Clarion-Goldfield-Dows: ON THE RISE

Wheels of progress turn

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Kaeden Langfitt, 15, a freshman at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows, gets to work on a class project at the school recently.

CLARION — Clarion-Goldfield-Dows schools continue to perform well at a time when the district could see an increase in enrollment in the coming years.

That’s according to educational measures compiled by the Iowa Department of Education through its annual school report card.

“We have been experiencing strong or improving scores,” Bob Olson, CGD superintendent, said.

The latest report card from the state grades CGD’s elementary school as acceptable and its middle school and high school as commendable.

The ratings are formulated based on up to eight different categories: proficiency, college and career ready growth, annual expected growth, closing achievement gap, college and career readiness, graduation rate, attendance and staff retention.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Miriam Meinke, an English Language Learner paraeducator, works with Luis Puac, 15, a sophomore, at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows High School recently.

Statewide assessments are also a factor.

Each school receives one of the following ratings: exceptional, high-performing, commendable, acceptable, needs improvement, and priority.

In 2015, CGD High School received a priority rating.

But Olson said there was a good reason for that.

“Come to find out some of our students thought it wasn’t important to take the test, so they didn’t try and that was reflected,” he said.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Nefi Ramos, 17, a sophomore at Clarion-Goldfield-Dows High School grinds a metal Chevrolet sign at the school recently.

Since then, the high school improved to acceptable in 2016 and commendable in 2017.

The middle school has achieved a commendable rating in each of the last two years, while the elementary school has scored acceptable in both 2016 and 2017.

“We are feeling really good about that,” Olson said. “Especially with our diverse student population. All of our kids are doing well.”

About 930 students attend Clarion schools.

At each of the schools, about 30 percent of the student population is Hispanic.

With Prestage Foods of Iowa’s incoming pork plant set to open in the fall less than 20 miles from Clarion’s schools, the district may see an increase in that diversity.

Olson said the district is well equipped to handle any changes in demographics.

“We have experience in a great deal of change in the makeup of our student body,” he said. “We saw that even before with a lot of the confinements we have had in the district, whether that’s Dows or Clarion.”

“The students that are associated with parents working in those areas, we have seen quite a few coming to the district with limited English skills,” he added. “So our ELL program is a fairly good size.”

Olson has been CGD’s superintendent for nearly 30 years. Prior to that he spent five years as Clarion High School’s principal in the 1980s.

At that time, Olson said about 2 percent of the student population was Hispanic.

“We weren’t very diverse back then,” he said. “Now we are between 25 and 30 percent.”

The district employs two full-time ELL teachers, one full-time associate, and three part-time associates.

“Instructionally, I think we are well-positioned to take on additional students with limited English,” Olson said. “I think we are fine.”

One area that could be a challenge is finding additional learning space, he said.

“We have been talking with architects to see what we can do to accommodate the growth that is anticipated,” Olson said.

The last major construction work completed was about a decade ago when a $4 million bond passed.

“We were able to renovate the middle school, provide a new entrance there, and install the balance of geothermal heating and cooling at the high school,” Olson said.

A new library was also added at the high school.

“With Prestage coming in we will have needs for facilities,” Olson said. “Our elementary school and middle school is landlocked.”

Olson said it can take several years to make a construction project happen.

“Schools receive SAVE, funding from schools tax,” he said. “They have put a sunset on it that it would go away in 2029. That sounds like a ways away, but when you are trying to fund facilities and bonds, those are about 15 years.”

“When you are only going to 2029, it’s hard to use that funding for a 20 year project,” he said. “So we are wanting legislators to extend it or do away with the sunset. We need to have all the financial vehicles available to us as possible.”

Another challenge is transportation.

According to Olson, the district covers 362 square miles.

“We are one of the largest geographic school areas in the state,” he said. “If you drive from the northwest corner, which actually goes and touches Kossuth County, and drive to the southeast corner you would have 54 miles on your odometer.”

No matter where a student attends, a bus will be there to pick them up, Olson said.

Clarion merged with Goldfield in 1993. Clarion-Goldfield merged with Dows in 2014.

“Our transportation is much different than many other schools,” he said. “So we have been looking at equity for state transportation. Once you reorganize, the cost per pupil to transport is vastly different from district to district.”

Olson said the gap for state funding from school to school is out of balance.

He said it’s based on how much money per student the school can generate.

“That varies about $175 from school to school,” he said. “Our school is about $140 from the highest, so we have been talking to legislature about equity.”

Transportation, human resources, and instructional materials are all part of the same general fund, Olson said.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “It’s the low state fund we have received in the last few years. It has put a great deal of pressure on the district.”

Olson added, “Rural Iowa has obstacles to providing the same funding per student than other school districts do.”

In terms of technology, the district has prided itself on being able to provide high-end devices to its students, according to Olson.

All students in grades three through eight are equipped with iPads.

“That just recently expanded,” Olson said.

At the high school, all students have their own MacBook Air laptops.

Hagie Manufacturing Co., of Clarion, helped fund the technology.

“They helped us get started,” Olson said. “They helped us get iPads in the middle school. They helped get laptops at the high school. They have been very supportive of our schools.”

Hagie also worked with the district to purchase a plasma cutter for the high school.

“Hagie is interested in having them do work that would be applicable to Hagie,” Olson said. “Maybe even make parts for them. We are just so pleased with that.”

Olson said the district spends about $350,000 on technology every year.

The devices assigned to students have helped connect parents to their children’s education.

“Parents can identify when they want to be alerted to concerns,” Olson said. “If they want to know when their child gets below a B or a C, they can set it up to be notified.”

Olson said students are supposed to show weekly progress to their parents.

Teachers have shifted focus in recent years to more collaboration and professional development, according to Olson.

“For years and years teachers focused on their teaching, and now the focus is on students,” he said. “Are they actually learning? And what do they know? It has to do with what evidence do you have that they are learning what they learn. How do you know they got it?”

One result of changing philosophies is the amount of times students are tested.

Olson said students may be asked to take more frequent exams such as a smaller quizzes throughout a unit.

Some teachers are creating videos of specific strategies used that other teachers can watch at anytime, Olson said.

The clips might range from 8 to 10 minutes, he said.

“That’s something the state has been interested in,” Olson said.

He said in previous years some teachers would be used as model teachers for other teachers, but that proved to be ineffective.

“One of the problems we found with doing that for a year or so is that teachers are busy,” he said. “They really don’t want to go to another class to see someone else teach.”

The videos allow the teachers to view different strategies at a time of their choosing.

“There is more collaboration happening,” Olson said. “It has energized the staff.”

In an effort to train future teachers, CGD is part of the North Central Academy, located in Eagle Grove.

There, students can take part in the education pathway to earn college credits.

According to Olson, one in four teachers who teach in the district, graduated from Clarion.

“We grow our own teachers,” he said. “We see the value in knowing the students that graduate from here. We are fortunate that they want to come back.”