Monthly School Report (June 2017)

Superintendent Steve Hanson · Wednesday, June 21, 2017
We are wrapping up the 2016-17 school year and preparing for 2017-18. Next week, on June 26-29, the school board will interview candidates for the superintendent vacancy.

These past six years have gone quickly for me, and I appreciate all the support I have received from this wonderful community. Many individuals have worked hard to produce some outstanding results.

Six years ago, at the elementary school, there were three projectors on carts that teachers could check out and use in their classrooms; now there is a projector in every classroom, mounted on the ceiling or wall and connected to each teacher’s laptop computer.

In 2011, there were very few computers at the elementary school; now multiple mobile computer labs are available for checkout, and every classroom has at least six computers (Chromebooks or tablets).

Similar improvements in technology have been made at the Early Learning Center. Significant advancements have been made to our wireless network and internet bandwidth. Instructional software that we have acquired include myON Reader, ST Math, and Imagine Learning, among others.

In addition to the many advancements that have been made in technology, there have been important improvements to our facilities during the past six years.

Thanks to a FEMA grant, secured by the previous administration, our district was able to add a room for weightlifting and wrestling to the gymnasium at the high school, built as a tornado safe room.

Over the course of a couple of summers, we added air conditioning to all the classrooms at the elementary school and the Early Learning Center, enabling us to provide better learning conditions for our students at the beginning and end of each school year, and removing the necessity to release school early on days when the heat index exceeded safe levels.

The installation of wells at the football stadium and practice fields has allowed us to maintain those facilities at a fraction of the cost of using city water to keep the grass healthy and the playing surface safe for students.

A few years ago, the district did not have any summer school programs, other than free lunch for all students. Now, for the second summer in a row, we are serving approximately 100 students from grades K-3 with a summer reading program. Students in the program gather from 8-11:45 a.m. for 20 days in June to improve their reading skills. Free breakfast and free lunch are available to all students, whether or not they participate in the summer reading program.

The installation of air conditioning and the reappropriation of our at-risk funding are two major factors that made it possible to have a summer program. We have also added some summer programming for high school students, and are piloting a summer band program for 5th grade students.

Various stakeholders have come together to help establish and clarify our vision for improvement.

The Local School Improvement Advisory Council (LSIAC) created a clear and detailed vision for improvement of student achievement. The improvement plan includes three major goals; for each goal there are indicators of success and a list of steps that will help us reach the goal.

The improvement plan is located at our district website (, under “District Information” and “Student Achievement.” The technology committee is utilizing a tool called “Clarity” to help develop the vision for technology in our district.

The school board and the facilities visioning committee spent most of 2016-17 working with BLDD Architects to create a facilities vision for our district. Other portions of the vision for our district include a staffing plan and a college-and-career readiness plan.

Students have made some notable gains during the past six years: they have managed to reach or exceed state average achievement levels in grades 7-11; the high school graduation rate has remained above state average since the Class of 2013; WLHS has been rated 5th Best in Iowa by U.S. News for two years in a row; this year grades 2 and 4 exceeded the state average levels for reading (per FAST assessments); over 60% of our students in grades K-8 participate in the Dual Language program; and the list goes on.

The district has made some good gains, while at the same time facing increasing challenges and barriers. In 2002, 31% of our students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch; today the percentage who qualify is more than double that amount.

Our schools have taken concrete, visible steps to provide students with learning supports, that is, the academic, emotional and social skills they need to engage in school.

Students feel more connected to their school when they believe that the adults and other students at school not only care about how well they are learning, but also care about them as individuals. Students who feel connected to school are more likely to have a number of positive health and academic outcomes. A student’s probability of success jumps from 40% to 80% if they feel that just one adult cares about them.

Staff engage with students to learn about the obstacles they are facing, so that they can have an idea about how to help them be more ready to learn.

Results for the Iowa Youth Survey (given to grades 6, 8, 11) show that from 2012 to 2014, the construct “Staff/Student Support” increased from 47% to 62%. Students in grades 6, 8 and 11 completed the Student Behavioral Health Survey this past October, along with the Iowa Youth Survey.

The behavioral health survey uses the same questions as the Iowa Youth Survey for the construct “Staff/Student Support,” but calls the construct “Adult-Student Relationship.” The results for our district from the October 2016 behavioral health survey indicate that 94% of our students in grades 6, 8 and 11 reported positive relationships with adults.

For the past five years, the UI Mobile Clinics has offered a free health clinic one day each month at our middle school cafeteria; this has proved to be a valuable support for our students, their families, neighbors and friends.

The Backpack program has provided food for weekends for children in need; the summer food program offered by the district serves school-age children in West Liberty, Atalissa and Nichols. In 2017-18, the district is adding a fourth guidance counselor and a second full-time nurse.

Although much has been accomplished, there are still many challenges yet to meet.

We trust that the hard-working, talented individuals who are responsible for the gains we have enjoyed so far, will continue their good work, and that they will be joined by new staff who are equally eager for the success of all the students in district.
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