Read, Read, Read!!

Research shows that reading aloud with children is the single most important thing you can do to prepare a child for reading and learning. Read Aloud 15 MINUTES National Campaign promotes parents reading aloud to their children at least 15 minutes every day starting at birth. First Book and Read Aloud 15 MINUTES have created a 15-Title collection of books that are wonderful for reading aloud with very young children. See that list below in the PDF attached.


Parents are a child’s first and most important teacher. Begin your child’s journey of learning today!

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Are you looking for some gym space? Wanting to use a room or auditorium for your next meeting/gathering?
Check out the new online Facilities Scheduler. You’ll be able to see what’s available and know right away if your 1st choice is an option without waiting for a paper request or calling Deb.

Give it a try!

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PowerSchool Mobile App

mobile appFor those of you who are looking to use the PowerSchool Mobile App on your phone or tablet, there has been some struggle in getting the SPHX code to work.
Here are some directions to help you get past that issue:
The recommended approach for accessing PowerSchool for your district on the mobile app is through “Where’s my District Code?” link within the sign in screen in the mobile app. Please see the steps below.
From the mobile app, click Where’s my District Code.
On the menu that opens, click Enter Server Address.
In the Server Address box, for the Vinton-Shellsburg School District, enter the following:
Click continue.
A popup may ask if your District Location is in Canada, confirm No.
Login using your credentials.

To learn more about the PowerSchool Mobile App and how it can benefit you, you can learn about that here.


Please let me know if you have further questions.
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Mr. Murray- SAI Elementary Principal of the Year

Our district is pleased to share the news that Tilford elementary principal, Jim Murray, has been named the 2017 Iowa Elementary Principal of the Year by the School Administrators of Iowa.

There are about 650 elementary principals in Iowa. While this award is given by SAI, he was nominated by staff and parents from his building last spring. Some of the quotes from the nominations included:

Ø   “Mr. Murray leads by example and is continually seeking effective, engaging professional development for all staff. He attends our professional development as a learner and reinforces his learning to us by leading by example.”

Ø  “..has always held his employees to a very high standard of professionalism here at Tilford. How we dress, how we work with students and parents, the examples we set in our daily tasks have always been held to a very high standard.”

Ø  “…He takes the time for kids whether they are in trouble or earn reward time with him. If they are in trouble, he helps them work through whatever problem they are facing. He doesn’t accuse but helps them to tell the trouble about what happened and to make good decisions the next time a situation may occur.”

Ø  “I can sum up Mr. Murray’s leadership style in a simple sentence – He does what is best for kids.”

Vinton-Shellsburg is fortunate to have Mr. Murray as a part of our school-community.  He understands the commitment that it takes to be a school leader.  He has what it takes including a passion to not just say let’s do it for kids but the willingness and skills to actually put that passion into action. In particular, he understands the importance of having a positive climate and culture within his building and how it in turn impacts students’ success. I am grateful that Mr. Murray chooses to be a part of our district.


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VSCSD Curriculum Website

Vinton-Shellsburg Community School District has made a commitment to the Professional Learning Committee work with Dr. Rick and Dr. Becky DuFour, Mike Mattos, and other Solution Tree staff members. We have worked hard the last three years to answer the following questions:

1) What do we want kids to know and do?
2) How will we know they know it?
3) How will we respond if they already know it before instruction?
4) How will we respond if they don’t know it after I’ve instructed?

Teachers have reviewed the Iowa Core and have narrowed it down to what we consider “high priority” or “Essential Standards” that students at VS must know before leaving their classrooms to be successful at the next level.

This website is meant to be a comprehensive look at where Vinton-Shellsburg Community Schools is at with aligning curriculum and identifying “What kids should know and do” for each level in each content area. 

This website includes grade level/department end of year expectations for all students.

All information is subject to change as we continue our work to fine tune and strengthen our curriculums.

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Bank Iowa Traveling Cup

Bank Iowa has designed a program that recognizes Iowa High School students for academic excellence and outstanding achievements during state competitions.  The traveling cup challenge is a combined statewide, yearlong competition among member schools of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, Iowa High School Music Association, Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, and the Iowa High School Speech Association.  Points are rewarded for every activity in which a school reaches a state competition, advances in a state competition, receives a Division I rating, and earns academic recognition from the state associations.  A winner is determined for each of the four high school state classes.  Vinton-Shellsburg placed 7th for the 2015-16 school year among all 3A Iowa High Schools.  Good job Vinton-Shellsburg students and staff.

