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Pinnacle of success

By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– It could be a good experience getting sent to this principal’s office.
At least, Vicki Reynolds thinks so. A former teacher and elementary school principal in the public education system, Reynolds has opened Pinnacle Learning Center in North Liberty, a place where students can come for individualized programs and specialized instructors to supplement their regular education.
A 1974 University of Iowa graduate, Reynolds went on to earn a Master of Science degree in elementary education and reading, with an endorsement in administration. She has received training as a reading recovery teacher and in Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling, a research-based program that looks at gaps in phonics, comprehension or other reading issues. She taught in the classroom with a special focus in literacy, and spent 12 years as a school principal before she decided to transfer her education background to a private business.
“My favorite time as an administrator was to go into the classroom and work with kids,” said Reynolds. “I saw this as a perfect opportunity to use all of my training and skills to work one-on-one and in small groups with students so they can become proficient not only now, but down the road. Because we want them to be productive citizens and do well in whatever path they choose to follow.”
Pinnacle Learning– not a franchise but a unique entity Reynolds owns herself– serves students in kindergarten through 12th grade, in the areas of reading, writing, math and study skills– things like organization, time management, writing papers, note-taking and test-taking.
“It is a very individual program, so it is important for us to find out what the needs are specifically,” said Reynolds. A variety of assessments are used to determine student needs, but a more important exercise is talking with the kids and their families.
“We also want to find out what their strengths are, and what kind of learner they are,” Reynolds said. “Based on that, we would have a conference with the parent and student, and from there we would develop a program.”
Reynolds uses a questionnaire to get an idea of how each student learns best. A child could be an auditory learner, and learn best when someone explains directions verbally. A visual learner likes to see lessons or instructions demonstrated first. A tactile/kinesthetic learner might start with a hands-on component, and learn best when they can move letters, numbers or objects around.
“Sometimes kids have a combination of strengths and learning styles,” said Reynolds. “It’s not always going to be the way we teach, because students need experience the other ways of instruction as well.” The bright and cheerful learning center is well-appointed with a variety of materials, texts and technologies that match all kinds of learning styles.
And students or parents may seek out Pinnacle Learning Center for a variety of reasons.
“If a child seems to be struggling, it might not be evident exactly what the issue is, but a parent might see a change in attitude toward school. Sometimes schools identify that a student needs some extra help. Sometimes student themselves indicate they are having a hard time in a subject area,” she said.
Sessions are typically one hour, and Reynolds likes to see a student at least two times per week. Lessons might be conducted one-on-one or in a small group setting, depending on the students’ program. Generally, the learning center reviews materials students know or were recently taught, offers direct instruction in skills and then gives them practice time.
“Our goal, of course, is independent learning. So giving them opportunities for independent learning with some effective feedback from the tutors is important,” said Reynolds.
Reynolds uses the state’s Iowa Core Curriculum as a guideline for student programming.
“With the Iowa Core Curriculum, we know what the expectations are. I use that as a guiding tool so I can help parents understand what is expected of students. It helps us set goals for a student’s program that both the school and Pinnacle Learning Center can work toward,” Reynolds said.
Vocabulary and writing are always included in sessions, regardless of subject matter. Sessions generally end with a fun educational activity for the last few minutes. The center is conveniently open after school and evenings, with flexible weekend hours.
Reynolds encourages students and families to visit before making a commitment. During November and December, the learning center is offering free assessments. From there, Reynolds would have a conversation with parents before any programming is planned.
“It’s important to have parents involved and have their input to help set goals,” she said, as well as keeping them up-to-date on progress regularly, both formally and informally.
As an administrator, Reynolds said she gained a global view of pre-K through 12 education. And as a former schoolteacher and principal, she wholeheartedly supports public education.
“I want to support what is already being done in school. I think teachers are doing a great job. Sometimes students just need another strategy, or another tool in their too kits, another way to look at something. There is always more than one way to solve a problem. We explore different strategies that supplement what is being taught in school.”
Ultimately, schools and Pinnacle Learning share the ambition: student achievement.
“My goal is to see students succeed,” Reynolds said. “I have a passion for student learning. I want them to experience success, love to read and love school so they continue to be lifelong learners.”