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Yellow Springs Schools welcomes six newly hired teachers to the district this school year. From left: Amanda Kinney, first-grade; Joe Carr, Mills Lawn PBL foundations; Courtney O’Connor, middle school social studies; Alicia Horvath, middle school math; Naomi Hyatt, third- and fourth-grade intervention specialist; Emily Cormier, high school art. (Photo by Carol Simmons)

Yellow Springs Schools welcomes six newly hired teachers to the district this school year. From left: Amanda Kinney, first-grade; Joe Carr, Mills Lawn PBL foundations; Courtney O’Connor, middle school social studies; Alicia Horvath, middle school math; Naomi Hyatt, third- and fourth-grade intervention specialist; Emily Cormier, high school art. (Photo by Carol Simmons)

New efforts, faces at YS schools

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It may not be astronomically precise, but summer is definitively ending for many in Yellow Springs as the village’s public schools open their doors for the 2018–19 school year on Friday, Aug. 24.

In anticipation of students’ return to their classrooms, teachers reported to work Monday, Aug. 20, and administrators and staff officially clocked in on Aug. 1.

Turner on school board

The Yellow Springs School Board has named TJ Turner to fill Sean Creighton’s vacated seat on the five-person board.

The board decided during a special meeting Thursday, Aug. 16, to appoint Turner, contingent on his acceptance. Turner accepted Friday, Aug. 17, according to Board President Aïda Merhemic.

“We are excited to have him on our team as we move forward,” Merhemic wrote in an email Friday.

Creighton’s resignation Aug. 1 was prompted by his family’s move out of the district this summer. The term ends Dec. 31, 2019. 

A research scientist at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Turner holds a doctorate in mechanical engineering and material science from Cornell University. As a military reserve officer he has served three tours in Afghanistan and is a two-time recipient of the Bronze Star.  He is also a published author of historical fiction.

Turner was co-chair of the committee to pass a capital improvement levy that failed last spring. He and his wife, Nancy, have three children in the local schools.

In separate interviews earlier this month, Matt Housh, principal at Mills Lawn Elementary, and Jack Hatert, interim principal at McKinney Middle and Yellow Springs High schools, expressed optimism for the coming year. The News also sat down last week with each of the six newly hired teachers who are joining the district this fall.

Principals look to new year

Both school leaders talked about new efforts at their buildings along with some anticipated highlights for the year.

Among other initiatives at Mills Lawn, staff “will be doubling down on social-emotional learning,” Housh said.

School staff has spent “a lot of time” with students in the past on strengthening their relationships and creating an emotionally healthy school culture, but those efforts will intensify this year, Housh said.

“There’s lots of research that validates how important this area of learning is,” he said.

With schools across the country reporting increased manifestations of mental health issues, including depression, among students, Mills Lawn is intent on giving all young people the support they need, he said.

“Stress, anxiety, are at a high pitch now. … We see students younger and younger having big emotions. … It’s more on the surface, more present.”

Housh said he and school counselor John Gudgel are working on new ways to address the students’ emotional health, including offering a Day of Empowerment for fourth- through sixth-graders. Behavioral health issues will be addressed during daily morning and afternoon classroom meetings as well.

“We really want kids to understand what tools they have to deal with conflicts and emotions.”

Relatedly, staff will be encouraged to examine their own emotional and physical health.

“As adults we have to be well,” Housh said.

“It’s a heavy job to work with kids and their families,” he said. “It’s great. It’s awesome, but there’s a lot of responsibility there. … I’d like to see if we can bring some wellness practices [to Mills Lawn].” A group walk around the school grounds each morning is one idea, he said.

In the classroom, Mills Lawn  staff will put more emphasis on outdoor education, with teachers encouraged to use the area behind the school introduced last year for outside work. Garden beds are being expanded, and a white board will be installed for outdoor lessons, he said. He also anticipates that the school’s relationship with Community Solutions’ Agraria property on Dayton-Yellow Spings Road will continue to grow.

Another curriculum-related effort involves the K–1 teaching team having taken Phonics First training this summer.

“It’s a highly regarded program,” Housh said. “We’re adding it into our instructional strategies. … We’ve done really well with literacy; this is one more thing to shore it up.”

Perhaps most exciting for students will be the return this fall of the all-school musical, Housh said.

“It’s going to be a fabulous musical,” he said, declining to name the work so students would be the first to know.

“We want to reveal it to our kids in a special way,” he said.

The musical will then be a tie-in for a number of fall classroom projects, he added. The performance is scheduled Nov. 29.

The musical, presented every three years, is an important community-building tool for the school, Housh added.

 “It’s so nice because it brings everyone together. … “That’s probably one of the most exciting things we have going on,” Housh said.

At the middle/high school, Interim Principal Jack Hatert said the general mood is one of optimistic anticipation.

