Monday, March 11, 2019

All the March Board News

Admittedly, the Board agenda for tonight's  meeting was a little bit longer than what we normally publish, but we were able to get through the agenda in a reasonable amount of time and also have our work session.

Mrs. Spiegel, the Director of Early Childhood & Extended Learning, provided an administrative report on the expansion of our preschool program over the past three years. We have more than doubled our enrollment since 2016-2017. We are now serving 105 children and it is estimated there are more children in the area that are not being served by area preschools.  She also presented information about the different assessments that are used, ECERS (a type of program evaluation standard tool), curriculum changes, and the implementation of PBIS at the early childhood level.  Mrs. Spiegel also presented the preschool handbook and requested additional instructional resources. Both requests were approved as presented.

Our Business Manager, Mrs. Ruzek, presented an overview of the district's budget planning process. You can view her presentation here.  I appreciate the time Mrs. Ruzek took to prepare this presentation as planning the budget is a lengthy and involved process. The Board approved the 101% budget guarantee resolution which will help us move forward. The budget guarantee provides a buffer for district's that have had a decline in enrollment and fills in the funding gap for a one year a period. The next step is to publish the budget, hold a public hearing, and have it approved at the next meeting.  It is anticipated the levy will decrease to $14.60.

The consent agenda was approved as presented.

School Calendar was approved for the 2019-2020 school year after the hearing was held.

We are continuing to move forward with our facility planning process.  Our contract with DLR was amended at the meeting to include prebond planning services, additions, and renovation work.  There were also bids approved for carpet in the high school library (Sheridan Decorating, $9078.30) and the K-8 building (Cabinets by Stac, $59,232.00).  The Board also authorized purchasing two riding mowers from Vetter Equipment ($20,800.00) and new fitness equipment ($16,961.00) for the weight room.  I am pleased the Activity Boosters agreed to pay for $5,000.00 toward the fitness equipment. I appreciate their ongoing support, it makes a difference in what we can do for our students.

After some discussion, the Board agreed to support the addition of soccer (intramural) and dance team at the high school. Middle school cheerleading was also approved. This proposal came from the high school after they survey their students about activities they are interested in participating in that are not currently available.  Most of the Hawkeye 10 schools have soccer as a competitive sport. This is something we may consider as a future option for our students.

The Board also approved the addition of three "zero-hour" or early morning classes.  These include options for Agriculture, Industrial Arts, and Weights.  Adding the additional sections will allow students more flexibility with their schedules and allow them to take more courses in career technical education areas and fitness without having to "give up" or make as many choices about other curriculum options.

There was a work session after the Board meeting tonight.  This work session was scheduled for the Board to discuss the sharing committee's update on sharing agreements with other districts.  Adam Van Der Vliet provided an overview of the steps the District has taken in response to the request for information from Essex about whole grade sharing. He shared with the Board that in addition to the information that was provided to Essex, I have also met with Mr. Croghan and his leadership team to discuss options and tour the campus.  I had arranged for the sharing committee to tour the facility last week, but the tour was canceled due to the weather and has not been rescheduled.

There have been different rumors and incorrect information about the District's intent to work with Essex that the committee has tried to respond to by making some personal contacts and using social media.  Tonight was the first time the full Board was able to discuss this matter in an open meeting.  I was very pleased the Board members discussed and expressed a consistent message that they have a desire to work with Essex to create a long-range plan that is cohesive, consistent and beneficial to students. There is nothing further Shenandoah CSD can do at this time without an invitation from Essex to do so.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Forming a Partnership with Pella

Mr. Shaffer and I participated in a multi-day planning session this week with Pella business leaders and staff members to consider how Shenandoah High School and Pella can develop a partnership to provide a seamless transition for students as they transition from school to work. This experience was an excellent opportunity to learn from each other, stretch our thinking, grow new ideas, and build upon the strengths of both the District and Pella.

The result of our conversation was to develop a plan of how we can work together to add course options that will introduce students to manufacturing with the support of staff from Pella, transition them into Career Technical Education (CTE) courses in woods, allow the students to participate in an internship and mentor them into full-time employment.  We also considered ways we could introduce students to manufacturing and CTE at a younger age by working with Pella to sponsor some of our afterschool and summer interest camps. 

