The semester in review

Marshalltown Schools officials talk achievements in fall of 2017

T-R FILE PHOTO Marshalltown Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte said the fall 2017 semester brought new programs and opportunities to students throughout the district, including the supplemental ST Math online program.

Marshalltown Community School District students are currently enjoying their winter break before wrapping up the semester in January, and district administrators say much has been accomplished since the semester began in August.

Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte said the district’s strategic plan has been an area of major focus, and a final plan draft was decided earlier this year. Implementation of the plan began in October.

“It’s a 3-5 year plan that will evolve over time; it will be adjusted based on what’s been accomplished … or new things that come up that we need to consider doing,” he said. “A lot of what’s in that plan were things that we had already set in motion that just weren’t formalized.”

Five major goals are outlined in the plan, each with accompanying strategies and metrics for success. The five goals include student achievement, staff development, communication and engagement, learning environments and resources.

“This plan was built on … the input that we received from students, staff, parents and community members, so it really focuses, in large part, on the things they wanted to see either continued or strengthened at our district,” Schutte said.

Another addition made at the district this semester was the supplemental ST Math program, which was introduced with the help of several community businesses.

“We had tremendous support to get the ST Math initiative off the ground from local businesses,” Schutte said, adding that program, as well as the literacy-based Lexia Reading Core5 are “… high-quality digital platforms to ensure that students’ academic needs, as far as reading and math were concerned, were being met at their point of need.”

District Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson said Project Lead the Way, a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) initiative, was expanded to the elementary level this semester.

“Sometimes it’s paper and pencil, figuring out dominant and recessive genes, drawing things out of a bag; other times they’re on a chromebook, working on app creation kind of work,” she said of students in elementary PLTW activities. “It’s a pretty rich set of experiences that kids use.”

Schutte said student access to computers has also increased. One example he gave was allowing Miller Middle School students to bring home their chromebooks; another was increasing student access to devices at the elementary level.

Increasing student attendance, and reducing the number of students who are “chronically absent” with 18 or more missed days in a school year, has been another focus for the district.

“All of the 10 buildings have developed their own building attendance center plan,” Stevenson said.

She also said new tools were used to help screen and select applicants for teaching positions.

“Reports from the principals that these are some of the most talented people that they’ve ever had walk in ready to hit the ground running with our kids is a big, big piece of us moving all these other things forward,” Stevenson said. “We can’t do any of this stuff without teachers in the classrooms, doing that work everyday.”

She also said the district continues to work with community organizations like Not in Our Town (NIOT) and Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC), among others, to reduce bullying and increase inclusivity in the school buildings.

“I think we’ve made strides, first semester, in continuing to celebrate the cultural and linguistic diversity that Marshalltown has,” Stevenson said. “We’re continuing to work with NIOT to promote an inclusive community, no tolerance for bullying or harassment.”

With the recent approval of the 2018-19 at-risk budget, a summer school program and increased high school credit recovery opportunities are coming next school year.

“Summer school is going to be a big, big deal because it will be the first time in a long time we will be able to offer a substantive summer school program across all of our elementary schools,” Schutte said.

He said there are some concerns going into the 2018 state legislative session.

“Some of my concerns with our ability to move forward and to move forward as quickly as we’d like to with some of these things is going to be dependent on state funding that we get in the coming years,” Schutte said, adding he is expecting no increase in state supplemental aid from 2017. “We, like many districts, can weather a year of that … but if that continues to be compounded with very low increases, then there are going to be long-term effects.”

He said multiple years of such low increases could lead to “very difficult decisions” for many school districts, including Marshalltown. However, he said Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Future Ready Iowa initiative is encouraging; he also said district initiatives to increase college and career readiness will require funding from the state.

“We’re doing the best to try to figure out how we can use what we currently have in order to get a lot of these things off the ground,” Schutte said, adding Marshalltown has a strong history of volunteerism. “We’re tremendously blessed to live in a community that has the kind of support for our schools and for our kids that they have here.”

One initiative that he said may interest volunteers is the Junior Achievement Program.

“We’re anticipating, hopefully, strong support for implementing the Junior Achievement Program, which is not going to require so much money from people as it is peoples’ time,” he said. “I’m confident that if it could be pulled off somewhere, it would happen here.”

Both Schutte and Stevenson said the district will continue to forge community partnerships to help make students aware of career opportunities in Marshalltown.

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Contact Adam Sodders at (641) 753-6611 or