Feb 9, 2012

Waverly-Shell Rock's new Middle School/Junior High

         Waverly, Iowa built a brand new school after the flood of 2008.  Like my house, the school that formerly served fifth and sixth-graders was ruined; additionally, Waverly's Junior High (built 1926) once again lost the old gymnasium and almost lost the first floor (replaced after the 1998 flood).  I confess that I was not in favor of the new school;  I do not approve of the location (a very swampy area in an average spring).
 Today I attended an Open House at the school. Waverly's middle school serves about 550 students.  The community is your basic middle-sized, midwestern city.  There's a liberal arts college in the city, and parents are highly involved with their children.   An average sized crowd of educators and community members listened intently as Steve Kwikkel, jr. high principal, and Bridget Wagoner discussed the new school and its design. These educators stated that the school did not/does not have a technology initiative.  Rather, they say W-SR has a learning initiative.  The goal is not an increase in test scores; Waverly's scores are actually pretty high.  The goal is to change the face of learning so that students' needs in the 21st century are met and that students continue to be engaged in learning.

I saw several intriguing things during my visit.  The first few can be illustrated by pictures I took.  They have whiteboard tables - great for collaboration or visual learning, comfy furniture, and these bizarre, wobbly stools (called Hoki stools).  Mr. Kwikkel said the furniture for the new school was purchased with the following ratio in mind: 1/3 comfort, 1/3 collaboration,and 1/3 traditional school-type furniture.

Waverly-Shell Rock has also invested in a formative and summative assessment program developed by Naiku.  The promotional flier describes the company as "founded by assessment and educational technology veterans to provide a formative and summative assessment solution that enables teachers to raise student academic achievement."  During my conversation with CEO, Corey Thompson, teachers receive rubric-based assessments in myriad ways (paper to cell phone), input the information, and receive information on standard's performance, class statistics, etc that can easily be shared.  Naiku works over cellular networks and with regular computers, ipads, phones, et al.

I really like this idea!  Theoretically, it simplifies management activities without being a learning management system.  It also helps the school focus on metacognition and mastery learning.

After the school day ended, I wandered the halls a bit.  There was an after-school cooking club and an after-school art club meeting - How fun!  Lastly, did I mention that there are virtually no school bells?!  They have a bell in the morning and at the end (there might be one at lunch, but my sources said it was largely irrelevant), but they have no bells signaling the end of class periods.  How curious!

All in all, I am quite impressed with the facility and the atmosphere at this school.  The staff puts into practice their professed belief in student-centered learning.  The environment is conducive to active engagement.  Real learners may result!