7-8 Teachers Acclimating Well After Move to Upper School

By Dustin Jensen

In January, North Lakes Academy went through a major change: it moved grades 7 and 8 to the Upper School building as part of a greater effort to bring the NLA community closer together. This was a major adjustment for students, but it was also a major adjustment for the 7-8 teachers – Forrest Florczak, Marcia Graetz, Dan Mendenhall, Lynda Nelson-Williams, Jeff Rapp, and Emily Thompson – had to pack up their classrooms and move across 35 as well.

According to most teachers, the transition went well.

“It went very smoothly,” said Thompson, who also added high school courses to her schedule in addition to the move; she now teaches 7-12 Spanish.

“It was mostly seamless,” Mendenhall said.

Multiple teachers went on to show appreciation for parents, staff, and others who helped.

“Staff and students have been supportive and welcoming,” Graetz said. “It was so helpful to have everyone help with the move too.”

All of the teachers felt that the best part about being at the Upper School was seeing former students.

“It’s good to reconnect with former students and interact with students I didn’t have in 7th and 8th grade,” Mendenhall said.

Graetz appreciates the Upper School culture.

“The culture is very inclusive and the students work very hard and are determined to be amazing adults,” she said.

When asking what the hardest part of the transition has been, most teachers agreed that “Creating a new routine” as Mr Florsak put it, has been one of the biggest struggles. 

As for their students, all of the teachers say that the middle school students are doing amazingly.

“[They] are thriving!” Graetz said.

There were understandably some parental concerns about bringing younger students over to what was, at the time, a high school-only environment. When asked what possible closure they could give to the parents who had concerns about the transition, Mendenhall comments, “I would encourage them to talk with their student(s) to get their perspective.  I haven’t heard anything but positive comments from the students.”

This is comforting, especially matched with Thompson’s response:

“I truly believe this was the best move.”

As with every big change, there is room for improvement. Most teachers agreed fine-tuning the schedule would be the best (and this is in the works for the 2024-25 school year). Graetz added that the school should focus on building career-focused opportunities for students

“[We should be] building community and business relationships and job training connections for students so they can better plan for becoming amazing working adults.”

Finally when asked what they are looking forward to for this school, all of the teachers commented on being excited to see the growth of the school and culture.

“I believe that moving to the elementary and secondary building model was a good move for our school. If we look around, we see that this is the most common model for charter schools. Now that we are settling in, I can see why. The Upper School students bring excitement and maturity, and the Middle School students get a glimpse of their future here at NLA. I can’t wait to see how this continues to impact us all!” Thompson said.

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