Archived Story

Board plans to shift principal duties for new school

Published 9:54am Tuesday, April 10, 2012

With a few staffing shifts and some concrete plans on the way, Austin Public School’s latest building is shaping up nicely.

Woodson Kindergarten Center Principal Jean McDermott will become the principal of the new fifth- and sixth-grade intermediate school once it opens next fall. In addition, Ellis Middle School Assistant Principal Jessica Cabeen will become the new Woodson principal this fall, and Ellis math teacher Lynn Hemann will replace Cabeen as assistant principal for one year before joining McDermott at the intermediate school. Superintendent David Krenz announced the promotions during the Austin Public School board’s Monday night meeting.

“I’m very excited and very honored,” McDermott said.

McDermott has spent the past three years as Woodson’s principal, and was the school’s administrator when it first opened up. Before that, she was at Ellis and had previously taught seventh- and eighth-grade math and science.

Although she’s going to miss Woodson, she said her heart is in middle school education.

“It’s something that I enjoy,” she said.

She will finish the year at Woodson while conducting staff development with fifth- and sixth-grade teachers in the district. McDermott said the district is hoping to move its fifth- and sixth-grade instructors to Woodson, which will help centralize programming like the fifth-grade orchestra program and allow teachers more flexibility to work with students in a science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics setting. District officials say the new school’s staff will be identified by the end of the school year.

McDermott said there will much to do before the new school opens, things she described as “paper-pencil-mind” coordination work, from helping to plan the new “STEAM” curriculum to picking out construction materials for the building. One challenge in preparing a new school is figuring out the middle school’s scheduling.

The school’s new schedule will have to be a compromise between Austin’s elementary schedules and the Ellis schedule, though students will have much more opportunity to explore how science and technology affects society. District officials will work on more STEAM-related initiatives within the next couple weeks, which could include giving students one-to-one access to technology like tablets or laptops, meaning there would be a laptop for every student.

“We’re going to see some really exciting results when the new school opens in a year,” McDermott said.

Cabeen is excited to come to Woodson next fall, as much of her educational background lies in kindergarten, first- and second-grade teaching. Before she came to Austin, Cabeen worked in South St. Paul schools for seven years as an early grades teacher, and she’s looking forward to being Woodson’s next principal.

“I’m excited,” she said. “I really am.”

Though her oldest child has already gone through kindergarten, Cabeen said her son Isaiah will be joining her as a Woodson Critter next fall.


Concrete plans

The intermediate school’s design plans are more or less finalized, though architects will draw up concrete plans soon. Finance and Operations Director Mark Stotts told the board Monday night that few changes had been made since his last update, though the building focus groups had finished and district officials were hoping to put the project out to bid in May.

The two-story school’s main entrance will be on the east side, with a student bus corral to the north on Fourth Avenue SE. A main corridor will stretch east-west, with lockers located near classroom groupings. Classrooms will be designed with technology in mind, and will be clustered around lab and open spaces which will include removable walls for expanded learning environments.

The new school’s cafeteria will double as a gymnasium to provide students with more room and better traffic control.

“There’s no other school in the district like it,” Stotts said. “It’s going to be an extremely nice building the way it’s laid out.”

The building will have about 117,500 square feet overall, which is close to Facilities Task Force recommendations from last fall. In addition, the new school will have a softball field, football and soccer field, and a dugout to the south, with a retainage pond going in where Sixth Avenue SE would be. Austin’s City Council will allow the district to take control of the stretch of Sixth Avenue SE just south of Ellis.

The old Fellowship United Methodist Church building on that property still stood as of Monday morning, although the Austin Fire Department conducted a few exercises last week by dousing controlled flames in some of the building’s concrete rooms. Stotts said Monday was the first day the building could be demolished, but he doesn’t know when construction workers will tear the building down. Rev. Marv Repinski, who served the FUMC congregation for many years, said the building’s loss is tragic.

“It had a long, glorious history,” he said.

Four tennis courts will be put up for bid in the fields west of Neveln Elementary School, though Stotts said the district may put six bids out if prices are low enough. The courts will not be lit. District officials will present tennis court plans to the city’s planning commission Tuesday night.

There’s no word on how the new school will be named, though board members enacted a naming policy for schools and buildings Monday night. The board will discuss how to proceed in naming the school next month, and board members plan to name the building by December.


In other news, the board:

—Heard an update on Austin’s elementary schools strategic planning progress. Elementary principals said the district is working on several goals, including staff development for teaching strategies, technology usage in the classroom, implementing new language arts curriculum in several schools and focusing on future goals like instructional coaching and 45/15 implementation effects. Board members have heard from several departments on the district’s overall progress in meeting its five-year strategic roadmap goals.

—Tweaked its purchasing goods and services policy to include a provision that means district officials will buy locally whenever possible. Austin Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Sandy Forstner lauded the move and congratulated the board during the meeting for adopting the measure.

“It sends an important signal that we are all in this together and we’re all stronger for it,” he said.


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