Capturing Kids Hearts, STEAM labs to expand in Flossmoor schools

Flossmoor School District 161 is preparing for a number of changes as the 2019-20 school year approaches, including expanding key programs, launching a learning management system and bringing a handful of new administrators on board.
The Capturing Kids Hearts program that began at Parker Junior High in the 2018-19 school year will be extended to the elementary schools, and the STEAM curriculum kick-started by the new lab at Serena Hills Elementary will be implemented district-wide.
Superintendent Dana Smith said new staff members will have two days of training before the school year begins on Aug. 15, including training for Capturing Kids Hearts.
The program centers around a social contract students create for their classroom at the beginning of the school year. Throughout the year, anyone who enters must sign the contract and agree to abide by those rules. 
“The core is creating strong classroom relationships and expectations,” Smith said. 
Flossmoor Library staff were trained in Capturing Kids Hearts as well to tie the program into the community, which will continue this year, Smith said. 
“There will be some subtle differences between elementary and junior high, but overall it’s one program,” he said. “We think that alignment and consistency will lead to some great outcomes at Parker.”
The district’s first STEAM lab opened in Serena Hills at the beginning of the 2018-19 school year with the help of a $275,000 donation from Serena Hills alum Allan DiCastro. 

The lab built in the former school library space features a 3D printer and a bay of computers for technology-based learning. 
This year, the district has hired dedicated teachers for STEAM curriculum at each school, and they will be able to utilize Creative SmartLab Learning Environment software.
A few months into the year, STEAM teachers will be consulted and a recommendation will be made to the Flossmoor School Board on changing STEAM spaces, Smith said. 
If approved, modifications to STEAM learning spaces would be scheduled for the summer of 2020, he said.
“What we want to do is make sure we spend our money as effectively as possible,” Smith said. “We want to create a space that allows kids to challenge their thinking, to try new ideas, try new strategies in a great environment.”
Smith said focusing on STEAM subjects helps prepare students for future careers in engineering fields, as well as high school and college.
“The types of conversations about science and engineering and mathematics that children are having is very impressive,” he said. “It points to a level of rigor that we need to have in our district.”
Another change down the line for the 2019-20 school year will be the launch of the Canvas Learning Management System in December.
The system is designed to organize information and help streamline communication from teachers to parents and students.
Smith said parents will have better access to grades and classroom announcements.
“It has a number of features to help teachers do their jobs more efficiently so they can focus on what’s really important, which is interacting with students,” he said.
D161 will welcome three new principals, two new assistant principals and a human resources administrator taking on a brand new position.

Eric MeInyczenko will be the district’s first director of administrative services and tackle human resources duties that have previously fallen on other administrators.
“We need cutting-edge, excellent instructors to work with our children, and he can do that,” Smith said. “He has a strong understanding of how to run an effective school, and that transfers to helping the principals hire great teachers and helping to review our human resource practices.”
At the elementary level, Gina Isabelli will be principal at Western Avenue, and Elizabeth Reich will be principal at Serena Hills.
At Parker, Amabel Crawford, formerly the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, will be principal with two new assistant principals at her side, Tara Peacock and Michelle Wisniewski.
Peacock was Parker’s eighth-grade social science teacher since 2003, and Wisniewski was a case manager for the district since 2014. 
The familiarity these three have with Parker has been helpful as they transition into their roles and plan for the school year, Smith said.
“I’m expecting quite a bit out of all of our schools,” he said. “I think our new people are the cream of the crop.”

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