Archive | December, 2020

Dec. 21, 2020 Board Meeting

22 Dec

Second semester Return to Learn plan approved
Marshalltown Schools will stay the course with current learning model options through the end of the third quarter after board action Monday evening.

Specifically, students in grades 7-12 will continue to learn in a hybrid model, which includes block scheduling with alternating on-site and remote learning; students in grades PK-6 will continue with fully in-person learning. All families were given a fully virtual learning option when second semester preferences were collected in November. 

One major change planned at the PK-6 level is that Edgenuity will no longer be used to provide virtual learning; instead, Google Classroom and Google Meet will be used to deliver virtual learning.

“I would anticipate we will be back to the board sometime in March to talk about where we’re at,” said Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte. 

The District’s recommendation to continue with the current learning models was made with student and staff safety in mind. Dr. Schutte acknowledged differences of opinion within the community on the topic of learning during the pandemic, adding the District’s Return to Learn plan was designed to balance student and staff safety with student achievement during unprecedented times.

Also continuing next semester are dozens of District safety measures, which were put in place to prevent disease spread in school buildings. Those measures include social distancing rules, a face mask requirement, frequent deep cleaning and sanitation, and widely available hand sanitizer, among many others. 

MHS seniors discuss upcoming work experience at Iowa Capitol
Monday, Jan. 11 will be a big day for MHS seniors Abbey Welden and Mary Kate Gruening – both will begin their work as legislative Pages at the Iowa Capitol Building in Des Moines. 

Welden and Gruening were recognized by the board Monday, and they shared their motivation to become Pages. The position will see the students assist state lawmakers and policy leaders during the upcoming Iowa Legislative Session. 

For more on these exceptional Bobcat students and their upcoming work experience in politics and government, click here

Extended Learning Program provides quality education for gifted students
Meeting all Bobcat students’ educational needs is one of the core goals of Marshalltown Schools, and the Extended Learning Program (XLP) plays a major role in meeting that goal. 

A dedicated team of XLP teachers shared an overview of the program Monday, highlighting the history and importance of XLP instruction. 

“The needs of our gifted and talented students are not always met by the regular curriculum,” said XLP teacher Vanessa Engel, who serves Lenihan Intermediate School and Marshalltown Learning Academy students. “The XLP program helps high-ability students meet their academic potential.” 

Susan Fritzell has taught gifted Bobcat students for two decades and said there have been exciting changes recently, one of which involves how high-ability students are identified. The Cognitive Ability Test (CogAT) is used alongside a student’s ISASP score to determine if the XLP program is the right fit. 

Once identified, XLP students are given a Personalized Education Plan (PEP) and work with a curriculum built to meet their learning needs. Students in the program also have access to academic competitions, small group enrichment, independent studies and projects, mentorships, and more. 

The XLP teachers emphasized the importance of continuing to adjust the program to meet the needs of gifted Bobcat students. 

Training in co-teaching approved for 27 District staff members
With board approval Monday, more than two dozen general education teachers will be trained in the area of co-teaching. In a co-teaching system, general education teachers work closely with English as a second language (ESL or ELL) and special education teachers to meet the needs of students.

The training will touch on how these instructor teams can plan, teach, and assess students with special needs and students who are learning English. 

“The District has had a handful of people trained in this in the past … we needed to re-create more of a system-level thinking of how can we make this a priority,” said Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson. “We’re really excited to be able to have an evidence-based strategy that our teachers have been asking for training and support in.” 

2021-22 At-Risk budget set
The District’s At-Risk budget for next school year has been approved, with the action coming after previous presentations by District leadership. The At-Risk budget supports drop-out prevention and the summer Bobcat University program, among many other important programs. 

Director Business Operations Paulette Newbold said the 2021-22 At-Risk will increase only slightly from the current year’s budget, meaning a minimal impact on the property tax rate. Despite no new programming being added to next year’s At-Risk budget, Dr. Stevenson said the program’s offerings have grown significantly in the past five years. She said the approved budget will continue to serve and benefit Bobcat students. 

Proposal shared for District communications/marketing audit
Communications Director Adam Sodders shared information on an anticipated District communications/marketing audit for the board’s consideration.