This is exciting and motivational work as it ties directly into meeting a District goal to expand curriculum and access to CTE programs that are aligned with post-secondary learning opportunities and certification programs.  Developing this partnership will be an important focus for the District because we know and understand when schools, business, and communities work together it is good for our students and powerful things happen that are a benefit to everyone.

Thank you for the invitation, Pella. We are better for having spent time working together.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Working Together with Essex

In recent weeks I have been asked several times about how Shenandoah might respond to the recent announcements that were made about the Essex school district at a public meeting.  I have tried to be careful to not assume too much or make statements that I cannot validate, but I do believe I can share some information today that will help provide some insight.

Essex held a public meeting to share information about their financial circumstance and talk about the need to consider whole grade sharing in 2020-2021.  At this meeting, they asked for input about which schools the patrons of the Essex district would like to consider as a whole grade sharing partner.  Naturally, Shenandoah was one of those options as it has a contiguous border and is only 6 miles from Essex. Clarinda, Red Oak, and Stanton are other districts that are being considered.

On February 1st, I received an email request for information about the Shenandoah district specifically asking about:

Student performance on the Iowa Assessments for the past 5 years;
What extracurricular  programs are available; and
What type of sharing would our district be willing to consider with Essex? If it was whole grade  sharing would it be K-12, 7-12, or 9-12? and Is there other sharing options we would like to consider?

These are all valid questions and are good think about as districts look to whole grade share or partner with other districts.   In response, the district provided the information requested and some additional information about the district in video format.  The videos create a visual and make a connection that is difficult to achieve through written documents.

Shenandoah has responded verbally and in writing that we have a strong interest in working together to develop a cohesive and consistent long-range plan the would potentially lead to full consolidation.  Knowing this is a very bold response on the part of both districts, we are open to considering 7-12 whole grade sharing inclusive of all activities as an initial step and good faith action.   We would also consider a k-12 whole grade sharing solution. 

Other possibilities include giving consideration to operational sharing of some of our administrative services such as what we currently do with South Page and the Shenandoah Business Office.

I should further clarify these are not the only options Shenandoah is willing to discuss or consider. When Jean Fitcher and I met with Paul Croghan and Tyler Johnson we expressed strong interest in working with Essex in a collaborative manner and would be open to discussing a wide range of options as long as it is cohesive, consistent and long range in nature.  While consolidation is a desirable outcome at some point in the future, we did not suggest or specify a timeline in which any action towards this would be expected.  Consolidation is possible at some point, but if whole grade sharing is sustainable we would consider that a viable solution to continue until it is not financially feasible to continue. 

Different people have asked what would happen to the Essex facilities.  We do not know the complete answer to this question.  If we were to whole grade share 7-12, Essex would be able to continue their elementary program in their existing building.  It may be possible to consider sharing gym space or other components of the facility or programs.  To answer some of these questions we need to be able to work in collaboration with Essex to further understand what is available and desirable so we can find common ground to build upon as decisions are made that are in the best interest of all of our students. 

I appreciate Essex’s request for information and invitation to have an initial conversation.  It is our hope that the information provided and the conversations held will serve as a foundation for future collaboration between our schools and communities.  It is my belief that if we continue to work with Essex in a collaborative manner we will be able to provide greater learning opportunities for our students in both districts.  It is good for students, schools, and communities when we make good faith efforts to do so.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

An Update on the Board Meeting

There were several great topics on the Board agenda on Monday evening. 

One of the administrative reports was about the district profile that is being created to share more about the Shenandoah CSD with the community and at the request of Essex.  There were several videos that were viewed that will be showcased on social media and we will also share with Essex. 

Here are two videos that were shared last night. The rest will be on the district website.

I was very pleased the Board approved the addition of the .25 FTE Business/Technology position for the 2019-2020 school year. This will allow us to expand the current program and add additional courses in these areas. This is good for our students! 

