Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Legislative Priorities

Several weeks ago the School Board established legislative priorities for the 2018-2019 school year.  Establishing legislative priorities is done so we can work in tandem with groups like the Iowa Association of School Boards and Iowa School Finance Information Services to promote and advocate for high-quality education services and funding to support our schools locally and across the State of Iowa.

Extending the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE), which was formerly the statewide sales and service tax, is one of the top priorities of this legislative session for our District and many others across the state.  SAVE generates approximately $980,000 in revenue for the District.  These funds are important as they are used to pay the debt on the existing elementary and middle school building, take care of larger infrastructure needs related to facilities and technology, replace equipment, and will be necessary to support the repairs and renovations that are being 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.

The availability of SAVE funds will no longer be available after 2029.  While there is a fair amount of time before the revenue expires, it is important SAVE is addressed now so schools have the ability to plan and prioritize projects long term. Without SAVE districts will either defer necessary projects or request voters approve larger general obligation bonds which impact property tax.  Our District has used SAVE to pay our debt obligations.  Absent the SAVE revenue to pay this debt, property taxes would have been increased to a much higher level.  To be more specific, SAVE helped the district reduce property taxes by $1.00 for FY 18 $.94 in FY 17 and $1.04 in FY 16.  SAVE makes the difference.

Some may ask why we are talking about this in the middle of the summer while the legislative session is still months away. We are bringing this forward now as last year the legislature did not extend SAVE. There was solid support to extend SAVE in the House, but the Senate failed to vote on the issue.  It has been suggested SAVE will be a stronger priority this next session.  Many districts and supporting groups are working together raise awareness to ensure the Iowa Legislature moves forward with extending SAVE beyond the 2029 sunset.

I read a great article in the Des Moines register that highlights the importance of this effort.  You can read the same article here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Career Technical Education (CTE) Programs

Career Technical Education (CTE) programs are a hot topic of discussion in education circles not only in Iowa but across the nation. There are many valid reasons why this is the case.  Some in business and industry consider it something that has been given little attention, and it is time to produce graduates who have the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the needs of the workforce.  Another compelling reason to strengthen CTE programs in schools is the positive impact on high school graduation rates, higher college enrollment rates, and higher wages for those students who participate in CTE Courses (Dougherty, 2016).

CTE programs are perceived by some to be an alternate path through high school that results in limited opportunities for students to attend college.  However, high-quality CTE programs are rigorous as the high school courses are often aligned with requirements for students to earn associate degrees and at times allow students to receive college credit while attending high school.

The Board established the expansion of CTE learning opportunities as a priority several months ago when goals were adopted. Currently, classes are available in fields related to agriculture, automotive technology, business, construction, health occupations, and human services.  The District is committed to strengthening the CTE curriculum, adding additional classes, and providing professional development for our staff to support this goal. Recently, Sarah F. Martin and Jay Sweet submitted a proposal for grant funding to the Regional Planning Partnership for CTE and were awarded over $11,000 to purchase new equipment.

Additionally, we are looking to develop extending learning opportunities so students can participate in more career technical classes during the summer months.  Providing summer instruction will allow students to have more flexibility with their schedules during the school year and maximize their opportunity to earn credit in more areas.

We have some limitations in our ability to include additional programming due to space limitations at the high school. We have broken some of the space barriers by working with community partners to arrange work-based learning opportunities and internships in different areas. We have also collaborated with the City of Shenandoah to use the Bricker Botanical Center downtown.  Some courses are taught at the Iowa Western Community College campus in Shenandoah. These are good examples of using existing resources, but there is more work to do and space is needed to develop stronger programs to support coding, engineering, robotics, and other related fields. These are some of the reasons why it is necessary to remodel at the High School and add an addition to the building.

This type of instruction is essential as it makes school more relevant to the learning needs of our students and keeps them engaged.  When students find purpose in their learning and make the connections to the real world they are more motivated, productive and achieve at higher levels. Continuing to provide and expand high-quality career technical education programs contributes to making Shenandoah CSD a great place to be for our students to receive their education.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Allow Me to Introduce

This past week I intentionally reserved time on my calendar to meet individually with the new teachers who are joining our team in August.  This was a good use of my time as it allowed me to form connections and communicate a critical message that they are welcomed and valued as part of our learning community.  It was great to learn more about each of them, hear the excitement in their voices, answer their questions, and understand why they have chosen Shenandoah CSD as the place to be in Iowa.   

