The Belle Plaine School District is welcoming four new teachers, seven new staff members and a new principal.
The new hires are stepping in to fill the roles left empty mostly by retiring education veterans, according to Superintendent Ryan Laager, who said he couldn’t be more thrilled with the new lot.
“They’re incredibly talented people,” Laager said hours after the annual full staff meeting at Oak Crest Elementary on Tuesday, August 20, that welcomed Belle Plaine’s faculty and staff members back to school.
The new additions vary widely in professional and geographic background. Claire Otto, who joins the district as a social worker at Oak Crest Elementary, hails from Belle Plaine. Abby Merlis, the new art instructor at the junior/senior high school levels, has a background in architectural design. Newly hired Oak Crest Principal Ben Tressel has had past success with integrating technology into curricula, Laager said.
The new hires come on at a time in which the district is redoubling efforts to ensure the best environment for students’ mental health, Laager added.
Amy McAulay, who will work in the high school as a counselor along with a full-time mental health therapist the school plans to enlist, will be in the heart of that reinvigorated focus.
In addition to staff members, pushes for integrating social-emotional learning programs, like “Move This World” at the high school, are setting up a school year that Laager hopes students will thrive in.
“We started last year looking at a systematic approach to mental health,” Laager said.
Laager added that not many teachers left and stated that is a sign for a healthy district.
“I think one of the positives is that we had very little turnover,” Laager said. “If you can do that, that only adds to the strength of your district.”
The new teachers are Kyle Krueger, junior/senior health and physical education and developmental adaptive phys. ed.; Renee Dauk-Blees, Oak Crest art; Abby Merlis, junior/senior art; and Rita Iverson, ECFE/parent education.
New administrative and support staff include Sara Hayes, Oak Crest administrative assistant; Barb Fisel, media center paraprofessional; Amy McAulay, junior/senior high school counselor; Claire Otto, Oak Crest social worker; Angie Hoff, occupational therapist; Micayla Shea, special education paraprofessional; and Lindsay Foster, early childhood paraprofessional.
Ben Tressel joins the district as the new principal at Oak Crest Elementary School.