“We’re ready to put last year behind us,” he said, referring to the capital improvement levy defeat, sexual misconduct allegations between students and the ongoing leave of Principal Tim Krier.

Hatert said he remains impressed with the way staff and students came together during the difficult months last spring.

“There’s not a staff I’d rather be working with than the adults here,” Hatert said.

As the new year begins, one of the things Hatert is most enthusiastic about is having an updated Wi-Fi system along with the implementation of a new technology initiative that will provide individual Chromebooks for every student in grades 7–12.

“Everybody will be able to engage,” he said. Adobe software also will be available to all students. (A story about the program will be featured in a future News.)

Echoing the wellness focus at Mills Lawn, the middle school will initiate “Well Wednesdays,” when staff will work with students on social-emotional learning “to support the whole learner,” Hatert said.

In addition, the counseling staff  will offer a four-part series, “inviting families in,” on the “what we know is typical behaviors” for middle-school students.

For older students, the school is adding a senior seminar class that will “give them more support than they’ve ever had,” Hatert said. The seminar will help students navigate their final high school year, from college applications to senior projects. 

More emphasis will be put on senior projects as well, so they “are more authentic and serve the community better,” Hatert said. Students will be able to choose between doing a traditional project, pursuing an internship with a service component or accumulating more community service hours as long as the work is in a service field.

Other new offerings include a photography class and a speech and debate class. Both electives represent interests that arose among the student body last year.

New teachers

In addition to new programming, the school district is welcoming six newly hired teaches for the 2018–19 year. Short introductory bios, divided by school, are below:

Mills Lawn Elementary

Joe Carr — A 1997 Yellow Springs High School graduate, Joe Carr is joining the Mills Lawn instructional team as the project-based learning foundations teacher. 

In that half-time position, Carr will be working with kindergarten through third-graders to develop skills that support successful project-based learning experiences, including problem solving and team building.

“I’m really excited,” he said last week. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

An intervention specialist for eight years in Dayton Public Schools, with a master’s degree in education from the University of Dayton, Carr has spent the past six years as a stay-at-home parent for his three children. His wife, Andrea, also a YSHS alum, is a nurse in Kettering. The family lived several years in Kettering so Andrea could be closer to her work, but they moved back to Yellow Springs nearly three years ago because, Carr said, they liked what they saw happening at Mills Lawn and wanted their children to go to school there. He is re-entering the teaching profession as their youngest begins kindergarten.

Carr anticipates his training and experience as an intervention specialist will help him in his new role.

“I plan on using every bit of experience that I have,” he said. When working with special-needs students, “we really focus on making a plan for every student,” adding that such individualized focus benefits all students.

An important aspect of the district’s PBL curriculum involves community engagement, and Carr expects his local connections, including membership on the Yellow Springs Library Commission, to be a benefit.

“I’m already reaching out,” he said. “And I’ll accept as much help as people are willing to give.”

He also plans to spend a lot of instructional time outdoors, utilizing the outside learning area behind the school. Mills Lawn Principal Matt Housh said that Carr has already enhanced the area, working on the school’s garden beds this summer so they would be ready for students when classes start. As part of the garden area, Carr said he hopes “to get a composting program off the ground,” among other ideas.

“This allows for a lot of creativity,” he said of the possibilities.

Naomi Hyatt — another village resident with a child going into kindergarten at Mills Lawn, Naomi Hyatt is joining the elementary school’s teaching staff as the new third- and fourth-grade intervention specialist.

A graduate of Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where she studied developmental psychology and sign language, Hyatt resettled six years ago in Yellow Springs, where her parents Todd and Lisa Kreeger had recently made their home.

She earned a master’s degree in education and her intervention specialist certification at Antioch University Midwest. She said she had at one time considered going into nursing, but a job at a group home for developmentally disabled adults in Washington state pointed her toward special education.

After securing her teaching license, Hyatt worked the past three years in the Springfield schools with ninth- through12th-grade students identified with emotional disturbances. The setting was “a mostly self-contained classroom,” and a lot of her time was spent in “emotional coaching,” she said.

“Emotional learning and character development is where I have the most experience,” she said.

That background made her especially eager to join the staff at Mills Lawn, where the entire school community will be spending more time focusing on emotional and social well-being this year, according to Principal Housh.

“I said in my interview that I wanted to be part of that,” Hyatt said.

Her new position, where she will support individual third- and fourth-grade students in their coursework, gives her more flexibility to work on whole-school efforts, she said.

“I think that everybody can benefit from support in the classroom,” Hyatt said.

Amanda Kinney — “I’m excited,” Amanda Kinney said last week about starting as a new first-grade teacher at Mills Lawn.

Kinney completed her student teaching at Mills Lawn with first-grade teacher Jennifer Scavone, and had four long-term substitution teaching assignments at the school as well.

But this year is her first to have her own classroom.

