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October 17th, 2019

joel applegateELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


There have been several changes throughout USD 480 and the most recent change was announced in the district’s administration. 

USD 480 recently announced Joel Applegate is taking over the post of director of secondary education for the district. Applegate started in the position at the end of September and so far, everything is going very well. 

“Everything's new, so everything's great. The administration's been very helpful and so great so far as far as letting me know where everything stands right now and what the goals are,” Applegate said. “Like with the redesign, we talked about what's being worked on with the social-emotional aspect of everything and what's been put in place to help with some of that. We also talked about scheduling and how that flexibility works and how the students have charge of their learning. Coming back to Kansas, it's really different and gives you a loose but structured way of doing things – as in 'Here are the goals and here's what needs to be done, but every building will probably be different in getting to that point.' There's a structure there, but the buildings have some leeway in how they get to the final point. Right now it's been interesting hearing from teachers and there's been a lot of me saying something along the lines of 'You're doing this THAT way? That's great! How does it work?' and I'm working to familiarize myself with the process of everything. And of course we want students to look beyond just the here and now and push them toward achieving what they want, and there's a great level of civic engagement from everyone, it's great seeing the students being so involved in the community and working toward making Liberal great. We want to build the students to be doing that because we know it will benefit them as time goes on.”

Applegate also talked about some of the duties associated with his position. 

“I'm in charge of administrative aspects of secondary education, and I also work with counselors, social workers and others in those staffs,” Applegate said. “I also deal with curriculum and instruction, and that includes everything from career and technical education to music and art, so I'll be looking at those standards and aligning curriculum. There's really a lot that falls under my umbrella but I work with a lot of people, so there's a lot of teamwork involved as well. Especially with the redesign work that's going on, there's trainings and materials and those things I'm familiarizing myself with so I can provide the best advice and information I can.”

In the short time he has been working with USD 480, Applegate said there are several things he is already picking up. 

“Something major I've noticed is how there's a lot of ownership on the part of the students as far as where they want to be, and they're working on finding measurable ways of looking at all of that,” Applegate said. “I think it's really important that as these students get to high school, there's that maturity aspect and they're taking on that leadership role for themselves as far as where they want to be and what they want to do, which I think is great because before everyone knows it, you're off to college and away from your parents and that sort of structure, so it's great how they're taking charge of their learning. I also love the civic engagement from the schools and how they decide what they're going to be doing. I also enjoy the social-emotion aspect of it all where they have a homeroom area at the beginning of the day and ultimately, that homeroom class becomes almost like your family. And there's also the benefit of the camaraderie between students and teachers, and those are good for students to have so if they do encounter some blips along the way, they know there is someone to talk to and give that guidance. There's been that change in the atmosphere and culture, and overall, there are just a lot of great things going on.”

Applegate added he has been surrounded by educators for the majority of his life, sparking his own interest in the field. 

“My sister is a middle school teacher, my father was a teacher for 41 years, my mom was a high school teacher for 35 years, my grandfather was a superintendent for a school district. So I've really grown up around the field and I've had educators around me basically all my life,” Applegate said. “What makes teaching so awesome is that camaraderie that forms with other teachers as well as with your students, so that's what pushed me into the education field, which I've been in for several years now. I've been involved in different parts of the field from the elementary side all the way to the post-secondary side. Having that opportunity to help someone better themselves and get an education and seeing them excited about what they accomplish, I've always like that because that means you've been able to do something to helpful and do something great for someone else. Seeing all of that progress is always a great feeling.”

There are several goals Applegate said he would like to see happen during his time with the district.

“First thing, I need to familiarize myself with all this redesign work so I know exactly what's going on and I'm looking forward to all of that because I'm interested in learning about what we do for CTE and what some of our district's partnerships are like throughout the community with all of that because those need to be really strong for our students so they're ready when they get out in the world,” Applegate said. “I especially like the project-based learning that's going on because that's a true application of what they're learning about and that's great because then they'll actually be able to perform tasks instead of just knowing what they are – if you go to a surgeon, you want them to be able to actually do the procedure instead of them having just read about it while in school.”

Overall, Applegate said, he wants to help students be ready to enter the world after finishing with USD 480. 

“The secondary education age group is always great to work with because at that point is when educators want to help their students be 'completers' and finish everything out,” Applegate said. “My goal was to have my students be college and career ready, whether it's by getting a certification in something or going on to a four-year university, whatever their path happens to be. No matter what their path happens to be, they need to be ready out in the world to have a career in something as opposed to just jumping from job to job because ultimately, that's not stable and that's not the way someone should have to go through life. But when you decide on a path and work to be successful and get all the certification and everything, that's when you'll be successful. I also want the community to know USD 480 is doing some wonderful things and we're striving toward all of the goals that have been set and we want that to go beyond test scores. And that's huge for both the students and their potential employers because the employers will know those students have the needed skills when they get into the workforce. USD 480 is doing wonderful things, there's great staff doing great work, and I'm glad to be part of the team.”

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