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Thoughts from the Superintendent- Attendance

My first posting about security seemed to be well received!  Thanks for those of you who gave feedback.

One of the things we are focusing on this year is attendance.  If kids have high rates of absenteeism, it is harder for them to make progress in their learning goals.  We can send materials and assignments home or students can make them up when they return but it is difficult to replace the interactions and activities that happen inside the classroom.  We have great teachers but it is difficult for them to teach kids who aren’t in class!

Attendance as a high school student is a strong predictor of on-the-job attendance as an adult.  Attendance as a middle school student is a strong predictor of attendance as a high school student.  Attendance as an elementary student is a strong predictor of attendance as a middle school student.  And attendance in kindergarten is a strong predictor of attendance throughout the rest of his/her school career!  This is why many of our efforts are focused on our kindergarten and other elementary students and encouraging their families to have consistent attendance at a young age.

Strong attendance is something that the school district and families need to work on together.  As a school, we need to make sure we offer a challenging curriculum with a positive climate.  We need to provide a safe school where students do not fear bullying or harassment (a future article).  We also need to establish consistent procedures and policies about truancy or absenteeism.  We work closely with the county attorney’s office but prior to that, we communicate our expectations, and we set up plans when students are struggling to have good attendance.  We also work with other partners in the community – the Vinton and Shellsburg Police Departments have assisted us in doing well-child checks or making home visits.  We have a system to notify parents when their child is absent.

Perhaps the most important thing we do?  We work to include parents in the process.  Parents’ influence is one of the most important facts in determining whether students attend school regularly.  We try to provide ideas, strategies, tools and other supports so parents can assist in getting their children to attend school regularly.

As we recognized the need to encourage better attendance, we realized we needed someone to be a part of the work across the district.  Molly Noren is based at Tilford but she supports attendance across the district.  She makes phone calls, meets with parents, and establishes partnerships across the district and community to assist with improving our students’ attendance.

The good news?  Overall, most of our students are in school consistently.  Last year, we had over 94% average daily attendance K-8 (it’s harder to calculate the HS’s numbers as we take attendance by period instead of by the ½ day).  The bad news?  We have too many students who are chronically absent with about 11% of our students missing 18 or more days last year!

As we enter the winter season which often brings more colds, strep infections or influenza, we want to make sure those who are sick and contagious stay home.  However, for the rest, we need to work to be at school!

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments about attendance…or anything else that has to do with the school district!


Mary Jo Hainstock

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Thoughts from the Superintendent- Student Safety

I’ve thought about starting to post “Thoughts from the Superintendent” for a long time but have been hesitant for several reasons.  While I’ve been hesitant, I finally decided I just need to try it for awhile and then evaluate!  Let me know what you think – you can e-mail me at with comments or questions!

Providing a safe and orderly learning environment is always important but lately it has taken a high priority in our work.  This has been because of several situations – there was the tragedy in Oregon at the college campus last week and again yesterday in Arizona, and then Anamosa’s recent challenges in communicating with parents during a lock-in.  It seemed like a good time to remind our parents and community about some of the things we have in place.

First, we take safety seriously.  We review our playgrounds, parking lots and other areas to make sure the areas are safe for our students, our staff and others.  We consider how schedules can be designed to provide for a safe and orderly environment.  Our bus routes are created to have as few turn-arounds as possible and as many right-hand turns (versus left-hand) as possible.  Our food service staff are trained on safe food handling techniques and do many temperature checks each day (and weekend) to make sure our food is safe.  Our custodians use chemicals and procedures that allow for cleanliness but also provide keeping our kids free from exposure of harmful elements.  There are very few decisions that don’t include the question, “Is this safe?”

Second, we have created safety plans.  These plans include how we would respond if someone has a medical emergency, fire, tornado and other situations that are fairly “typical”.  It also includes plans for situations that weren’t part of the plan several years ago – suspicious intruder, hostile invader, bomb threats, etc.  We do not share all of the plans with students, parents or community members.  We believe we need to keep some of the information more private in order to provide for our students’ and staffs’ safety in the event of an emergency.  We ask the question, “What could go wrong?” and then, “How can we be prepared?”

