By Marcy Stamper
It’s musical desks and chairs in the Methow Valley School District, with teachers switching not only between the elementary and high schools, but one also going as far as India.
The district will have three classes in kindergarten through third grade next year, thanks to additional funding from the state to reduce class sizes in those grades, according to Methow Valley School District Superintendent Tom Venable. Other changes are the result of retirements, some are promotions, and some are a chance for staff to use another aspect of their professional training.
To accommodate the extra classes, the district has juggled teachers. Kindergarten teachers Libby Foley and Joan Stluka will both be full-time next year. Maggie Wickens, who completed her student teaching at Methow Valley Elementary two years ago and filled in in the first- and second-grade multi-age classroom last year, will teach the third kindergarten class.
Cara Christensen will move to first grade from a job-sharing spot as a kindergarten teacher. Long-time kindergarten teacher Meridith Dufresne will also move to first grade. They join Amanda Armbrust, who’s been teaching first grade for many years.
Former kindergarten teacher Hana Baker will teach second grade, joining Jonathan Stratman and Katie Hover. Third- and fourth-grade teachers remain the same.
The district is still looking for someone to join Jennifer Duguay in fifth grade. Former fifth-grade teacher Catie Barber will become the integration/media specialist at the elementary school library, replacing Donna Leuschen, who retired last year after 20 years with the district. As integration/media specialist, Barber will work with classroom teachers and make the library “the hub of inquiry-based learning,” said Venable. Inquiry-based learning is a key concept in the district’s International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
Kelly Wiest, who has taught reading and several elementary grades in the Methow for 15 years, has taken a leave of absence to teach at an IB school in Mumbai, India. Carrie Fink, who’s taught math at Liberty Bell for 21 years, is moving to sixth grade to take Wiest’s spot, where she joins Tyler Slostad.
Keri Miles, who taught first grade at Methow Valley Elementary, is taking her skills to Liberty Bell, where she’ll teach math and robotics to seventh- and eighth-graders, replacing Fink.
The district has hired Matt Hinckley to teach science at Liberty Bell. Hinckley has taught science, physics and environmental science in junior high and high school for 13 years in Seattle and in Berkeley, California. Hinckley, who grew up hiking in the Cascades, is committed to outdoor field-science education as a way of helping students discover their passion for the natural world.
Hinckley replaces long-time science teacher Lisa Monahan, who has taken a post as a science coach with the North Central Educational Service District, where she’ll work with kindergarten through 12th-grade classes throughout the region.
Liberty Bell art teacher Robin Nelson Wicks has accepted a position in a career and technical education program in Spokane. The district has hired Erik Brooks to take her spot.
Brooks is well known in the valley and beyond for his 28 illustrated children’s books and his Harts Pass comic strip in the Methow Valley News. He also works in other art mediums, including watercolor, colored pencil, acrylic and digital, and as a graphic designer.
Brooks has taught in schools and libraries around the country, including at the Young Writers’ Conference at Methow Valley Elementary. He has coached cross-country and track at Liberty Bell for several years.
The district has hired Tracie Powney as the new counselor at Methow Valley Elementary. Powney comes from the Nova School in Olympia. She is also a licensed therapist who works with clients in a wide range of ages.
Deborah DeKalb, whose two-decade career with the district includes serving as Liberty Bell and Independent Learning Center principal for the past dozen years, announced her intention to retire at the end of the coming school year. The district is already getting inquiries from qualified candidates, said Venable.
Michael Wilbur, who’s taught at the Methow Valley Community School and completed his student teaching at Liberty Bell, is joining the staff as the new sports and activities director. He has volunteered with the school’s baseball team for a decade and has been head coach for the past three years. Wilbur is also a certified sports performance coach.
Students will also find changes in school buildings. The district has almost completed the renovation of the Lion’s Den, the weight and conditioning center at Liberty Bell, which will replace the outdated workout room with new exercise bikes, workout equipment and weights. The upgrade was made possible by the voter-approved facilities-improvement levy.
The district has installed an air-quality monitor, which will provide live, up-to-the-minute information about air quality and will connect with online maps. The sensor will be used by school staff to make decisions about athletics and other outdoor activities. It will also furnish an opportunity for student science projects. The monitor was provided by the Methow Valley Clean Air Project and funded by the Methow Valley Fund of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington.
The district is still recruiting for a fifth-grade teacher and for a speech pathologist.