School Talk Xtra: Dr. Gary Norris, Waterloo superintendent - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

School Talk Xtra: Dr. Gary Norris, Waterloo superintendent

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WATERLOO (KWWL) -

In addition to the weekly segment "School Talk" on Today in Iowa, superintendents answer additional "School Talk Xtra" questions exclusively for kwwl.com. This week, Waterloo Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Gary Norris adds insight and expertise.

Jason Carter: What impact will "education reform," or whatever it is that is now being debated in Des Moines, going to have on graduation rates?

Dr. Gary Norris: The whole point of this year's education reform legislation is to do everything possible to: 1) make sure that we have the best possible teachers in the state of Iowa, and 2) that our very best teachers help mentor our newer, less experienced, teachers—similar to experienced doctors coaching and mentoring younger doctors in teaching hospitals. 

Research indicates that the "most important" interaction in a school system is between a highly qualified teacher and your child.  One can infer that the better the training and ongoing support our teachers have in early years, the higher our graduation rate.

Jason Carter: What is currently being done to increase the number of kids graduating in Waterloo schools?

Dr. Gary Norris: We are focusing all of our efforts on:

Student Achievement and Development:  high rigorous standards, aligned with outstanding teaching, and a specific process designed to prevent children from falling between the cracks. The range of alternative options we provide includes virtual learning, flexible scheduling and location, competency-based instruction, as well as supplemental and intensive instruction to meet the needs of students.

Human Assets:  Staffing our organization with high performing leaders, teams, and employees.

Climate for Learning: Providing a safe, caring, inviting and engaging environment for our students.

Jason Carter: What is the biggest challenge for an administrator of a socioeconomic ally-diverse district?

Dr. Gary Norris: Poverty creates huge challenges for students and teachers. Some children enter kindergarten with limited vocabularies and language skills — well behind the expected norm -- while other students speak, read and organize at very advanced levels.

The challenge, which we gladly embrace, is providing quality programming to assist all children growing to their fullest potential.

One benefit of our size is that our number and quality of targeted interventions and expanded learning opportunities far outpace most Iowa districts. An example is our new International Baccalaureate program, soon to challenge students with even more rigorous and highly acclaimed college preparatory work that guarantees entry to our most selective colleges and universities.

Additionally, we can provide students with the rich experiences of learning with and from a diverse student body — mirroring that of the real world they are going to live in.

Jason Carter: How far away is Waterloo from going to 1-1 technology for its students?

Dr. Gary Norris: We have at least one computer for every three students. The most important thing about technology is not the number of devices, but how teachers use them in classrooms.  Technology should enhance and expand learning opportunities for children.  

Waterloo is one of the few districts in Iowa to have interactive whiteboard technology in every classroom. Our teachers are now equipped to enrich student's classroom experience, especially those that learn better visually and respond to interactive teaching.

There is no perfect one-size-fits-all computer for all teaching and learning. For example, desktops are affordable, but take up lots of space. Laptops are portable but expensive to repair, and tablets are hard to use when creating content. We are constantly looking for the best device to meet our students' needs! We have 30 to 40 classrooms piloting devices each semester to this end. Our latest pilot involves Google Chrome books which are light, but have a full keyboard and appear to be a good compromise between tablets and laptops.

Currently, I believe that certain classrooms need a variety of devices … not necessarily one device (say, a tablet) for every child in every content area.

Jason Carter: Is STEM changing how schools approach the sciences? How is it specifically impacting Waterloo?

Dr. Gary Norris: The focus on STEM in the Waterloo Schools is significant. By concentrating on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, as an integrated discipline, because experts believe that 72,000 STEM jobs will be available over the next five years in the Cedar Valley. 

While we value textbooks and traditional ways of teaching, we know the need for students to see the connection between subjects and the "real" world. The Waterloo Schools Foundation has purchased STEM computer modules (units), that provide "hands on" learning opportunities to engage our students in Aviation, Engineering, Forensics, Alternative and Green Energy, Robotics, Lights and Lasers, Biotechnology, horticulture, Rocket Science ,Web Design and Graphic Communications. Many of our schools have after-school clubs that feature fun and engaging activities in the STEM areas.

Work begins in the fall to infuse STEM concepts formally into the pre-K-12 science curriculum. As we implement the next generation science standards STEM concepts will be fully integrated. This allows students to engage in active, collaborative work, building on their prior knowledge, as they learn how to solve problems, rather than just memorizing an answer, in science.

Jason Carter: What is the status of the Waterloo budget with state funding in limbo?

Dr. Gary Norris: We have spent hundreds of hours planning scenarios, to be prepared for a range of legislative outcomes. We have identified $3 to $6 Million of budget adjustments, that all have a common priority -- protecting the classroom. You can read about all of these plans by clicking on this link: Budget Resolution 2013-14.pdf

Jason Carter: What's next for Waterloo community schools? 

Dr. Gary Norris: We are a district engaged in Global Thinking — preparing our students to succeed in this Global economy and offering Limitless Choices — a range of educational opportunities not available anywhere else in the Cedar Valley. 

 

 

 

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