Third, we practice our response to emergencies.  Everyone has done fire drills and tornado drills for years and these drills are required by law.  We can evacuate buildings during our fire drills in about 1-2 minutes.  Most of our staff have had ALICE training (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) and several of our principals are certified ALICE instructors.  Because we are within a certain radius of the Palo Nuclear Center, we are part of area-wide practice drills in the event they would have an emergency situation.  We ask the questions, “What would we do?” and “Are we prepared?”

Fourth, we partner with other agencies.  Benton County Sheriff Department, Vinton Police, Shellsburg Police, North Benton Ambulance, local fire departments, first responders, and others have all been included in the development of our safety plans and all are included as a part of our response in emergency situations.  Our philosophy is that if something goes wrong, they would be involved so we want them involved in the preparation and planning.  They have all given generously of their time and attention to preparing for our students’ safety.  We ask the question, “Who has the knowledge and expertise to assist?”

Finally, we consider how we can best communicate with others.  This comes from the safety plans in each building.  There are signs posted in most rooms and areas that show how to respond in the event of a fire or tornado alarm.  We purchased software that we use to notify parents in emergency situations and our message and process would be similar to what we use with weather-related announcements – we would share what the situation is and how parents can respond.  We answer questions from parents and the community – although we refrain from sharing some of the specific details.

Do you have questions?  Please ask!  We want our parents to be comfortable and confident that we are providing a safe and orderly learning environment for their children.


Mary Jo Hainstock



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RTI… What’s that?

What is RTI?

Have you heard students talking about RTI? What in the world are they talking about? Well, wonder no more.

Vinton-Shellsburg Middle School began looking into the national initiative last year as a way to personalize learning for all students. RTI stands for “Response to Intervention” and one benefit of the initiative is to help students who are struggling. “I think it has become more than that at our school. I think what RTI means at VSMS is “Really Teaching Individuals,” said Kris Howes-Vonstein.

VSMS has thirty minutes each day where students receive focused skill work, assistance with class work, or select personalize learnings. Each day teachers help students to schedule their RTI for the following day. For example, if a group of students missed most of the questions on a standardized test about finding the main idea, those students will be assigned to work with a language teacher on that particular skill for a couple of weeks. Sometimes students are assigned to work with a teacher if they need to make up lab activities or complete assigned work. If students don’t have an assigned commitment, they get to choose what they want to learn about during RTI.

Choosing what you want to do during RTI provides students with a way to personalize their learning. If a student enjoys science, he or she might choose Science Articles, Animals without Backbones, Mars Pathfinder, Science Topics, or Nature Walk. If a student wants to learn more about social studies, he or she might sign up for Mummies, Iowa and the Civil War, Map Skill games, Interesting Facts about the Statue of Liberty, etc. Some choices require a commitment for several days so that topics can be thoroughly discussed.

A general study hall, a smaller (quieter) study hall and “homework center” are also options during RTI. Many students who are in both band and choir never have an assigned study hall. These students appreciate the chance to choose study hall when they know they might need extra time to complete work or study for a test. Students also sometimes choose study hall if they know they will be participating in an after school activity that will interfere with homework completion. Homework Center provides extremely guided help in homework completion with a nearly one to one ratio of teachers to student. Students may choose Homework Center or be assigned by a teacher for special help.

Remediation, acceleration and high interest learning are a few of the goals of RTI time at VSMS. Ask any middle school student what they learned in RTI this week, and find out more!


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About Shellsburg Elementary School

At Shellsburg Elementary we have a wonderful student population consisting of students from Pre-K thru 5th grade and serve students from Vinton and Shellsburg. At Shellsburg we focus on each individual student as a person with successful learning traits, habits, and attitudes. The Shellsburg staff helps assist each child to set and move toward personal and group goals.

Teachers at Shellsburg are committed to challenge and support student achievement. Opportunities for the students to reach their potential are given in a framework of enthusiasm, encouragement, differentiated instructions, and varied experiences. We also offer opportunities such as Title I, Special Education, and Extended Learning Program.

We are excited to work with and serve your child. We strongly believe in a strong home to school relationship. We strive to keep you informed and up to date with what is happening. If you have any questions please feel free to call or stop by. There are many opportunities for you to be involved or volunteer at the school as well!

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