Director Wise: What I'm learning from our schools
I have the privilege of visiting classrooms across the state this school year. I’m scheduled to be in 32 school districts, including at least two in each Area Education Agency, and more than a quarter of Iowa’s community colleges by the end of my first six months as director. I have logged thousands of miles and blown a car transmission, but what I’ve gained in learning has been well worth the car troubles and windshield time.
I believe one of the key roles of the Department is to communicate a compelling and consistent vision of what success looks like for education in Iowa. Being in classrooms at least a day each week has allowed me to see both excellence and areas for growth.
I’ve seen many examples of schools preparing students well for post-secondary life. I visited the Sioux City Academies, which enable students to explore different career options and make connections between their coursework and real-world, work-based learning experiences. And in the Bondurant-Farrar Community School District, I spoke with students as they were building a house in the community – the 17th home built by students under the leadership of teacher Kyle Hammes.
These real-world connections aren’t limited to high schools. At Spencer Middle School, a sixth-grader walked me through a computer modeling program he was using to design a basic children’s toy. I also observed a computer coding lesson with first graders at Loess Hills Elementary in Sioux City and was interviewed by student news teams both there and at the United Community School District.
In addition, I’ve also observed how Iowa’s focus on early literacy informs instruction. Earlier this week, I visited 11 classrooms at Hoover Elementary in the West Branch Community School District as part of the statewide instructional rounds network. I watched skilled teachers effectively use a variety of instructional strategies to reach a range of learners. I also chatted with a 33-year teacher who was ecstatic about the data provided by the FAST early literacy assessments and the Iowa TIER data system.
I have also spoken with dozens of teacher leaders, including a lunch meeting with several teacher leaders and administrators in Davenport. They provided insight on how the Teacher Leadership and Compensation system has improved teaching and learning across the district. I’m thrilled that Iowa is on track to have all school districts enter the system next year.
While there are countless bright spots, I’ve also had experiences that make it clear we can continue to improve. In one high school, I popped into several classrooms in which students were not fully engaged in their learning. And in another, students at an all-school assembly asked me why they needed to take math and science. In both schools, though, the teachers and administrators I spoke with were committed to ensuring their students develop clearer connections between school and their future.
While we have much work ahead and room for growth, I could write pages about all of the successes I’ve seen in schools, from preschool through community college. I am excited about the learning that’s happening for students across Iowa and look forward to being in more classrooms in the coming months.