The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) communications audit would center on gathering family, staff, and community stakeholder feedback to continue improving District communications. No action was taken on this item at Monday’s meeting; an official recommendation and vote on the communications audit is planned for the Tuesday, Jan. 19 regular meeting. 

Student School Board Representative update
Student School Board Representative Haley Reed delivered an update from Marshalltown High School. Her presentation featured the MHS gingerbread house contest, which concluded on Dec. 14, as well as a look at MHS basketball and swimming. 

Eight students approved for early graduation
The board approved eight Bobcat students – six seniors and two juniors – for early graduation Monday. All eight students worked hard to meet the District’s graduation requirements prior to the end of the school year. 

Among the early graduates are seniors Godgive Gbala, Mary Kate Gruening, Alysha Ortega, Abbey Welden, Hector Yanez, and Kordell Cripps. The junior students set to graduate early are Austin Christen and Kadence Hartwell. Congratulations to all! 

Communications Director Adam Sodders reviewed the good news from the district by sharing newspaper articles as well as school communications articles. That list can be seen here.

Personnel items
For a list of personnel items approved Monday, click here.

First Reading – 

  • 204.1 (new 210.2) – Regular Meeting (amended, second reading waived)
  • 102 – Equal Educational Opportunity (amended, second reading waived)
  • 603.2 – Summer School Instruction (amended, second reading waived)
  • 603.3 – Special Education (amended, second reading waived)

Initial Review – 

  • 204.3 (new 212) – Closed Sessions (marked as reviewed)
  • 204.5 – Organizational Meeting (will come back for a first reading)
  • 200.1-R1 – Organizational Meeting Procedures (will come back for a first reading)
  • 210.1 – Annual Meeting (will come back for a first reading)
  • 507.8 – Special Health Services (will come back for a first reading)
  • 607.2 – Student Health Services (marked as reviewed)
  • 605.6 – Internet-Appropriate and Safe Use (marked as reviewed)
  • 701.2 – Transfer of Funds (marked as reviewed)

From Board President Bea Niblock
“Winter Break is upon us. Wishing each of you a memorable winter holiday – whichever of them you choose to celebrate. May all of your holiday hopes and dreams become a reality. Hoping your time away from planning, checking papers and screen time is restful and relaxing. Best wishes for a new year of health and happiness!” – Bea Niblock

Board President’s quote shared at the Dec. 21 meeting: 
“Our hearts grow tender with childhood memories and love of kindred, and we are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child at Christmas time.” – Laura Ingalls Wilder

The next Marshalltown School Board meeting is set for 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021; the meeting will take place on a Tuesday due to the MLK Jr. holiday on Monday, Jan. 18. The meeting will be available to watch via YouTube live stream. 
NOTE: The Jan. 19 meeting will be the only regular board meeting in the month of January.

Dec. 7, 2020 Board Meeting

8 Dec
Nate McCulley, left, discusses the donation of hand tools to the MHS construction program taught by Raul Arevalo, right.

Local company donates tools to MHS construction program
Marshalltown High School industrial arts teacher Raul Arevalo accepted a generous donation of hand tools from Marshalltown Co. at Monday’s meeting. Company Director of Product Sales Nate McCulley said the MHS construction program prepares Bobcat students interested in the construction industry for local career opportunities. 

“We ’re just grateful for these types of programs in our community and we’re glad we can help be a part of this,” McCulley said. 

Arevalo said the tools will play a crucial role in the construction program curriculum. 

“We can have the students learn skills that will really take them a long way in finding a career,” he said. 

Return to Learn update and second semester plans presented
The Marshalltown School Board heard an update on the District’s Return to Learn instruction at Monday’s meeting; parent and guardian learning model preference data for the second semester was also shared.

So far, Director of Instruction Dr. Lisa Stevenson said most District parents and guardians – about 75 percent – have shared which learning model they prefer for their children.

Stevenson said school staff members have been communicating with families regarding the second semester learning model options, including discussions about which model may best fit each student. The learning model data shared Monday will continue to change as more parents and guardians share their preferences with the District. 

