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Her job: Oversee how kids learn, teachers teach

Jennifer Peterson, of the River Falls School District, replaces Mike Johnson in overseeing curriculum-related issues.

Jennifer Peterson’s mathematical background and organizational zeal seem like ideal traits for the position of school district academic services director.

Those skills were key reasons for her hiring six weeks ago.

The position calls for a person able to gauge and react to the streams of data that reveal not only how students perform but how well their teachers instruct them.

Peterson describes herself as meticulous and someone “who is a quick responder to meet any problems head on and early.”

She also stresses clear, concise communication for the district’s curriculum so that students, parents and teachers know exactly what each class is about, how the coursework will proceed, and what the “learning outcomes” will be.

Peterson said this approach gives focus and motivation for students to attain classroom mastery.

The 42-year-old Peterson grew up on a dairy farm in Shell Lake and graduated from high school there in 1989. A graduating classmate was Chris Blasius, now River Falls Chamber of Commerce CEO.

Peterson left her job as Spooner High School principal/district curriculum director to come to River Falls. While she liked being principal, she said it’s nice to concentrate on curriculum issues.

Peterson has been an assistant principal in Las Vegas, the administrative head of Washburn County’s alternative high school, and has taught math, including at Hudson High School (1994-97).

This summer Peterson, with a bachelor’s in math and a master’s in educational leadership, earned her superintendent’s certification. Her sights are set on someday becoming a school district superintendent.

Peterson said River Falls appealed to her because the district has rigorous academic standards and a progressive technology fused in its curriculum.

“I love being here and have felt very welcomed,” she said. “It feels like a good fit. I’ve been in all the buildings, and am excited to meet all the staff and to move forward with the new school year.”

Earlier this summer Peterson got involved at Westside Elementary School’s playground building project.

“I was able to work with Community Education Coordinator Monique Squire and a group of volunteers to work on laying the wood chips under the newly installed playground equipment at Westside,” she said. “What a great evening and having the opportunity to meet several community members and school volunteers.”

This school year, Peterson said parents and students will notice a ratcheting up of student assessments through testing.

Wisconsin is starting a new series of standardized tests in public schools. Depending on the grade level, the testing will either be done in fall (October/November) or spring (April/May) -- or, in some cases, both in fall and spring.

The tests will consume more classroom time and some testing, even for third graders, will be done online.

That means Peterson must make sure all schools have adequate materials and resources, plus maintain the same instructional pace so that student assessments are kept in sync.

Peterson is unfazed, saying, “I like juggling a lot of projects,”

This year more digital devices will distributed, with 7th and 8th graders using iPad Minis and 9th and 10th graders using Chromebooks.

Peterson said technological apps in education are of growing importance. She added that this is hardly a surprise.

“Students are such sponges when it comes to technology,” she said. “And they can also use what they pick up to share and teach each other.”

For the complete story, please see the Aug. 14 print edition of the River Falls Journal.