New McKinney, Mills Lawn teachers
- Published: August 25, 2016
A new academic year begins this week for the Yellow Springs School District as students begin their first day of classes Friday, Aug. 19. Staff reported back to work Aug. 2, and teachers have been preparing their classrooms and lesson plans the past couple of weeks, with their official start date being this past Monday. The district’s newest teachers, however, reported the week before for two days of orientation.
The district is welcoming eight newly hired teachers to the local schools this year. Jack Hatert, a teacher and the assistant to the principal at Yellow Spring High School/McKinney Middle School, coordinated the sessions. The first day included an introduction to the district’s online systems, meetings with their mentors and an “Amazing Race Yellow Springs” challenge, where the new hires drove around town to places that could be sources for potential community partnerships, an important component of the district’s project-based learning program.
“The objective [for the orientation] is for the teachers to get comfortable with each other, their mentors and get an overview of what project-based learning program is,” Hatert said.
The teachers are taking positions throughout the district, with most filling vacancies left by retirements and other personnel changes. Two of the eight positions, however, are newly created posts, both at the McKinney School. The middle school is introducing two new classes this year — engineering, which will be a required course for all eighth graders, and performance and live arts, which will offer students another creative option. The News sat with each of the new teachers for a few minutes during their first day of orientation to learn a little about who they are, where they come from and their hopes and aspirations for the coming school year.
This week, we present the five new Mills Lawn and McKinney Middle School teachers. Next week, we’ll introduce the three new teachers at Yellow Springs High School.
MILLS LAWN SCHOOL
A recent graduate of Wright State University, Robert Grote is the new physical education teacher at the elementary school. As a first-year teacher, he says he’s a bit nervous, but also excited about getting started.
“I’m happy, and I’m thankful to be here,” he said. He has some familiarity with the village. Although he grew up in Vandalia, he has extended family in Yellow Springs, including a grandmother, an aunt, an uncle and cousins.
He enjoys sports, and in high school, he played football and baseball and participated in track and field. He has loved watching the Olympics this summer. His main goals as a PE teacher, he said, are to help children be active, have fun and to learn. “If learning is fun, they tend to retain more,” he said.
He said he’s looking forward to “being able to collaborate with classroom teachers … to reinforce in the gym what [students] are learning in the classroom.”
He’s also excited about the opportunities for community involvement and getting kids outside. “When you can move the learning environment from the classroom, then students can learn that much more.”
As the new school year begins, fostering a love for reading in every one of her fourth-grade students is on the mind of Carrie Juergens, who comes to Yellow Springs Schools after 23 years teaching elementary grades in Springfield.
“One of my goals is to find just the right book [for each student] and get them excited about reading,” she said. “When they find the right book, they really take off. When they find it, it’s magic.”
She said one of the things she already appreciates about Mills Lawn is that “when you look in the classrooms, you see an emphasis on literature and love of books.”
Having moved to Yellow Springs last year, she said she’s looking forward to walking or riding her bike to school as often as possible.
She’s also looking forward to exploring the natural resources at hand with her students. “I’m excited to be outside and go to the Glen with the kids. I love all the green space, and to be able to use it. … Fourth graders don’t like to sit in a chair all day. I don’t like to sit in a chair either.”
Having moved to the area from West Virginia last year, Shannon Wilson became familiar with Yellow Springs schools as an aide and long-term sub at the middle and high school. But she really fell in love with the district through her daughter, Ruthie, who attended Mills Lawn through open enrollment. “It was like someone set her on fire,” Wilson said about her daughter’s response to the school.
Wilson has 12 years of teaching experience in first through eighth grades, both typical and special education, as well as experience with adult education. To see her daughter so engaged with learning was a delight. Thus to be able to join the Mills Lawn team as a third-grade teacher this year is both “a thrill” and “an honor” she said. “I completely believe in what they’re trying to do here,” she said.
She’s particularly excited about being a part of the project-based learning program. She’s also looking forward to getting to know her new students, their parents and people from the community.
“I’m so excited. I just think it’s a wonderful school.”
McKINNEY MIDDLE SCHOOL
Founder and Executive Director of Yellow Springs Theater Company, Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp is passionate about theater, which she calls “the original PBL.” She will be teaching the new performance and live arts class at the middle school. It’s a part-time position, but Sparrow-Knapp has full-time plans.
“We’ll be looking at all the definitions of the word, ‘performance,’” she said. “The first is on stage. … The second is to take action.”
The seventh and eighth graders who take the new class, which will be offered as an option like choir or band, will by the school year’s end create a collaborative piece of theater, while along the way learning the various elements that go into stagecraft.
Sparrow-Knapp said that she appreciates the school district’s support of the arts. “Live arts in school is where we synthesize education, because live arts cross boundaries,” she said. She noted that experiences with theater also offer lessons beyond the task at hand: participants learn empathy, they learn to collaborate, they acquire confidence in appearing and speaking in front of others.
The new course will represent Sparrow-Knapp’s first time teaching in a traditional classroom, but she has extensive experience teaching other types of theater courses and workshops. And as director of multiple theatrical productions over the years, she said each one offers an exercise in teaching. She said she’s excited to see what will come.
Steve Bleything may be a new teacher in Yellow Springs schools, but he is not new to many village students, as he has coached baseball teams in town for the past 11 years, and his children swim with the Sea Dogs. “We love it,” he said of the local youth sports.
Bleything will be teaching the new engineering class at the middle school. He comes to the district after 23 years teaching in Springfield, first as a science teacher for 15 years, and then focusing on engineering for the past eight.
He said he’s happy to be joining Yellow Springs schools. “It’s a wonderful opportunity,” he said. He noted that his children were already students in the district. “I’m coming into their environment,” he said.
He’s looking forward to getting started. “All the [McKinney] eighth graders will be taking engineering,” he said. Many students don’t really know what it is, he said. The class will offer an overview. It’s “applied science,” he said, and it’s fun. “You get to design things and build things.” He said the school hopes this introduction will be a building block in a potentially expanded engineering curriculum.