Another school year begins
Fort Dodge Community:
I love the first day of school! As a superintendent, this is by far my favorite day. Everyone is happy. Parents are happy, teachers and staff are happy, and even students (though they will not admit it) are happy. There is something undeniably special about the start of a new school year. The start of the school year is also a reminder for me of the immense responsibility we, as a school district, have to our community. Beginning this week, we will be responsible for the greatest assets and cherished gifts our community has to offer, the future of our children.
This is not a responsibility I take lightly. I spent my first year here watching and listening. I’ve talked to parents, community members, business leaders, and students. Every one of these groups wants the same thing for our kids. We all want our kids to graduate from our school prepared to either enter our workforce, enroll in college, or join our nation’s military. We also want them to have hope for their futures and make a positive difference in our world.
We have a lot to celebrate here in Fort Dodge. This past year our graduation rate was the second highest in a decade. We continue to be a leader in our state, with our valued partnership with Iowa Central Community College, in the area of dual enrollment courses. We have cutting edge curriculum and supportive staff. We have competitive athletic and top-notch fine arts programs for students to be involved in. The opportunities our students have within our district are second to none. Do we have challenges? Absolutely. These challenges, however, should not overshadow the significant work of our educators or the achievements of our students.
We all want the same things for our kids; the question is how can you help?
As the landscape of public education continues to change, we are faced with different challenges than ever before. Given the inadequate funding of schools (1.9% average increase in state supplemental aid over the past nine years) and adding to that changing demographics, increased childhood poverty, higher scrutiny, more mandates, and more students entering our walls with mental health and childhood trauma, we need your help. I’m challenging our community to think differently about how we all can support our schools. This year I’m asking you to support our schools with encouragement.
The number one factor in student achievement is the quality of the teacher. No other factor comes close! With that being said, when was the last time you thanked a teacher? When have you reached out and provided them encouragement for the difficult work they do? Have you provided a positive review on our website or Facebook page? Social media has changed how we as a society interact, and not necessarily for the better. While it may be easier to vent your frustrations and negative opinions on Facebook or Twitter, it is more productive to engage with the teachers and leaders serving your child.
Maybe our public is unaware, but we are facing a teacher shortage crisis. We have fewer people entering the teaching profession, and nationally, we are losing half of our teachers in the first five years of their careers. We will begin our school year with several teaching positions unfilled because of the lack of applicants. Our district will only be as good as the people we have. Regardless of the textbooks or technological devices in our students’ hands, we have to have quality people serving our kids every day. Reach out to them. Get engaged. Show up to back to school meetings and conferences with the same enthusiasm you would for our football games. Our staff needs encouragement for the work that they do. We want the same thing for your child as you do and we stand ready to engage in meaningful dialogue on how we can support each other in reaching those goals.
Our school is only as strong as our community and our community is only as strong as our school. The success of our children’s futures is in the hands of our staff who serve them, our parents who raise them, and the community that supports and encourages them. I’m blessed each day that I get to serve the students and families of Fort Dodge. Together we can provide equitable outcomes for every student because Together We Rise!
Dr. Jesse Ulrich is the superintendent of the Fort Dodge Community School District