The last couple of weeks have been dizzying at the Challis schools as Lani Rembelski settles into her new dual role of district superintendent and elementary principal.
Besides taking on additional responsibilities compared with last year when she was just the elementary principal, Rembelski has overseen the move of the district administrative office and employees into the elementary building. A section of the school building was remodeled to accommodate the administrative office so Rembelski wouldn’t have to zip between the elementary school and the administrative office on Main.
She’s nonplussed by the sounds of construction and the shuffling of boxes and office furniture, sure it will all fall into place by the magical first day of school – Monday, Aug. 27.
Her combined position came after school trustees voted last spring to eliminate one administrative position due to budget concerns. Most small school districts in Idaho have two administrators, she said, and commonly the superintendent is also the elementary principal. Kari Alexander was hired as the new high school principal, a post originally offered to Rembelski. The departure of former Superintendent Peter McPherson and the school board’s decision to not renew Russ Bradshaw’s contract as junior-senior high principal led to the new administrative lineup.
Rembelski is excited for the new school year and her new job. Before the administrative shift, she began a program to get her educational specialist degree with the intent of someday becoming a superintendent. She should complete that program next year.
“It is more of a workload, but the staff has a lot of knowledge” and will help in the transition, she said. “I’m not concerned. This is a very doable thing.” She’s appreciative of the excitement the staff brings to the school every day and their knowledge.
“I am very excited to be given the opportunity to do this work,” she said.
Rembelski wants school leaders to look at ways to improve student achievement through instruction, focus on collaboration and begin a transition to a mastery-based education system. She will consider the schools’ work successful if “every student is showing growth, and the staff is feeling they’ve reached their professional goals.” As well, she plans to continue the district’s focus on safety of students and staff.
Enrollment is expected to be about the same as last year, Rembelski said, about 350 total at all three buildings. That breaks down to 10 students in Stanley and about 170 each at the elementary and junior-senior high buildings in Challis.
A few curriculum changes are in place for the new school year, too, Rembelski said. An auto class is being offered to junior high students for the first time this year.
Driver’s education becomes an elective class with students attending classroom sessions during the school day. They will do their practice driving outside school hours. Arlene Nelson is teaching the classroom sessions, and the driving instructor is still to be determined, Rembelski said.
The natural science class that was offered last year to high school students returns, Rembelski said. It’s offered through a partnership with the Forest Service. She’s hopeful it will be offered in the spring semester, too, but that depends on Forest Service funding.
One more dual credit class is being offered to high school students. Deb Sheppeard is teaching a computer science principles course that allows students to earn college credit if they successfully complete the class. As in the past, two English classes are also dual credit courses. Rembelski would like to increase those offerings even more in the future.
This year, two morning sessions of kindergarten are planned, rather than one morning and one afternoon class. An afternoon kindergarten class will be held, but it’s an intervention class, and students are identified by teachers to participate in that class. If their parents agree, the students move to the afternoon class.
Students in the intervention class last year showed “huge gains in reading levels and small gains in math,” Rembelski said. That class was held for just two hours a day. This year the class will run all afternoon.
Preschool sessions are planned for afternoon this year instead of morning. Children are screened for placement in that program.
She’s pleased that all teaching positions are filled. And likewise that the food service staff is complete and all the needed paraprofessionals have been hired. But activity bus drivers are still needed, Rembelski said, to ensure there are no transportation issues for athletic teams.
There is a slight shift in the school day for elementary students, Rembelski said. The school day was extended by three minutes with dismissal coming at 4:15 p.m. School begins at 8:15 a.m. The high school students follow the same time schedule as before. Challis schools are in session four days a week again this year, with no classes held on Fridays.
Students immediately get a four-day weekend with no school on Labor Day, which falls on Monday, Sept. 3.
Elementary students are out of school four days this year when junior-senior high schoolers are in session to allow for a new teacher collaboration program. The school board approved the plan last month after hearing from several teachers and Rembelski about how it could help school leaders determine the best ways to help each student individually. The first collaboration day is set for Thursday, Sept. 30. Plans call for it to be a pilot program this year. If it’s deemed a success, school trustees have indicated they’d expand the program to the secondary level. Buses will run on a normal schedule on the collaboration days, Rembelski said.