Consultant honored for work in Partners in Education
“I always ask, ‘How can we work together to help kids? Can we go beyond just the bare minimum to serve kids?’”
Such is the philosophy of Vic Jaras, a consultant in the bureau of Standards and Curriculum with the Iowa Department of Education, and a recipient of the 2017 Partners in Education award from the Council Bluffs Community School District (CBCSD). Partners in education are people who go beyond academics by contributing their time, expertise, or financial resources to help supplement education and contribute to student success.
Jaras received the award honoring exceptional education partners during a CBCSD all-staff back-to-school celebration for his work with the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) grants. Other education partners honored were the Council Bluffs Public Library, SilverStone Group, Google, and Iowa West Foundation. The district’s annual celebration also included performances from two high school bands, presentations about elementary, middle, and high school points of pride, recognition of staff members of the year, a superintendent’s address, and a keynote address from Iowa Nice Guy, Scott Siepker.
In 2012, when Jaras began working as the state consultant for the 21st CCLC grant, Iowa had only 24 education partners across the state. Currently, Iowa has close to 700 education partners, with CBCSD having between 80 and 90, the leading school district in the state. Jaras predicts that soon there will be 1,000 partners statewide.
“The 21st CCLC grant puts those in poverty as a priority,” Jaras said. “Schools must have a minimum of 40 percent free and reduced-price meal population to apply. To get the grant, districts have to get community partners. To keep the grant, districts must grow and expand those partnerships.”
CBCSD is a leader with technology, being the first to partner with Google for Computer Science First, doing NASA projects, and conducting a cyber security program for girls this past summer funded by the NSA (National security Agency). The district has record levels of student achievement. In the case of two elementary schools and one middle school, the district cites their 21st CCLC grant as helping the students attain that level of achievement.
Jaras monitors and visits school districts throughout the year as part of grant oversight. During those visits, the CBCSD administration brought community members together to discuss student support strategies, the needs of the students, and how to work together to improve academics.
Those conversations are what lead to the CBCSD June-through-August summer school programs at the elementary schools.
“We have talked about providing kids with enough nutrition so they can learn,” Jaras said. “Some of these kids don’t have enough to eat at home, and so with our community partners we look at ways to provide them with more than the required snack. A lot of our programs have resulted in feeding kids a full meal.
“Recently I was at Carter Lake meeting with parents during a school enrollment night. There was a table where parents could sign up for the after-school programs. While I was there, I made contacts with three more community partners for the district!”
Jaras is gearing up for a new round of competition for the 2018 21st CCLC grants. A total of $6,825,160 will be awarded to school districts. The United States Department of Education (USDE) has a peer review process for awarding grants that involves 10-15 reviewers from around the state, depending on the number of applications submitted. Peer reviewers assign a score and provide feedback on every part of the application. Iowa is the only state that provides applicants with that feedback so they can see what the reviewers wrote.
“The USDE has other states calling me saying ‘look what Iowa is doing,’” Jaras said. “They have nothing but praise and say Iowa is one of the top states in the whole country for running this program.
“I care about kids. I promote community partnerships everywhere. We collaborate to benefit kids, get them reconnected, and turn their lives around. We restore their love of learning.”