All of the normal financial reports, personnel reports, and other consent agenda items were approved.  This did include a list of people who have accepted the retirement incentive including Becky Sturm, Cindy Novinger, Ellen Christensen, Kent Schubert, Marcia Armstrong, Renee Kettwick, Marcia Johnson, and Dennis Rogers. There are great staff members on this list. They have given a lot to the district and they will be missed.  

The Negotiations process has started.  Both SEA and SSA+ presented their opening proposals to the board. Additionally, the Support Staff Handbook and Licensed Teacher Personnel Handbook were approved by the Board last night.    

The Board approved the purchase of a new suburban from Doug Meyer Chevrolet for $46,550.  It was the lowest bid and was also a local business.  I was pleased to see this as it is important to support local businesses in the community when we have the opportunity to do so. Strong communities, businesses, and schools grow together.  The Board also discussed the need to purchase two new buses.

Two important committees were appointed at the meeting.  The Board appointed a committee to discuss sharing agreements for operations and programs.  Jean Fichter and Adam Van Der Vliet will serve on this committee.  Additionally, the Board approved a facility committee that includes community members and some staff.  There will be some additional members added to the group as needed to support the work of the committee.  Those named included Dean Adkins, Jon Finn, Chelsie Green, Dennis Grebert, Lisa Langenberg, Sarah F. Martin, Jeff Miller, Ryan O'Rourke, Jason Rystrom, Benne Rogers, Brett Roberts, Jay Sweet, and Chad Tiemeyer.  The staff will serve as ad hoc members of the committee.   I am very thankful each of these individuals has agreed to serve in this role. They will be charged with an important task to make a recommendation on new construction the district is considering.  This will be good work.

It was a good meeting and I am pleased with the work that was accomplished.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Coffee with Friends and Iowa Legislators

This morning I had the pleasure of meeting with several of Shenandoah's community leaders at a legislative coffee held downtown. I sincerely appreciate Senator Costello and Representative Dolecheck joining us this morning to spend time talking about the work they are doing on behalf of Southwest Iowa and openly answering questions from the audience. It is always interesting to attend these coffees because you hear different voices from the community advocating for want is important from their perspective. It is good to consider their thinking and recognize that there are many needs represented in the room.

Extending Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) is a considerable concern for me; I have written about this before in a blog I wrote this summer about legislative priorities.  I appreciate there is momentum to see that SAVE is extended until 2051. If this HSB 18 passes and also passes the Senate, it will help schools across Iowa continue to ensure facilities are cared for and well maintained.  SAVE generates approximately $980,000 in revenue for Shenandoah CSD.  These funds are foundational for the district. The funds are used to pay the debt on the existing elementary and middle school building, take care of more substantial infrastructure needs related to facilities and technology, replace equipment, and will be necessary to support the repairs that are planned for the high school.  These are critical funds for Iowa schools as they are used to ensure that facilities are cared for and well maintained.

I appreciate Senator Costello and Representative Dolecheck's support of the SAVE extension.  I do have some concerns about some of the additional language in the bill that I was able to ask about today.  There are some new restrictions related to athletic facilities, school safety and career academies that are important and likely right to consider.  I question the need for them in this particular bill. I would advocate that SAVE needs to be extended on its good general merit and school safety and career academies should be separate legislation.  I do believe extending SAVE to 2051 is the right decision with or without the additional language in the bill.

There were other topics discussed this morning including local option sales tax on internet sales, the impact of finding workers when there are low unemployment rates, the support for home rule for Iowa schools, concerns expressed about sustaining rural hospitals and a few others.  These were good discussions for our community to have with our area legislators. I am looking forward to meeting again next month.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Board News...

The first meeting of the year for the Shenandoah CSD school board was Monday, January 14th.  We listened to a terrific board presentation by Mrs. Skillern and her students who participate in her robotics class at the High School.  This presentation was a great way to start the year with the board as it all about great teaching and learning.  It also ties directly to one of our board goals and priorities which is to expand STEM literacy for all students.

