Staff preps for start of new year

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Staff preps for start of new yearAdministrators and teachers collaborate in a series of professional development workshops this week. — Photo by Laura Austin


With the start of the new school year just days away, Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Ernie Bell reflected on the challenges and opportunities that are shaping the landscape.

“There is so much coming up that we are excited about,” said Bell.

Now that years-long construction projects are finally wrapping up, and a new contract is in place between the district and its teachers, SSUSD is focusing on the professional development that Bell believes will greatly benefit the classroom environment and student achievement.

“There are a lot of important factors that go into facilitating student achievement, but this year we are really looking forward to some of the ways we will be able to focus on instruction.”

Bell said that broad research identifies classroom management as one of the most important aspects of student learning. That was also identified as a district-wide need, he said, and administrators were able to work with teachers to create “coaching” positions to provide some of the training that can help refine those skills particularly in new teachers.

In addition to those dedicated positions, faculty across the district are participating in professional development workshops this week — and throughout the year — to provide support and strategies for some of the challenges facing teachers.

“When you have classroom organization in place, you have a greater ability to focus on engaging with students on an individual level — which is always a challenge. But all of us have gained useful tools through this training.”

Bell said that Michelle Savko, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, has been working with staff to evaluate student performances to inform strategies for improvement.

With the help of a grant, and in collaboration with the Kern County superintendent of schools, Sierra Sands is implementing “Multi-Tiered Systems of Support.”

“MTSS is the practice of providing high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student need,” said Bell. “Student progress is monitored frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals, and we are working to apply child response data to make important educational decisions.

“Each and every year, our staff is recognized for award-winning achievement. Their dedication and commitment to our schools and this community are absolutely incredible. I know I say this every year, but it’s because it’s true.”

Bell said that this year will also see several changes at the administrative level. John Cosner is leaving his position as vice principal at Murray Middle School to take the helm at Pierce Elementary School. Jessica Kurtz will be taking his place at Murray.

Mike Kennedy will be the new principal at Inyokern Elementary School. Former Inyokern Principal Bev Ewbank will be taking the lead at Monroe Middle School, and Amy Self will be her new VP.

“Both of these ladies are former teachers at Monroe, and are very excited to be working together this year,” said Bell.

In addition to the numerous athletic teams, elective classes and extracurricular activities that have resumed regular schedules in the last few weeks, individual school sites have also started holding socials and orientations to welcome new and returning students and their families.

“Education is a lifestyle for our teachers. Many of them continue to devote their summers to the programs they teach, even though they are not required to,” said Bell.

“I hope that our staff members enjoy their well-deserved summers off, but I know that teaching is something they carry with them all year long. Our students, and our community, are fortunate to have this legacy of outstanding teaching in our district.”

School starts Tuesday, Aug. 14. For additional information, see

Story First Published: 2018-08-10