Talking with these staff members was a highlight of my week. They are full of enthusiasm and ready to start the year.  It was encouraging to visit with some of the teachers who are familiar with the district as they are former graduates, previous staff members, or live in the general area. There are some who are new to the community and are just settling into Shenandoah.  They are looking for housing, learning where things are at, seeking out recreation and social opportunities, and trying to find childcare just like the rest of us have done when we have relocated. 

Allow me to introduce them to you.

Zach Dotzler is from Harlan, IA and will be teaching High School Language Arts and assisting with the speech program.  He was in the band at Harlan High School, but he is now a Mustang at heart.  

Jennifer Edie has been teaching preschool in Red Oak, IA.  She will be joining our staff as a second grade teacher.  Her experience with early childhood will be a great addition to the team.

Alisha Fleck relocated to Shenandoah with her family from the Maple Valley, IA, area this summer and will be teaching Biology at the High School.  Her son will be in second grade.

Jamie Geho previously taught in South Dakota.  She will be teaching fourth grade.  Moving here from out of state is a big, important decision in her life and we are glad she chose us.  She has some good background in Crisis Prevention Intervention which will be an asset to the district. 

Lindsey Lundgren was formerly on our staff as an Agriculture teacher and will now be teaching Science at the High School and Middle School.

Vanessa Keenan is from Atlantic, Iowa.  She will be joining us as a fourth grade teacher. I have to admit seeing her wear a Univerisity of Northern Iowa shirt in Shenandoah, IA, made me smile.   

Holly Martin is from Shenandoah and filled in as a long-term substitute teacher at the Middle School last year.  She will be teaching special education at the Middle School.  She is a Shenandoah CSD graduate. It is good to have her on staff full time.

Tahrae "Rae" Metzger is from Shenandoah and has been teaching early childhood in a different part of the state.  We are glad to see her return home and join our preschool team.  She has a lot of family in the area who are also glad to see her back.

Tiffany Stanton will be joining us from Offutt Airforce Base to teach special education students with behavioral challenges at the High School.  This has been a difficult position to fill. It is difficult to find teachers with the right type of training and teaching license to meet this need.  We are looking forward to growing our Special Education services in this area.

Nicholas Stuart is from Millard, NE.  He has experience teaching in Franklin, NE and also at  Boys & Girls Town.  He will be teaching Social Studies at our High School and Middle School and also serving as our assistant High School football coach.

Jackie Sunderman is from Pella, Iowa.  She has family in the Clarinda area she wanted to be near.  She will be teaching Kindergarten.

Danielle Terry student taught in Shenandoah and then accepted a position in Creston, Iowa where she taught last semester.  We are glad to have her back in our system to teach first grade.

Kady VanFossen is from South Page which means she is close to home and we are pleased she will be teaching special education at the elementary.

This was Don and me three years ago.  We were thankful to have staff and community members who reached out to support us and help us make the transition.  Jon Weinrich, Ryan Spiegel, and Jon Skillern were at our doorstep ready to help us unload the truck before we even pulled in the driveway. Others helped us find different things we needed in town and helped us make many connections to the school and community that helped us feel welcome and supported as we made the transition. We most certainly appreciated their efforts and knew this was a good place to be because of the kindness they expressed.  

As a system, we will provide an intensive orientation program and mentors to support these new teachers. These are good things to do that help staff acclimate to their new roles.  I also have found that it is the simple things that matter the most to new staff.  It is the invitation to sit with someone at lunch, a meeting or school activity that helps people know they are welcome. It feels good to be included and lessens the anxiety of being the "new" person.  Let's work together to support our new teachers, help them to feel included, welcomed, and valued as a part of the Shenandoah community and school district.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

This Month's Dialogue with the Board

I woke up this morning wondering, "How it could possibly be July?"  It seems like school just dismissed and now it is time for registration and making final preparations for the 2018-2019 school year. The district has been a busy place this summer with the expansion of our summer camps, our athletic camps, and training, the transition of leaders in new roles and filling staff positions. It has been busy, but clearly good things are happening.

