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Positioned Perfectly to Address Our Challenges

[youtube=]I began my work in the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) on July 1 meeting with the school board, with staff and some community members. I have also had the opportunity to participate in several statewide education-related activities like the Governor’s Education Summit.

I recently had the opportunity to share with the district staff the five challenges for the WDMCS in the coming months and into next year that I have been able to identify so far:

  1. Changing leadership;
  2. Changing demographics;
  3. State/federal budget reductions;
  4. State educational reform; and
  5. NCLB reauthorization.

First, after September 13th there will be three, or possibly four, new members of the school board, a new superintendent, a new associate superintendent for teaching and learning and a new Valley High School principal serving the district who were not here last year. These are all key positions of leadership in a school district.

Secondly, the demographic make-up of the community is changing. This is the one challenge that has been identified by every individual and group I have met with since my interviews for the position back in April. The increasing number of students coming to us from poverty or who do not speak English as their first language will necessitate that we do things differently in the classroom and in the district.

The next challenge facing our schools in the coming year will be the impact of reductions in state and federal funding. The Legislature approved 0% Allowable Growth, which will mean no new state revenue for 2012. In addition, we will lose approximately $1.75 million in stimulus money from the U.S. government. The other variable affecting our budget for the district—positively or negatively—is our enrollment. Positive if it is up; negative if it is down.

Earlier I mentioned the Iowa Education Summit, which was held in July. The message from the organizers of the summit was that the performance of students in other states has improved while the performance of students in Iowa has remained the same. There were a number of ideas presented as to how we might improve the performance of our students here in Iowa.

The fourth challenge for the West Des Moines Community Schools will be responding to the recommendations the Governor makes public in October. Any of the proposals that would impact our schools will have to be approved by the Legislature. The final challenge I identified for us is the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act by the U.S. Congress.

The other thing I was able to share with the district staff is that I believe we are Positioned Perfectly to address these challenges.

First off, the West Des Moines Community Schools has a long standing tradition of being successful in a community that has a tradition of being successful. The district has earned the respect and support of the community, which will be a good foundation to build upon as we move forward.

Secondly, the district also has a recent history of operating as a system of schools. Translated that means we know how to work together to address the academic needs of its students as they move from our elementary schools to the junior high schools to the high schools. This coordination is critical as our student population becomes more diverse.

Our third opportunity lies in the fact that the WDMCS have really served the capable learners well by offering a variety of courses and activities to choose from taught by a caring staff, both teachers and support staff. We just need to offer the same high quality curriculum taught by those same caring staff for our struggling learners. We know what needs to be done.

Finally, the district has always involved the community and parents along with all staff in determining how best to address our challenges.

As I assured them and will assure you now, we will continue to be successful as we address the challenges that lie ahead of us. We will lift up the struggling learners as we continue to push the capable learners.

And we will do this together as a system of schools, the West Des Moines Community Schools. Working together; preparing learners for life.

Peter Ansingh, Ed.D.

Topics: Education

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