The new school year is looking buffed...just love that waxy shine.

"The classrooms are ready - the only thing that we have to finish up is converting one portion of a storage room into an office for the Hiawatha Valley Education District (HVED), and there's an area on the playground that we're going to put in more pavement to prevent mud in the building." said Chatfield Elementary Principal Craig Ihrke. He was surveying the shiny waxed floors of the 4-year-old elementary school building, buffed, waxed and polished for the morning of Sept. 3, when students in first through sixth grade return to school, and for Sept. 5, when kindergartners begin their primary school careers.

Ihrke explained that staff is prepared to teach students what they need to know, including advancing literacy and introducing them to technology in the classroom.

"We've expanded the ADSIS, or Reading Research, grant program, and we're continuing Action 100," he continued.

The Reading Research grant started last year and the school staff taught reading using science and social studies.

"Students who were involved in it made more than two years' growth," Ihrke explained. "We've expanded it so that we have the grant for two years and have added two teachers and one paraprofessional. Originally, we had the grant for one year, and it'll be two years, with the idea that it was in grades four through six, but now will be continued in kindergarten through third grade. The idea is that we're getting those kids caught up and at ground level before they get to the higher grades."

Regarding Action 100, the school-wide reading curriculum, Ihrke stated, "They made 1.98 years' growth last year on average, and it was awesome. Our goal is to make one and a half years' growth in the years after...I don't think that we can expect to see two years' growth every year, but we were impressed."

Though Ihrke pointed out that the elementary curriculum plan is to "stay the course" and not purchase new curriculum for this school year, he is pleased that the administration is introducing students to the use of iPads in the classroom.

"We'll have four through six doing iPads one to one, so each one of them will have their own iPad. The staff has been in all summer working on a way to use them meaningfully. They're not just going to be fun gadgets - they'll be meaningful tools that will allow students to turn in their homework electronically," Ihrke said.

He added, "Kindergarten through third grade will have classroom sets to share - kindergarten through third won't have them to take home, but there might be times when there are four to six iPads in a classroom to use as centers, and other times, the entire classroom will be using them."

Ihrke said the students will definitely get into them as the iPads will be in a lot of different places, and the extent of their use will vary.

"We want to take this slowly...we want it to be meaningful but not overboard," he added. "They'll provide more operations for remediation and acceleration. It's great to have them in the hands of the kids."

The principal related that the conversion of a storage room to an office for HVED is an important action in that it allows HVED specialized consultants such as an audiologist, a school psychologist, an assistive technology consultant, behavior interventionist and more to use Chatfield Elementary as a base office from which they visit other school districts in the education district.

"Since we're centrally located, a lot of people serve our district, but they'll serve our district here and radiate out to other districts," Ihrke explained. "It will be nice to house them here because we'll have more access to them more readily than other districts will."

Ihrke observed that the summer has gone quickly, but that he's "excited to have the kids back, the parents are excited to have the kids coming back, and I think the kids like the routine...I think school is a good, healthy environment for them to be in."

The high school building is waxed, repainted and ready to welcome students.

"All the classrooms are done, and they're set, ready to go. The custodial staff is working on the hallways, doing a lot of repainting and touchups. They've been working hard, making sure the building looks nice before the students get here," Principal Randy Paulson reported.

While the district has typically made some noticeable large improvements to the building in the past several years, this year will offer a break from renovation and relocation.

"We'll probably be taking the accounting lab and switching the classroom so that it's a room full of laptops - Mr. David Hinck, who was subbing for our social studies teacher, Mr. Adam Archer, for two years - will be there, and there will be full Internet access.

Paulson outlined how the implementation of an iPad tech program at the high school will expand students' learning opportunities. "Ninth through 12th graders - we're looking at students being able to bring their own devices to use, and in social studies, we'll have laptops or tablets for them to use so they have classroom access every day," he said.

In English, students will have access to laptops and the computer lab every day as well.

"It will be nice for those two departments to have access to technology on a daily basis," Paulson elaborated. "Seventh and eighth graders will have iPads. We've been doing a lot of training with teachers to implement this - we don't want to take what we've been doing and simply transfer it to the iPads. We want to use the new technology and enhance the curriculum. In seventh grade, we're developing a total curriculum that's all online - in social studies, we're working on it this year for next year."

New staff at the high school includes Angela Wiegmann, English instructor, and Jessica Bester, the new ag instructor who replaces the industrial tech instructor. Hinck is moving into a different capacity as a social studies teacher, and Wiegmann will take over the business education classes, "transforming it into more of a modern-type curriculum, writing with technology, using a tablet or iPad," Paulson said.

An iPad orientation meeting for students in grades four through six is slated for tonight, Wednesday, Aug. 28, at the elementary school at 5 p.m. and again at 6 p.m., and the elementary "Stop and Drop," meet the teacher event is set for tomorrow evening, Thursday, Aug. 29, from 4 to 6 p.m.

For more information on upcoming school orientations and workshops, log onto the Chatfield Schools website at www.chatfield.k12.mn.us.