A native of Pennsylvania whose family spent some time in Minnesota before moving to Ohio, Kinney went to middle school and high school in Waynesville.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Ohio State University and her master’s from Wittenberg, “which landed me here for student teaching,” she said. She acquired her reading endorsement last year while subbing.

Kinney said she always loved working with children; she babysat when she was  a teen and worked in college as a nanny with a pre-schooler in Columbus.

“I just loved it,” she said.

With her reading endorsement in hand, she’s eager to help her first-graders get a firm foundation with books.

Some of her personal favorites include “A Bad Case of Stripes” and “Rainbow Fish.”

“I love reading that,” she said. “I love Dr. Seuss too. I love all the ones with awesome and colorful illustrations.”

Because of her local subbing experience, she has familiarity with the district’s project-based learning curriculum.

“I’m really excited to be doing my own,” she said. She doesn’t have all the details worked out, but it will involve “saving the bees,” she said.

The children will learn “how important bees are.”

McKinney Middle School

Alicia Horvath — McKinney Middle School’s new math teacher says she loves working with middle school students, and she loves teaching math.

Alicia Horvath comes to Yellow Springs Schools after six years at a charter school in Dayton, the last two as the middle school dean of students. But a shortage of teachers last year put her temporarily back in the classroom, where she realized how much she missed teaching.

In an interview last week, she said a one-and-a-half-year-old daughter at home also prompted her to rethink the time demands required of school administrators.

A graduate of Beavercreek High School, Horvath entered Wright State University undecided about her future plans, but an after-school job working with school-age children at an area daycare opened her eyes to teaching.

She eventually earned a bachelor’s of science in middle childhood education and a master’s in education, both from Wright State. She is certified to teach middle-schoolers in language arts and math, but math is where her heart is, she said.

“When I was little, my mother worked as a nurse at night, and my dad would take me out for dinner and do math on the table with M & Ms.”

As a teacher, she likes to show her students how math is practical to them, she said. 

“All the time, they ask, ‘Why do I have to do this?’”

Her goal is to show them that “it’s real life (for someone), even if it’s not their real life.”

She thinks the district’s emphasis on project-based learning will be a good match with her own classroom goals.

At seventh and eighth grade, students don’t know yet how much math will be part of the path they end up following.

Horvath said she wants them to have all the tools they need to take whatever path they choose.

Courtney O’Connor — Courtney O’Connor is joining the McKinney Middle School team as the new seventh- and eighth-grade social studies teacher, replacing Cameron McCoy who has been appointed interim assistant principal and PBL foundations instructor.

“I will be filling really big shoes,” O’Connor said of McCoy. But she also will have the popular teacher’s assistance, as he is to be her mentor this year.

A native of Cleveland, O’Connor attended Wright State University, where she got her undergraduate and master’s degrees. She completed her student teaching in the Fairborn school district before spending a year teaching on Hilton Head Island, where her parents had moved after retirement. She said she returned to southwest Ohio because she missed the area, and she currently lives in the Oregon District in Dayton.

“I wanted to be a social studies teacher since I can remember wanting a job,” O’Connor said.

For O’Connor, the study of social studies is the study of people and their stories.

“I love people,” she said. “And when you learn about people and history, you learn about yourself,” she said.

That self-discovery is one of the main components of the middle school years, she noted, adding that the importance of that developmental time is what drew her to focus on that age level.

“We do a lot of character development with them,” she said.

O’Connor said she is excited about using project-based learning in her classroom. “We studied it in graduate school, but I haven’t worked with it before,” she said.

She said she hopes to use PBL to connect her students with local history they may not know.

“I want to become more familiar with Yellow Springs history,” she said. “I want my students to become more aware of it.”

Yellow Springs High School

Emily Cormier — A 2009 graduate of Springboro High School, Emily Cormier entered college at Miami University knowing she wanted to be a high school art teacher.

She was inspired by her own high school art teacher.

A dedicated athlete, as well as an artist, Cormier said her life changed when she broke her leg playing soccer.

Her art teacher told her: “You’re a great leader on an off the field. Why don’t you think about being a teacher? Why don’t you think about teaching art?”

Cormier thought about it, and it felt right.

In a full-circle kind of experience, she filled in last year as a long-term substitute for her mentor, who continues to inspire her as a role-model.

“She’s an unbelievably kind and caring teacher, who supports everybody to be as creative as you want to be,” Cormier said.

Cormier hopes to bring those same attributes to Yellow Springs High School.

She said she’s open to all types of media and art-making experiences.

“I really do like everything,” she said. “I think I’m personally the best at drawing and painting, but I love ceramics and I love sculpture.”

The district’s project-based learning curriculum is new to Cormer, but she said she’s excited about exploring the possibilities and partnering with other teachers on their PBL units.

“It’s easier with art, because you can plan a lot of projects,” she said.


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