RIT ranges to see which skills should be reviewed, instructed and expanded within each group,” said Stephanie Ferrell, 2nd grade.  “We then align our content, language, vocabulary and social goals to these areas.”  “It’s like having Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for all students in math” said Jessie Greiner, TAG.

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Technology and Increased Student Reading and Learning

Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) was a federal grant that impacted many Great Prairie Area Education Agency (GPAEA) middle school mathematics classrooms during its first six years.  When re-applying for funding in 2009, an analysis of GPAEA student achievement data revealed that 8th grade reading was the lowest percent proficient for all students when compared to reading, math, and science grades 4, 8 and 11.  Another requirement of the grant was that the instructional strategies had to be research based with student data collected. Second Chance Reading (SCR) was a state supported initiative that met these criteria and many GPAEA schools were already participating in SCR, so middle school reading became the focus for EETT support. Forty-two Middle School Reading Teachers and approximately 500 students participated in “Technology Enhanced” SCR.

Second Chance Reading classrooms are typically for students in grades 7-10 that are reading one or more grade levels below current grade placement.  It is not intended for all students or students that read below 3rd grade level.  Districts set their own entrance and exit criteria based on multiple data points.  Success means students build habits of reading, improve their reading skills and scores, and move out of the Second Chance Reading programs into grade level English/Language Arts courses.

What technology was added?
Interactive whiteboards and handheld voting devices enhance existing SCR strategies including:

  • pair-share;
  • numbered heads together drill;
  • partner practice during Read Aloud/Think Aloud;
  • comprehension activities of cooperative comprehension, dictated writing, inductive thinking, round table, and critical reading of persuasive writing; and
  • vocabulary pairs and quizzes.

A limited number of Kindles, Nooks, iPods, and iPads were also made available for student use. Teacher tools included a laptop computer, flip camera and access to a project wiki.

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Great Prairie AEA Dedicates Satellite Office

In February, 2012, Great Prairie Area Education Agency experienced the loss of long-time Board President Harold L. Mick of Albia to cancer.  Mr. Mick had served for 37 years as the Board President of Southern Prairie AEA and then Great Prairie AEA following the merger of Southern Prairie and Great River AEAs.  His many years of leadership, vision and commitment to education and students of southern Iowa are unmatched across the state and will continue through the services provided by Great Prairie AEA.

Considering the contributions made by President Mick throughout the years, the Great Prairie AEA Board of Directors wanted to do something that would honor him appropriately within the service area.  In March, 2012, the Board voted unanimously to dedicate the GPAEA Satellite Office located in Mr. Mick’s hometown of Albia to his memory.  On May 8, 2012, a Building Dedication Celebration will be held at the Albia building officially naming it the Great Prairie AEA Harold L. Mick Satellite Office.  An Open House will be held from 3:30 to 5 p.m., with Mick family members present for the dedication and celebration.

We would like to take this opportunity to invite you to this special celebration.  The Albia Satellite Office is located at 103 South A Street in Albia.  For more information, please contact Nancy Brown, Communication Specialist/Board Secretary, at or 800-622-0027, Ext. 5257.

Building Dedication Celebration Invitation

Nancy Brown
Communication Specialist

2012 Sixth Grade Area Math Bee Student Winners

The Great Prairie AEA Sixth Grade Math Bee was held Friday April 13, 2012 at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center in Fairfield, Iowa.  The event involved 47 teams from 21 school districts within the Great Prairie AEA region. There were 205 students participating on the building level teams including their team alternates.  The test covers six different areas: Number Sense & Estimation; Patterns & Functions; Geometry& Measurement; Probability & Statistics; Ratio, Proportion & Percent; and a Team Problem Solving Round.

2012 Individual Winners

Individual Winners:

Individual Place Name School
1st Jackson Brown Morning Sun Elementary
2nd C.J. Dupuis Holy Trinity Elementary
3rd Derek Walker Eddyville Elementary
in top 10 KJ McCrea Eddyville Elementary
in top 10 Harrison Mock Eddyville Elementary
in top 10 Collin Thornton Holy Trinity Elementary
in top 10 Grady Orwig Evans Middle School
in top 10 Carleigh Cass Central Lee Middle School
in top 10 Wyatt Rokosz Central Lee Middle School
In top 10 Tylor Durbin Fremont Elementary/Middle School
Top Alternate Ethan Ziser Aldo Leopold Middle School

Top Alternate

Each AEA in Iowa sends the top 10% of their competing teams to the State Competition.  The State Sixth Grade Math Bee is scheduled Friday April 27, 2012 and will be held in Fort Dodge.

