Educator of the Year puts needs of students first

By Mary Zielinski (free-lance)
Posted 6/17/99

Tina Hershberger, left, president of the Kalona Rotary Club, presents Mid-Prairie Middle School Principal Becky Furlong with an engraved plaque as Educator of the Year. At right is Phil Marner, …

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Educator of the Year puts needs of students first


Tina Hershberger, left, president of the Kalona Rotary Club, presents Mid-Prairie Middle School Principal Becky Furlong with an engraved plaque as Educator of the Year. At right is Phil Marner, chairman of the nominating committee who selected Furlong for the first time award.

Students come first for Mid-Prairie Middle School Principal Becky Furlong.

Which is why she has found the first year of the reorganized 6th-8th middle school “a positive experience.”

The new program has worked well for the students, although Furlong said “we need to put back in the seven-minute break in the morning.”

Furlong’s leadership and concern for students are among the qualities that led to her selection as the Kalona Rotary Club’s first Educator of the Year award.

“I was very surprised and very honored to be selected,” she said.

The key to the success in the Middle School’s program is its flex blocks scheduling, Furlong said, explaining that it provides flexibility on a daily basis.

“Staff meets daily and can decide how times will be allotted.”

The process “gives freedom in how students are grouped,” she said, explaining that grouping is “by interests and projects, not ability.”

As a result, subjects can be covered in greater depth and students have time to develop interests and projects.

“The scheduling gives an area the time it needs,” Furlong said.

She stressed that “planning time” is very important and that it has resulted in a successful program.

Of course, creating a sense of community within the school hasn’t hurt, either.


In fact, the teamwork and planning is largely responsible for the school’s winning a Technology Literacy Challenge Fund Grant in the amount of $40,000.

The 7th grade team, consisting of Christopher Soldat, Laura Conaway, Diane Allen, Jeff Murphy and Audrey Nissley wrote the proposal that centers on using Image Processing and Geographical Information Systems integrated across the 7th grade curriculum. The grant will pay for staff training in technology as well as provide funding to buy an additional ten computers and supporting hardware. The computer will be in the school’s media center.

The school is one of 67 who received grants.

With the board expressing concerns about student violence in the wake of the nationwide outbreaks, how does she see the issue?

“There are preventive steps,” she said, starting with recognizing that a student may have problems.

“With the SSRW groups that meet each day, a teacher sees a student daily,” she said, noting that the groups have discussed violence and similar concerns.

The school counselor also works with students regularly and “I believe in parental involvement early on.”

Even more, the school can draw upon the resources of the Grant Wood Area Education Agency.

But nothing replaces communication, Furlong stressed.

“You need to talk to students,” noting that the Middle School students “are still brutally honest,” something she appreciates.

The school has a harassment policy, she said, noting that once a student has a compliant, it is investigated.

The message, she said, is that

harassment will not be tolerated.”

What is important, Furlong said, is that students know what the school policies are, that they are informed from the first day and know what is expected of them and what the consequences are.

If there were no budget problems, what would she want to add to the school?

“An additional program for At-Risk students, for those are not successful in school, generally because they don’t get their work done.” she replied.

“We would have an after-school program added, one that would offer activities, as well as instruction,” making it clear that the program would offer “fun” as well as “facts.”

She also would increase supplies, all the things from resource materials to books.

“But the key is always staff. I believe the school has an excellent staff. The transition from the junior high to the middle school and to the flex block went very smoothly because of that staff.”

However, as she told the Mid-Prairie Board of Education Monday, “we evaluate constantly. We are a work in progress.”


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