Q&A: Department heads at Battle share hopes for school

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 9:15 a.m. CDT, Thursday, May 23, 2013

Katie Cox, head of language arts

What school are you coming from?

I am coming from Oakland Junior High School where I have been teaching for the past nine years and have been department chair for the last four. Before that, I was at Hickman High School for a year in the MU Teaching Fellowship Program.

Why did you want to teach at Battle High School?

Although I have been at Oakland for a while, I have always wanted to end up at a high school. When the district announced that Battle would be opening, I knew that’s where I wanted to be. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to open a high school/building/facility of this kind, and I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. I am so excited to help build a new school community with its own traditions and experience.

What kind of environment do you want to create in your classroom?

For the next two years, I will be mentoring Battle’s fellows through MU’s Teaching Fellowship Program, and I will not directly have my own classroom. I will be working for Battle and MU and as a mentor teacher.

Regardless of my slightly different role, I want all of Battle’s language arts classrooms to have high expectations, rigor and a sense of community. As a department, we will create this first by building relationships with our students and getting to know them as learners.

As grade-level professional learning communities, we will set goals in conjunction with our new curriculum (Common Core State Standards) and work together to create instruction that is meaningful for students in 2013 and beyond.

What do you want to do with your program?

I want to continue to work to incorporate the Common Core into our program. As this is a new curriculum, we are working as PLCs (professional learning communities) on instruction, lessons and assessments to address these standards.

We want students to learn the skills necessary to meet these standards in an engaged and effective way. We have always had these goals for our students, and will continue to work towards the success of every student.

Next year, we will be using Equal Opportunity Schools and AVID programs to help foster this community of success with all students.

What elements will your students cover?

The four main strands of our curriculum are reading, writing, speaking and language (grammar). Each grade level covers skills related to these strands to prepare students for post-secondary education. Language arts is important because it is all-encompassing. The skills that we learn in language arts transfer to and foster success in all other content areas.

Josephus Johnson, head of math

What school are you coming from? How long have you been there?

I've been at West Junior High School for my whole career, 10 years.

Why did you want to teach at Battle High school?

I wanted to be a part of something new. There have been so many decisions and choices at times, but it is a once-in-a-career opportunity to be a part of building something new.

What kind of environment do you want to create in your classroom?

I want to make my classroom a place where students are able to know what to do when they are presented with a new challenge. What do you do when you don't know what to do? I want to encourage my students to be inquisitive, persistent learners. This goal will require that I have a good supply of rich problems that can be accessible to students at various levels.  

What do you want to do with your program? 

I think that Battle will have the advantage of a cohesive staff. We are all excited to be here and have a shared vision of what we want this new community to be. Starting with a similar goal will be a huge positive influence.  

What elements will your students cover? What do you think is important about math?

I think that covering the elements in the right way are much more important than covering the right ones.  I am always frustrated when I hear people say that they never use anything they learn in math class — they're right, for the most part.

I know that most people will never use the quadratic formula or trigonometry, but if students have the right approach to problems they encounter, that is a skill they will use outside the halls of BHS. 

Marsha Tyson, head of science

What school are you coming from?

I’m coming from Oakland Junior High and I have been here for 16 years. I came here in 1997, and this is the only school I’ve ever been at. I have always taught science.

Why did you want to teach at Battle High School?

I think opening a new school brings new opportunities to shape a new building and also a new department. I was excited to be a part of that process. Battle is located very close to where I live so that made it easy.

But the cherry on top was when Dr. Presko was named leader. She is a very wonderful leader. That cemented my decision. It gave me an opportunity for leadership, and that came in the form of department chair for the science department.

What kind of environment do you want to create in your classroom?

The environment will encourage thinking and problem-solving. I encourage students to ask questions of me and of the content they are learning. I want to create an environment that will cover content relevant to the world — the inquiry processes where kids ask questions, interact with data collection, and make connections based on their findings.

I extend the learning outside the classroom a variety of ways. We look at the physics of driving.  Students go on a field trip to the university. They participate in Engineering Day, which highlights the science they are learning in the classroom and applies it to the real world.

I also have high expectations for technology. I am excited for students to utilize online resources and have technology in their hands as much as possible.

What do you want to do with your program?

Currently, we have new standards adopted in the next month. They are called Next Generation Science Standards. We are in the process of refining new curriculum to align with new standards, emphasizing problem-solving, scientific and engineering practices and the use of technology. I have to make some changes to meet the standards.

What elements will your students cover?

Units of study will be energy, waves, motion, uniform and accelerated motion, force and Newton’s laws, and momentum. We teach physics in ninth grade.

Physics is the foundation that all sciences are built upon. Science is going to be the means we solve many of our global problems, whether it is the energy crisis, climate change or dwindling water supplies. Our students will be the problem-solvers for the future.

We will relate waves to building construction and in earthquakes. In motion, we investigate objects moving at a constant rate as well as constant acceleration. We use tools called graphical analysis to analyze data. Ninth-graders use a higher level of thinking and understanding to connect concepts to graphs and equations.

In Newton’s laws and momentum, we get into the physics of driving, which is very applicable to them. This is when they are getting their permits. And across each unit we have problem-solving engineering challenges.

Susie Adams, head of social studies

What school are you coming from?

I’m coming from Jefferson Junior High School, where I’ve been for 16 years. I taught three years at Gentry Middle School. I have always taught social studies, but I was a guidance counselor for a period of time as well.

Why did you want to teach at Battle High School?

I applied for the department chair position. I thought it would be exciting to open a new school. I helped to open Gentry and that was a really exciting time. I specifically chose Battle because it was something new and different. I was excited about going in and establishing new traditions and ways of doing things.

What kind of environment do you want to create in your classroom?

I want to have very open communication. I want my kids to feel free to ask questions and continue to curious about the world. I always try to instill a love of history.

What do you want to do with your program?

I will have junior-level American history. I can go in more depth with the period of history I’m teaching. I have a much wider area I will be teaching, so that will be different for me.

What elements will your students cover?

I think it’s important to understand that world around us, and we do that through history. I want them to look at historical situations and not be judgmental. I want them to look at a situation from different perspectives and understand the situation based on that period of history. 

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