Most area districts kick off school year Aug. 23

Winona Whitaker | Clinton HeraldKerri Brisch, a second-grade teacher at Bluff Elementary School in Clinton, prepares Wednesday for the new school year. Bluff’s back-to-school night is scheduled for 4-5:30 p.m. Aug. 22. Classes begin Aug. 23.

CLINTON – Iowa school districts can’t, by law, begin classes before Aug. 23, so even though that date falls on Friday, most Clinton County schools are beginning class that day.

“It’s either that or go one day in June,” Clinton School District Superintendent Gary DeLacy said Tuesday.

Iowa legislators set the date several years ago as a compromise with the tourist industry and Iowa State Fair exhibitors who wanted school to wait until summer events ended. Iowa State Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, introduced a bill that would allow schools to start earlier, DeLacy said, but “it didn’t go anywhere.”

Clinton school days will begin and end at the same times as last year, DeLacy said, but Jefferson, Bluff and Whittier elementary schools will have an afterschool daycare option operated by the YWCA Clinton. “I think the interest is only after school right now,” DeLacy said, though the district has discussed before-school daycare as well.

Eagle Heights Elementary School didn’t have enough parents interested in the program to have a daycare staffed there, but parents of Eagle Heights students can have their children transported to a program at one of the other elementary schools, DeLacy said.

The district’s afterschool program for students with academic deficiencies will continue, DeLacy said, but that program is only for students who don’t perform at a certain level on assessments.

“We will have embedded mental health therapists from Life Connections in all six of our buildings this year,” DeLacy said. An emphasis on student mental health statewide has prompted many school districts to increase mental health staff numbers.

“We are pleased to be able to work with Life Connections,” DeLacy said.

Clinton High School will shift back to semesters for the first time since 2002 after years of a trimester structure, DeLacy said. “They’re also going to do parent-teacher conferences differently,” he said, allowing teachers to visit with parents at home rather than forcing parents to go to the school.

“This year we will start offering some classes at the new Six Arts, classes to take advantage of those state-of-the-art STEM labs,” DeLacy said.

Six Arts International Education Park is the campus of Confucius International Education Group at the former Ashford University in Clinton. Before closing, Ashford renovated the labs for science, technology, engineering and math programs that CIEG and Clinton High School students can now use.

The alternative high school, called Gateway Learning Center, will open this fall at the Gateway Area Community Center. Clinton expects to have about 50 students at the alternate facility, DeLacy said, and Camanche will add a few more to the joint project.

The Camanche School District will begin school Aug. 23 as well, said Superintendent Tom Parker. One change students will see this year is the presence of a school resource officer, Parker said.

While student safety is always a concern, it’s not the primary reason for the SRO in Camanche.

“We’re really looking to emphasize the community policing aspect,” building positive interaction between the SRO and the students, Parker said.

The SRO will work at all schools in the Camanche district, Parker said.

Camanche Elementary School students will meet their teachers during a back-to-school night this year, Parker said.

“In the past there have been what we call intake conferences,” said Camanche Elementary School Principal Aimee Dohse. Parents and students would spend 10-15 minutes meeting the students’ teachers.

When the school surveyed parents, they found that parents preferred a back-to-school night, Dohse said. That night is scheduled for 5-7 p.m. Aug. 20. Students will visit their classrooms, meet their teachers and receive their schedules.

“They’ll also get to see their classmates,” Dohse said.

“We’re going to have Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts [and] the Camanche Library here,” Dohse said, along with other “community partners.”

Camanche Elementary School serves 4-year-olds through fourth-graders. Dohse and her teachers are ready for the end of summer and the beginning of a new school year, she said. “We’re excited. We’re missing the kids.”

Central DeWitt schools in DeWitt and the Northeast School District in Goose Lake are also scheduled to begin school Aug. 23, according to their online school calendars. The Calamus-Wheatland School District will begin classes Aug. 26.

A native of Centerville, Winona comes to the Clinton Herald after writing for the Ottumwa Courier for two years.