There were a few different matters before the Board Monday evening that will help with the transition to the start of the year.  Several personnel decisions were approved including hiring bus drivers, a teacher, and some coaching positions. There were also a few internal transfers.
Making these transitions and filling these positions will contribute to making Shenandoah CSD a great place to be in 2018-2019.

I was really pleased Lindsey Lundgren will be returning to our staff as a Science Teacher at the Middle School and High School. She previously taught Agriculture courses at the High School. Liz Skillern has agreed to serve as the assistant coach of the High School Boys Track Team. She has coached track for Essex CSD for many years so it will be great to see her back in maroon next spring.

The public hearing for the approval of the Flexible Funding Resolution was really important for the District.  The Board's approval of this resolution allows the District to shift unspent categorical funds to pay for any Board designated expense. Categorical funds are restricted in purpose; there are tight limitations on how the funds can be spent. There was a recent change in Iowa Code which makes it possible for the adoption of a board resolution allowing for unspent balances in some areas to be repurposed at the end of a fiscal year. We have taken the time to evaluate where this flexibility will benefit the District the most and agreed to repurpose the funds to pay for some of the additional preschool expenses we had during the 2017-2018 school year.  This decision helps the district reduce general fund expenses which helps the District maintain a strong spending authority. This type of action contributes to making the District financially sound.

The Board also approved handbooks for licensed teachers, support staff, and coaches.  These are important documents as the contents guide and direct the management of the district. I appreciate the staff members who participated in discussions about the handbooks and the work that was done to make revisions.  It was good work. There were some minor changes to the meal policy and wellness policy that will be on the board agenda the next few months as they are reading at least two meetings prior to being finalized.  

Shenandoah CSD is a member of the Iowa Association of School Boards.  This is a group that provides training, support, and legal advocacy for school districts across the state.  The Board approved the legislative priorities for this next school year. You can view them here. This is important work for the Board to consider.  We need to advocate for legislative policy that will improve Education in Iowa and also contribute to the local district.  I appreciate Adam Van Der Vliet's willingness to serve as the Board's delegate at the IASB's Convention in November.  Jean Fichter has indicated she will be attending the convention as well. 

The two discussion items this month included the Instructional Support Levy and facility planning.  Instructional Support Levy is not something that is discussed on a frequent basis as it is only board authorized every five years.  It is isn't a new or additional levy.  The levy has been in place for 20 years.   There will be a public hearing for the Instructional Support Levy held on August 15th at 5:00 PM at Shenandoah CSD Administration Building's Board Room.

What is the Instructional Support Levy?

The Instructional Support Levy is available to schools to increase the spending authority of the  General Fund, which is the primary fund that supports teaching and learning for our students. It can be supported through a minimal addition to the local property levy rate and through income surtax. The levy cannot be totally funded with income surtax. The levy can be established by board resolution for 5 years or approved by the voters for up to 10 years. If passed, the spending authority allows the district to continue to offer a comprehensive program for students. The Shenandoah CSD's leadership has been managing levies in an effort to maintain a reasonable tax rate while delivering excellent teaching, appropriate staff levels, strong programming and expanded learning opportunities for our students. 
Why does the Shenandoah Community School District need the Instructional Support Levy?

Shenandoah CSD could not continue to offer the current level of programming for students without additional spending authority. The current levy is a combination of 6% property tax and 4% income surtax. It generates between $500,000 and $600,000 for the district, to be used for books, supplies, staffing needs and programming support. Without the funding from the levy, the District would need to make large reductions in staff and programs that our students need for their academic success and the district needs for accreditation purposes.  

The Board previously discussed the facility plan at a work session but is starting to put the wheels in motion to renovate the existing high school to support more Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) instruction and build an addition for Career Technical Education (CTE).  This is not a new conversation for the Board. We have taken the time to evaluate our existing facilities, dream a bit and then consider what is realistic and necessary. We want this to be well done. Board members will be visiting a similar facility in Columbus, Nebraska in August. 

Part of the facility plan pointed to several concerns about using the cottage at the Bus Barn as it is not ADA accessible and there are a number of issues with the building.  There are plans in place to demolish the building and provide a different area for the drivers in the shop building.  