The five teams from Great Prairie AEA eligible to participate in the 2012 State Sixth Grade Math Bee include:  Eddyville Elementary (1st place team), Holy Trinity Elementary (2nd place team), Evan Middle School in Ottumwa, Lakeview Elementary in Centerville, and Central Lee Middle School.

Eddyville-Blakesburg Community School District – Eddyville Elementary
Teacher: Donna Bohlmann

Eddyville-Blakesburg Community School District

Derek Walker
KJ McCrea
Harrison Mock
Justin Marshall
Kathryn Gutch -ALTERNATE

Holy Trinity Schools – Holy Trinity Elementary
Teacher: Linda Peitz

Holy Trinity Elementary

Aden Alfred
C.J. Dupuis
Conrad Hellman
Collin Thornton

Ottumwa Community School District – Evans Middle
Teacher: Angie Sheets

Ottumwa Community School District - Evans Middle

Jace McCrory
Bron Bjerke-No release
Addison Coram
Grady Orwig

Centerville Community School District – Lakeview Elementary
Teacher: Diane Mueller

Centerville Community School District - Lakeview Elementary

Bob Wiskus
Kris Papa
Aryc Huff
Lucas Hand

Central Lee Community School District – Central Lee Middle
Teacher: Kathy Van Winkle (not pictured); Heather Fuger, Curriculum Director

Central Lee Community School District - Central Lee Middle

Evan Doyle
Wyatt Rokosz
Harlan Steffensmeier
Aaron Wills

Great Prairie Area Education Agency Board Member Elected

A Great Prairie Area Education Agency Board member was elected to fill the remainder of Mr. Harold L. Mick’s four-year term of office.  Mr. Mick passed away in February, 2012, leaving a vacancy on the AEA Board.  On April 16, 2012, Ms. Melissa Ballard from Melrose, was elected to the Board, and will represent Director District #2 which includes:  Albia, Chariton, Eddyville-Blakesburg, Moravia and Wayne Community School Districts.  Ms. Ballard will serve through October, 2013.

Great Prairie AEA Board members are elected by the school boards of the districts they represent.  Ms. Ballard will be officially sworn into office at the May 8, 2012 Board meeting.  Board meetings are held in Fairfield at the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center on the second Tuesday each month throughout the year unless otherwise occasionally designated by the Board.  The May 8th meeting will be held at the Albia Satellite Office located at 103 South A Street in Albia, Iowa.

Great Prairie Area Education Agency, with main offices in Ottumwa and Burlington, and 6 satellite offices, is a regional education organization that provides school improvement services for students, teachers and administrators.  The Agency is an educational partner with 34 public school districts and 6 accredited, private schools in a 14-county area of southeast Iowa.  Great Prairie AEA staff, schools, and families work together to help all children reach their highest potential.

For more information, please contact Nancy Brown, Communication Specialist/Board Secretary, Ottumwa, at 800-622-0027, Ext. 5210/email: or Jennifer Woodley, Communication Specialist/Administrative Assistant, Burlington, at 800-382-8970, Ext. 1232/email: .  More information about Great Prairie AEA is also available at the Agency’s website:

Bring the Arts to Your Class!

Starting in 2012 VSA Iowa is offering arts workshops to Iowa schools at no charge to educators or schools. Class hours with artists are available to classrooms with one or more students with a disability who have an individualized education program (IEP). Workshops are one to three hours long and all material costs are covered if needed.

Many of VSA Iowa’s teaching artists have a disability and live as professional artists. Through collaboration with school educators artists can provide a lesson on their art-form, or work to incorporate arts education with the curriculum of the classroom through the workshop experience.

Arts experiences with VSA Iowa artists enhance not only arts and humanities curricula, but also bring unique perspectives to lessons in biology, mathematics and social sciences. With the arts, learning becomes an interactive process that challenges students to approach a subject from a new and exciting perspective. It also gives students
multiple ways to engage with lessons and discover learning from new perspectives.

Experienced teaching artists are available for one to three hours of classroom time. Artists with expertise in visual arts and performing arts, from painting and music to sculpture and theater, are on our roster and we welcome educators to choose which art-form they would like to bring to their classroom. We can also gauge the goals and needs of the classroom and make a match with an artist who is able to integrate your goals into their lesson. If you are interested, please fill out the included form and return it to VSA Iowa.

Questions? Need more information? Call 515-281-5839 or email

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The dissemination of information from external organizations by Great Prairie AEA does not infer sponsorship or endorsement of the information. It is being passed on to our stakeholders for its educational value.