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For most people, the New Year begins January 1 every year. For teachers, that’s not even the midpoint of the calendar. We often think of Labor Day as the final hurrah before beginning a new year. Thus, it’s time for a column you might expect to see in December: the year in review!

And what a year the 2013-2014 school year has been! Ups and downs, comings and goings, it’s been quite the roller coaster ride. The year really began with a buzz of excitement. Dr. Goodwin and Mr. Bunn entered stage right as new administrators, and it was clear from the start that change was afoot.

More on that in a minute since it was also a time to take a look at the renovations in the New Richland building in the form of a condensed media center and an expanded cafeteria/commons area. That has been a hit all year long, and you rarely walk by without seeing students and/or staff in the commons working on something, enjoying the ambiance. It’s become a meeting place for various activities and is developing into a homework haven after school some days.

It was clear from the start that the atmosphere in our school district would be different. Dr. Goodwin and Mr. Bunn have striven to achieve a positive atmosphere. It hasn’t always been successful, as evidenced when NRHEG became lockdown central in early October, one from an outside threat and one from within. That seemed to put a halt on the positivity train that had been rolling, and it has, at times, seemed difficult to get trucking along that track again consistently.

Positive vibes were certainly felt in extracurriculars though. The football team did better than many people thought, T.J. Schiltz made it to the state cross country meet, the boys’ basketball team won the conference for the first time in many years, and the girls’ basketball team won a second consecutive state title. The softball team had a good run, and everyone is waiting to see how many track athletes will make it to state and if Carlie Wagner and T.J. can set more records before their time at NRHEG is done.

From a teaching standpoint, it’s honestly been a difficult year. As I wrote about back in September, I adopted a new grading philosophy this year: no grades. I’ve focused on judging student work based on the state standards and looking for improvement. This has been a trial and error process, and I’ve come to the point of not accepting inferior work. Students must redo work that doesn’t come close to the standard. I’m leaning toward going back to a modified letter grade system next year, one that will evolve from my work this year.

More stressful has been a marked lack of motivation from so many of my students; it’s almost an epidemic! I started keeping a list on my board of all the missing work…and I ran out of room. As a staff, we’ve tried various things to encourage completion of work, but there are so many students who simply don’t care. It doesn’t matter if you punish them for late work or even reward them for completing work, their apathy is palpable.

I’ll be brutally blunt in throwing some of my frustration the way of some parents in this. My loyal readers know that I’ve ranted about parenting in the past, but it continues to be frustrating to talk to a parent and get nothing in return: no ideas, no support, no help. Granted, there are a number of parents who have worked with us to get their kids back on track, but there are at least as many who won’t even return a call or email.

However, I’ve also seen some of my students bloom. There is such a benefit to having the same kids two years in a row, and the biggest part of that is seeing some tremendous growth from the beginning of seventh grade to the end of eighth grade. I can see some of them finding great success as they enter the high school and can’t wait to see where the future takes them.

A couple people have a new future are Tim Siewert and Gratia Johnson. While we have many departures as this year ends, those two stand out to me. Mr. Siewert has built the band program to an enviable position, and I only hope we can find someone nearly as talented and passionate as him for next year.

And Gratia. How many people have had their spirits lifted by her infectious smile (pun intended) over her many years as school nurse? Gratia has exuded positive vibes and will be missed by many of us who have had “owies”!

Despite ups and downs, we continue to build at NRHEG. There are exciting things coming down the pipe, and we’ll look forward to another thrill ride in 2014-2015!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is Bardolphian, which means having a red complexion, especially a red nose, as in, “Gratia immediately went to work when she saw the Bardolphian student and diagnosed a rash quickly.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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