By mid-morning Monday, a steady flow of Rancier Middle School teachers were hunting for specific grade- level teachers at Peebles Elementary School to complete their Amazing Race scavenger hunt. Peebles campus instructional specialist Shalikina Weeden helps point the way.

KISD staff returns to campuses, prepares for new school year

By Todd Martin

Special to the Daily Herald

Urging creativity and teamwork, a new principal guided her teaching staff through an amazing race Monday for a memorable start to the new school year.

Killeen Independent School District campus staff members returned to school one week before students arrive next Monday.

At Rancier Middle School, staff members didn’t spend a lot of time in classrooms because their new principal, Amanda Silkett, was intent on challenging her staff to work together to achieve a goal.

Teachers divided into teams, created banners with team names and then raced through six stops in Killeen and Harker Heights, following clues and completing tasks.

The first stop, made “to understand our roots,” sent teams to neighboring Peebles Elementary School, a school that feeds students into Rancier’s attendance zone.

Teams also made two house stops, visiting their own students and former students in neighborhoods around Rancier Middle School.

They also visited two Killeen ISD central office sites, where they pored over student achievement data and cut out cardboard shapes for classroom use. They ended the hunt at Cookie Addiction, where each educator decorated a cookie.

AVID teacher Kim DeWees said of the 23 first days of school she has experienced, Monday was the best.

Teachers expect to return to workshops and lots of sitting and listening to presentations about rules and procedures, she said.

“Today, we got to move around and even got to see some of our students.”

“It was nice to spend the time with colleagues,” said second-grade teacher Anna Foster, starting her second year of teaching. She said during the school year, teachers seldom sit and talk about topics other than academics and students.

“I realized I didn’t know the (rewritten) school song,” DeWees said. One of the stops required teachers to sing the song.

Rancier’s assistant principal, Colette Torres, suggested having a scavenger hunt to highlight teachers’ first day back. She said she wanted teachers to get into neighborhoods and see the spectrum of students the school serves.

Silkett used the activity to urge teachers to think about instruction and achievement.

In some ways, she said, a school year is a series of relays and requires teachers and other staff to exhibit stamina, drive and purpose to reach academic goals.

“I knew they would learn more (in the scavenger hunt) than they would sitting in professional development,” she said.

Teachers often hear in education circles about the importance of engaging students in quality learning. Silkett said she wanted to exercise that idea with her staff — “get them out of their seats and into the lesson,” she said.

“We can see she will help us come together as a team,” teacher Cheryl Samples said. “It will take us all to achieve exemplary (the highest rating in the state’s accountability system), and we’re looking forward to it.”

Elsewhere in KISD, Cedar Valley Elementary School Principal Jan Peronto handed out bright yellow shirts displaying the school’s theme for the year: 212 degrees.

Popularized in a leadership book by Sam Parker, the theme is based on the fact that at 211 degrees, water is hot, but one degree hotter makes it boil, producing steam that can drive a locomotive.

Cedar Valley, Peronto said, has always produced high-achieving students, but this year, she challenged her staff to turn up the heat to achieve even better results.