In addition to the second semester preferences data, Miller Middle School co-principals Dave Glenn and Kristyn Kell described the measures being taken to keep fully virtual students engaged in learning, with one example being the new Saturday school beginning Dec. 12.

The middle school administrators said they hope the Saturday school program will be able to expand to include more students who could benefit from increased academic support. 

Marshalltown High School Principal Jacque Wyant said virtual students in need of more academic support have Saturday school as an option this week; support is also offered through the school’s Pier program and Academic Support Center. 

The board will receive another Return to Learn update at the Dec. 21 regular meeting. 

Preliminary designs and cost estimates for MHS, Anson renovation projects approved
Another important step in the upcoming renovation projects at Marshalltown High School and Anson Elementary school was taken Monday. The board approved preliminary designs and cost estimates for the work, which will include the installation of air conditioning at MHS and a new HVAC system at Anson, among other improvements. 

With Monday’s action, construction documents will be reviewed ahead of an expected public hearing for adoption of plans, specifications, and form of contract for the project in January of 2021. 

State Rep.-Elect Sue Cahill, left, and State Sen. Jeff Edler, right, discuss legislative priorities with the Marshalltown School Board.

State lawmakers discuss upcoming legislative session
State Sen. Jeff Edler and state Rep.-Elect Sue Cahill sat down with the school board to discuss goals for the upcoming legislative session.

Edler, who will begin his second term in the Iowa Senate in January, said he has worked to address several key items for K-12 public schools in the last four years, including improving student mental health services, the introduction of the Seal of Biliteracy award, and more. 

Cahill, a veteran educator at Marshalltown Schools, will bring her decades of experience in public education with her to the Iowa House. She said she looks forward to supporting students’ needs as a lawmaker. 

Edler said it is too early to predict what potential per-pupil state funding increase there could be for the 2021-22 school year; he said he will work to ensure the amount of state supplemental aid to schools is decided as early as possible to help school districts plan their budgets for the next fiscal year. 

Superintendent Dr. Theron Schutte pointed to several key items the legislature could address in the coming session, including continued support for mental health services, increased access to high-quality broadband internet, and incentives to boost interest in the teaching profession. 

Dr. Schutte also said one-time funding to support students who have fallen behind academically during the pandemic would be a big help for schools. 

The 2021 state legislative session will begin Monday, Jan. 11, 2021.

All-State music honorees (from left) Elijah Thiessen, Taylor Hoffman, and Rebekah Stone discussed their great accomplishment at Monday’s board meeting.

All-State music honorees recognized
The Bobcats are well represented in this year’s All-State music ensembles, with six talented MHS students earning the distinction. The All-State honorees were recognized at Monday’s board meeting.

Only 1.7% of all high school musicians in Iowa earn an All-State music accolade each school year. This year’s winners – Olivia Adams-Zmolek, Veronica Herrera, Taylor Hoffman, Aaron Seberger, Elijah Thiessen, and Rebekah Stone – join a large group of Bobcat All-State music honorees. 

Board book study discussion features author Jamie Vollmer
The board and District administration team read the final chapters of Jamie Vollmer’s book “Schools Cannot Do It Alone” ahead of Monday’s meeting, and had the opportunity to welcome the author virtually for a book study discussion. 

Vollmer emphasized the importance of building permission and patience within a school district community. He said it is crucial for schools to communicate not only with students, families, staff, and community stakeholders, but also with those who do not have a child in school.

Vollmer said he has enjoyed working with Dr. Schutte as District leadership read and discussed “Schools Cannot Do It Alone” throughout the fall. 

Student School Board representatives Klaudia Hernandez, left, and Itzary Avalos, right, share an update from MHS

Student School Board Representative update
Student School Board representatives Itzary Avalos and Klaudia Hernandez shared an update from Marshalltown High School, including the upcoming gingerbread house making contest on Dec. 14 and information about winter sports

Steps taken on student Chromebook replacements, teacher workstations
The District Technology Department will begin working toward replacing teachers’ current PC desktop computer workstations with portable laptop workstations after board action Monday. Director of Technology Amy Harmsen said the laptops will offer teachers more mobility while continuing to provide the necessary power to complete important work tasks. 

