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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — A new educational position called “strategist” is being added to Linn-Mar schools this year to support students in math, literature and social-emotional learning, and provide peer-support for teachers.
Lisa Drinkall, who has taught at Linn-Mar for 13 years, is a math strategist at Wilkins Elementary School this year. Over the summer, Drinkall familiarized herself with grade level math standards, so she can jump right in and co-teach at every level this year.
“All I keep hearing is these kids have lost so much, they missed all this school, how will they ever get caught up?” Drinkall said.
“In my 13 years working here, my students made the biggest gains ever,” said Drinkall, who was teaching second grade at Wilkins last year.
“In the midst of hybrid learning and quarantine and all of it, we had the best academic success in my classroom because I cut out the fluff and focused on the priorities, and I know doing all those things made the difference in making it the best year ever.”
Drinkall hopes to help other educators continue that success with their students as a strategist by creating strong, core instruction over the next two years.
She is one of 14 teachers this year who are taking on these new positions as strategists in Linn-Mar schools working to provide additional academic support to students.
“Our best investment in schools is in people — quality educators working face to face with our students,” Linn-Mar Associate Superintendent Nathan Wear said. “As we started thinking through our response to COVID-19, we’ve been purposeful at Linn-Mar to think of this in terms of accelerated learning rather than remediation.”
Accelerated learning is “sprinkling in” learning standards throughout the year instead of trying to get students caught up on what they may have missed, Wear said.
Strategists are two-year positions being funded by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund. There are nine math strategists in K-6 schools, a literary strategist for grades seven and eight, a science teacher and two counselors.
Many of the strategists are internal hires — teachers who already have been working in the district. Their pay is similar to teachers, depending on where they stand on the pay scale.
When the funding runs out in two years, Wear said these strategists won’t lose their jobs, but their roles might change.
“If we can’t continue with this special source of funding, we can certainly retain teachers as we lose staff to retirements and resignations,” Wear said.
Wear said he doesn’t see the last 18 months since the pandemic started in March 2020 as a time of lost learning.
“I think that’s a disservice to our teachers,” he said. “We taught all last year — virtual, hybrid and in-person — and continued to provide instruction to kids. Our kids haven’t lost anything.”
Strategists will spend 70 percent of their day working with students. The rest of their time will be spent with other educators helping them write their lesson plans and providing professional learning. They will work with students in the classroom either one on one or in groups.
The district will monitor students’ progress through the Formative Assessment System for Teachers, which students take three times a year, and weekly progress monitoring.
Cheryl Read, a math strategist at Linn Grove Elementary School, expects to be in each grade level every day with students.
One unique feature about being a strategist is Read’s opportunity to get to know every student in the building, she said.
Of all the subjects she teaches as an elementary teacher, math is the one she enjoys the most, she said.
“Students have been away from school,” she said. “We have to take where they’re at and build them back up by having two strong teachers in the classroom, co-teaching, creating stronger lessons.”
Karla Ries, Linn-Mar elementary director of teaching and learning, has been working with strategists to prepare them for their new role this year.
"The majority of our students have continued to grow, and we want to ensure that continues to happen, so there are no gaps in math,“ Ries said. ”If a student needs support, now we have a lot more resources to provide that.“
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