STEM learning is becoming a strong part of the district's curriculum. We are continually looking for ways to embed STEM learning across all
aspects of the curriculum and to provide more extended learning opportunities with a STEM focus for students that will provide deeper levels of understanding in these areas. You may want to look for STEM opportunities when you sign up your student up for afterschool camps and summer programs provided by the district. It is a great way to for students to dig in and participating in hands-on learning, be creative, and strengthen their knowledge and skills in this area.  As a side note, I am very pleased there is a new club starting in the Shenandoah community called Girls Who Code.  Bekkah Lyman, the group leader, lives in Shenandoah and has a strong background in this area. She will be an excellent mentor for girls who are interested in coding and technology-related fields of work.

There was a great audience in attendance at the board meeting.  This was in part due to the student presentation and also due to the action item on the agenda related to the retirement incentive that is being offered this spring. Up to 10 members of our staff will be able to retire and receive a financial incentive from the district to do so.  I was quite pleased the board unanimously approved the retirement incentive recommendation.  It is a nice recognition and reward for some of our staff members who have served the district long term. It will also be beneficial for the district from a financial perspective.

There were several consent agenda items and contracts that were approved at the meeting as well.  The board did approve the district's request for the At-Risk/Dropout Prevention service plan and Modified Supplemental Amount ($261,868). The lights at the football field were on the agenda as a discussion item.  Mr. Roger's shared the projected cost of replacing the lights is $230,000 which I have recommended we pay using our PPEL funds. There will be a board hearing on February 1st, 2019 at 10:00 AM before the board takes action to make the purchase.

Facility planning was the major topic of our work session.  This was a very productive discussion that I believe will help focus our efforts. I shared with the board the three phases or components of the work that is necessary.  The first phase includes major repairs to the high school building using PPEL and SAVE funds that can be completed over 36 months. This includes some items such as the fire alarms systems at the K-8 and High School, replacing the windows and wall panels at the high school and the football field lights.  This work will be completed starting this spring going into the fall.

Additionally, I have talked quite a bit about the need to replace the HVAC system at the High School. The replacement of the HVAC system is tentatively scheduled for next summer along with some of the masonry work. These are very important building improvements need to be completed and cannot be further delayed.

There has been ample discussion about the career technical education & STEM center and gym with community access as part of the facility planning.  This work is considered phase two and phase three of the plan. These two items would add a lot of value to the district, and are considered important and desirable for the district to have.  However, to build these buildings will require an additional levy in the form of a bond issue. We commissioned a study of our facilities, we have visited different schools sites, held work sessions, met with small focus groups, and discussed with our staff about the need for a career technical education & STEM center and gym with community access. We are forming a committee to vet the planning and get additional feedback. We will begin to hold public meetings this spring with the intention of being prepared for a November bond issue.  Using this timeline does not  delay the plan as most of the work that needs to be done in the high school must be done before launching to any new construction.

It was a good meeting with a quality discussion.

Monday, January 7, 2019


It may seem rather cliché to write about goals or resolutions this time of year.  However, for me, it is difficult to start a new year without giving some thought to what is important to accomplish over the next several months. 

In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on my current goals and digging deeper to self-evaluate if I have achieved the desired results. It has been good to have this kind of honest thought process to consider why some of my goals have been met and others were not.  

So how are goals met? Meeting goals requires action. You have to take that first step towards the result and then continue to take one step at a time until you reach the target outcome. You must be prepared, well planned, willing to collaborate, and deeply committed to working through challenges to meet the goals that are set.  The actions that are necessary to take are not always comfortable. You may need to take a reasonable risk to accomplish what you have set out to do.  It will take some courage and self-discipline, but it will be worth the effort.

Some research suggests using SMART goals, or goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and timely is more effective than goals that are too easy or lack measurement. SMART goals are more than a general statement that you will do your best to improve over time. SMART goals include indicators of success.

As you are contemplating your own personal and professional goals for the year, I encourage you to set a SMART goal and work diligently to make it happen. 

All the March Board News

Admittedly, the Board agenda for tonight's  meeting was a little bit longer than what we normally publish, but we were able to get throu...