Additionally, the board approved the purchase of second-, fifth- and 10th grade student Chromebooks to replace older models, in accordance with the District’s regular Chromebook replacement cycle. Harmsen said the request to seek bids for the new devices had been scheduled to take place in the spring, but the item was brought to the board early to ensure the Chromebooks could be received in a timely fashion. 

2021-22 At-Risk programming and budget discussed
The District’s proposed At-Risk budget for next school year was an important discussion item at the Dec. 7 meeting. At-Risk programming is designed to serve students in need of academic support and to prevent dropping students from dropping out of school. 

Dr. Stevenson said this year’s At-Risk budget will not include any programming increases, meaning the funding will remain consistent with the current year’s budget. She said the recommendation to not increase program funding is to reduce the budget’s property tax impact; however, she said the At-Risk program has shown great growth in the past several years and will continue to provide necessary services to students throughout the District. 

There was no action taken on the 2020-21 At-Risk budget Monday evening.

Update shared on District contributions to COVID-19 dashboards
Marshalltown Schools has contributed data to two important COVID-19 dashboards, one at the national level and the other at the state level. 

Dr. Schutte said the District began sharing COVID-19 data with a national dashboard through a partnership with the School Superintendents Association (AASA) and Brown University earlier this year. In November, the District began voluntarily contributing data toward the Iowa Department of Education’s dashboard.

In looking at the numbers presented by each dashboard, Dr. Schutte said students show a low rate of infection, while the rate is higher among staff members. He said he remains confident that spread is taking place primarily outside of the schools.

Updates on the dashboard data are planned to be shared as numbers continue to be updated. In addition to the state and national dashboards discussed Monday, the District shares weekly COVID-19 positivity numbers on the MCSD website. 

Communications Director Adam Sodders reviewed the good news from the district by sharing newspaper articles as well as school communications articles. That list can be seen here.

Personnel items
For a list of personnel items approved Monday, click here.

First Reading – 

  • 300 – Statement of Guiding Principles for Administration (amended, second reading waived)
  • 301.1 (new 302.1) – Superintendent of Schools – Qualifications and Recruitment (amended, second reading waived)
  • 501.3-E1 – Attendance Requirements (amended, second reading waived)
  • 501.3-E2 – Attendance Regulations (amended, second reading waived)
  • 501.5 – Attendance Center Assignment (amended, second reading waived)
  • 705.2-R1 – Suspension and Debarment of Vendors and Contractors Procedure (adopted, second reading waived)
  • 705.1-R2 – Using Federal Funds in Procurement Contracts (adopted, second reading waived)

Initial Review – 

  • 204.1 – Regular Meetings (will come back for a first reading)
  • 204.2 – Special Meetings (marked as reviewed)
  • 102 – Equal Educational Opportunity (will come back for a first reading)
  • 603.2 – Summer School Instruction (will come back for a first reading)
  • 603.3 – Special Education (will come back for a first reading)
  • 102.E4 – Complaint Form (marked as reviewed)
  • 501.7 – Transfers Out or Withdrawals (marked as reviewed)
  • 504.2 – Student Organizations (marked as reviewed)
  • 505.6 – Early Graduation (marked as reviewed)
  • 603.10 – Global Education (marked as reviewed)
  • 603.11 – Citizenship (marked as reviewed)

From Board President Bea Niblock
“The board and Central Office administrators finished their book study last night. They have been reading and discussing “Schools Cannot Do It Alone,” written by Jamie Vollmer. Animated and thought-provoking discussions have taken place at each meeting.

Directors and administrators have shared impressions and asked each other questions as we have moved through the content of the book. We have all learned ways to engage the full community in discussions that could change the course of our work in increasing student achievement. 

A video conference with Jamie Vollmer last night culminated our book study.  He spoke directly to our needs as a community and school district. He helped us bring our thoughts full circle and gave us momentum and enthusiasm to do the work we need to do.” – Bea Niblock

The next Marshalltown School Board meeting is set for 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. The meeting will be available to watch via YouTube live stream.