Community Conversations to Bring Focus to Our Work

When I first introduced myself to you, I shared with you both challenges and opportunities I had identified in my brief two months on the job here in West Des Moines I also told you I would be meeting with staff, with parents and with individuals and groups in the community to help identify other possible challenges and/or opportunities facing our District from their perspective.

After eight months as your Superintendent, though I am still meeting with individuals and groups, I thought I would share with you the themes I have heard so far.

As we begin our planning for the 2012-13 school year, some of what I am sharing will be built into our priorities for the coming school year.

 How you can lend your voice to the community conversations. WDMCS Idea Share

First and foremost, there is a lot of good news for us here in the West Des Moines Community Schools. With every individual or group I met with, there is a strong overall sense the District is doing well in its work to meet the needs of our students. Staff, parents and the community have high regard for the work we do with their children. They perceive the kids generally do well when they leave us, which is most certainly our main focus – preparing students for success at their next level. Congratulations to you!

Second, almost everyone also recognized that the make-up of our community is changing and that they want our schools to continue to be successful in our core work. They all expressed a willingness to work with us in maintaining our success.

In my meetings with teaching and support staff and with parents around the District, there was a common theme around having common expectations for students and staff, regardless of the school they attend or at which they work.

For me, this fit into the opportunity to do a better job of working together as a system of schools, which I identified over the summer after my meetings with the administrators.

The staff I visited with agreed that we do a good job of talking about and studying how to work together as a system, but we can get better actually operating as a system. Examples included the implementation of Essentials of Effective Instruction (EEI), our Spanish-language instruction, our music programs, our instruction for English-Language Learner (ELL) students, our Extended Learning Program (ELP), Kids West and our counseling program.

From the elementary schools, it was consistently communicated that we need to make improvements in our reading curriculum, particularly in regards to instructional materials for core instruction and for effective interventions. Elementary staff also talked a lot about needing to change the elementary school start time.

Finally, there were regular comments about the need to improve how we serve students and families new to West Des Moines for whom English is not their primary language and the increasing number of students who require mental health services. The input I received from the community has more to do with strengthening partnerships between the District and its schools and their respective organizations in the West Des Moines Community School District.

The primary challenge identified coming into the District was reinforced for me in the conversations over the past eight months, as was the opportunity to bring focus on how we work together as a system of schools.

The new challenges which were identified, as I shared at the beginning, will be incorporated into the planning for the future of our District. The strategies to address all of our challenges will be built on the foundation of our past success which you have helped create.

Everyone – staff, parents, community – believe we are and have been successful. When I talked with you back in August, I said because we know what it is to be successful; we will work hard to not lose that feeling of success.

My final thought is this – as I have had the opportunity to meet many of you and to become better acquainted, I truly look forward to working together to address our challenges.


Peter Ansingh, Ed.D.