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Message to the Board of Education - January 27, 2021

Tonight, Flynn-Wright shared out their findings as to the district strengths and growth areas. Momentarily, we will be sharing our recommendations to address these research findings. Prior to sharing our recommendations, I would like to give my impressions of the Ottumwa Community and the district vision moving forward.

Based on my observations and interactions, I am confident that the outlook of the district is bright and positioned for success. The main reason for my optimism is that structurally things are in place within our community/district for future success.

I am extremely fortunate to be joining the district at a time when our local businesses, nonprofits, and the school district are all committed to working together and focused on moving our community forward. From the moment I arrived, individuals from the city, county, Indian Hills, local businesses, and nonprofits have contacted me to discuss how we can work together for the betterment of our community.  Whether it is collaborating on projects, supporting each other, increasing opportunities, I have been impressed by everyone’s commitment and dedication to improving Ottumwa. With this type of infrastructure and collaborative mindset in place, the table is set for our district to thrive.

Looking at our district as a whole, my many years of experience tell me that we have the prerequisite things in place for our district to move from good to great.  The most essential component of exemplary school districts is that everyone is focused on the mission and goals of the district, as well as people working together at a high level to accomplish them. Our district educators have impressed me with their laser-like focus on doing what is “best for kids” (Pause) and their willingness to do whatever is necessary to accomplish our mission. 

I have also been impressed by the district leadership as well as the Ottumwa staff.  It is clear to me that we have the right people in place to reach our vision. I feel extremely lucky to work with individuals that are so dedicated, talented, and committed to making a difference in the lives of students.    

The leadership from our school board has set the tone for this excellence; they are dedicated to doing whatever is necessary whether it is providing additional resources, staffing, programming or upgrading facilities,(Pause) for us to become an elite school district. This type of board vision and empowerment is what every superintendent hopes for, their level of commitment will ensure future district success.  

I would be remiss if I did not speak to the pivotal role our parents/families and students play in our district. Since beginning my position, I have appreciated all the parental support for our schools and their willingness to collaborate to improve our district. Our forthcoming recommendations will illustrate to our stakeholders that the district is committed to meeting the needs and ensuring that their children have bright futures. 

I have also been very impressed with Ottumwa students, I have found them to be talented, caring, and compassionate individuals. I am excited to work with and optimistic about the future of our youth. 

From my comments, you can see why I believe, structural things are in place, for our district to prosper and thrive. I will now address our district challenges and the areas we need to focus and work on to move our district forward.  

It will be critical over the next few years that the district addresses its facility needs, ranging from outdated school buildings to improving and adding to our facilities, in order to ensure outstanding learning environments. With these facility needs in mind, I am excited to share tonight that the district will be investing $13 million into our facilities over the next two years. Our survey results clearly indicate that parents/staff embrace and value the atmosphere of our smaller elementaries and do not want to lose this intimate and personalized school experience. To preserve the small school experience for our students and parents, we will be investing $8 million over the next two years in our four northside elementary schools.  This investment and upgrades will maintain the small school atmosphere in these elementaries as well as ensure that these buildings have outstanding learning environments. We will also be investing up to $5 million over the next two years in upgrading our facilities at Evans, the high school, and south side elementaries. We are also opening our $5 million state-of-the-art preschool addition this fall. Without question, our preschool has quickly become one of the best in the state. 

Thirty years ago if you would have asked parents what are the top 20 concerns they have about schools, safety concerns would not have made the top 20. Now parents would say that safety is one of their top concerns about sending their child to school. With safety in mind, I will be recommending in the near future putting new cameras in our middle and high schools. Also to ensure safe learning environments, we will be repurposing the middle and high school cameras into our PK and elementary school buildings.  During our facility upgrades, we will also put in secure entrances into all of our buildings. 

We will also be recommending this evening adding staffing resources into our schools to keep our classrooms and hallways safe and orderly. With safety in mind, we will be adding behavioral interventionists, diversity advocates and guidance counselors to our PK-12 schools to ensure our teachers and students have the social and emotional support they need to maintain a great educational environment. Additionally, the middle school will be sharing out at our next board meeting, a proposal to personalize the middle school learning environment and the transition of our 5th graders to the middle school. The district is committed to meeting the ever-increasing social and emotional needs of our students and families, in order to ensure our students excel academically and that all of our buildings maintain safe and nurturing environments.

The district commitment to providing additional resources and the implementation of new initiatives, along with reinvesting in our northside elementary schools to preserve the smaller personalized learning experience, will also guarantee our buildings will be outstanding learning environments.  

The Flynn-Wright research also indicated that our parents and staff have class size concerns and feel that some curriculum resources are lacking. To address these concerns next year we will be adding additional classroom teachers to guarantee our district maintains optimal class sizes.  Regionally, we are committed to ensuring our district has the smallest class sizes in the area.  In response to the concern about lack of curriculum resources, the district will be making $300,000 available to our staff  beginning this week. This money will be targeted to make sure our students and teachers get the curriculum and technology resources they need.   

One of the district’s strengths is its diversity. With that in mind, we need to provide the support and resources necessary for teachers to meet the diverse needs of our students. To further this commitment we are proposing adding at all grade levels, special education and english language learner teachers. To better meet the diverse needs of our students we are also proposing to offer parents and students next year a state-of-the-art Dyslexia program.

Our district must also commit to increasing the academic performance of our students by providing more rigorous programming opportunities and additional academic support so our students are prepared and successful in their post-secondary choices. To increase district rigor, we will be proposing tonight to add a Pre-AP curriculum option for grades 6-8 in Language Arts and Math. Additionally, this evening we will share out the new curricular options for students in our recently acquired Market on Main facility.  These curricular additions will provide students rigorous opportunities to ensure their postsecondary success.  To provide additional academic support to our students, we will be implementing a comprehensive 7-12 off-site alternative school option. This program will ensure that our struggling learners receive the support they need to guarantee they have successful futures. 

As you can see from my comments, many new exciting changes are on the district horizon. These additions and improvements will help us attain our vision of becoming an elite district and a destination place for parents and students. 

What are the takeaways from our presentation tonight:

  • This is a watershed period for our district. In listening to our students, staff, parents and community, it is clear that our school improvement efforts need to focus on providing more district supports. In providing these resources it will also enable us to attain our vision of becoming an elite school district.  
  • This evening, the district committed to adding additional resources, staffing, state of the art programing, and major facility upgrades. These recommendations will send a strong message to our stakeholders that we are committed to become a destination place for families and are striving to become the best school district in the state. It is my ultimate hope that by putting our money where our mouth is we put an end to the district open-enrollment issue and that our stakeholders realise, that OCSD offers the most opportunities and best education around. 
  • This would be the perfect time for a mic. drop, but I will resist the urge because the last thing I want, is for anyone to think is that I am taking credit for the changes discussed tonight. These changes came about out of the relentless dedication of our staff, administrators, and school board to do what is best for kids and in collaboration with our students, families and community.  Thank you.