We had a good and productive meeting this month.  I look forward to meeting with the Board again at our next meeting. The August Board meeting will be on the 15th at 5:00 PM which is a Wednesday.  

Monday, July 2, 2018

Learning from Warda

When Don and I agreed to invite Warda Belem to stay with our family for the school year I knew it would be a busy, but rewarding year. Warda is a 16-year-old girl from Bamako, Mali, Africa who applied to the YES program to be an exchange student in the United States. She stayed with us during the 2017-2018 school year.

Don and I had hosted exchange students before so we knew that it would be very important for Warda to get involved in school and be as active as possible. Students who are active tend to meet people, try new things, are generally happier, and less inclined to be homesick. I think this is true for all students, but it is especially true for international students as the purpose of the program is for them to learn about US culture and experience our schools.  It is difficult to understand a culture if you do not interact with the people and learn from them.

Warda chose to start her year participating in cross country and the musical.  She had never run long distance and had no idea about the Wizard of Oz. However, she faithfully attended every practice, worked hard and successfully participated in both.  Mrs. Skillern was very good to encourage Warda to keep trying, to stay focused, and give it her full effort.  It took her several weeks to build the endurance to run the 3+ miles required, but she did it and even earned a medal at one of the meets.  She knew the purpose. She was persistent and persevered until she met her goal.  Her effort reminded me that even when a task seems impossible, it is not.

Don greeted Warda at the finish line of her first race 

Warda also participated in basketball, track, MC2, large group speech, individual speech, the Spring play, Vis Arts, and BPA.  She was selected to perform at All-State for individual speech and went to nationals for BPA. The school t-shirts she purchased nearly filled an entire suitcase.  Oh, yes, she also earned A's in all of her courses. She took pretty challenging classes so she would not fall behind academically when she returns to school in her home country.  She has some natural talents. She also has a strong work ethic. Her talent, her work ethic, and a bit of hard work paid off in the end.  If you work for it, you are likely to succeed.

Ms. Bettag and Warda at her All-State performance

Warda has a different religion than our family; yet, we were able to live together for ten months. We had many opportunities to exchange in dialogue about the differences in our beliefs and faith practices. We learned to love and accept each other. We had good conversation and discussion.  It is possible to see things differently and remain respectful of each other.

Maintaining a positive growth mindset is critical for exchange students and host families.  Families and exchange students need to get along and make it work. We had to remain open-minded, consider different perspectives, and grow from the experiences we had together.  Don and I are pretty confident we will never get excited about pea soup, but she will never make a rootbeer float again.  She called it "malaria medicine."  Yes, those are the small things that we will laugh about for some time. Many things made us different, but she still became part of our family.

As I mentioned, Don and I have hosted other exchange students. Devina Clarissa, from Indonesia, stayed with us during the 2016-2017 school year. Bilyamin Hassan, from Nigeria, stayed with Don in 2006-2007. When you ask Don why we host students, he responds with several reasons. One reason he mentions nearly every time is that he is not likely to travel the world, but people like Devina, Bilyamin, and Warda have shared with him a piece of the world he may never see.  I read this statement made by Jodi Hills, "Learn something that is not in front of you. Love someone who doesn't look like you. Go somewhere you've never been. The world is beautiful." While this is a catchy Pinterest and Facebook type of quote to share, it does have some relevant meaning.

I was really proud of our students and staff who accepted and supported Warda during her time in Shenandoah. She may have dreamed of New York City or Los Angeles as a perfect place to spend her year, but she learned that Shenandoah, Iowa was the place to be. Warda will never forget her time in Shenandoah or the kindness she felt from the people. I will always remember Warda and the lessons I learned from her.

Warda was not the only exchange student this year. Katerina Noskova lived with Jim and Carol Kinghorn. She was involved in many activities and graduated from Shenandoah High School this year.  Exchange students do well at our high school as the students, staff, and community accept them, offer them support and encouragement. AFS and IRIS are exchange programs that are looking for host families. I would encourage you to talk with one of the local coordinators if you have any interest in hosting an exchange student.  

Joining Our Team & Some Board News

 JOINING OUR TEAM! Some Board News... The last two board meetings and work sessions representatives from Carl A. Nels...