Fort Dodge Community School District: Providing opportunity

New building, new boundaries; new Duncombe Elementary School building will open in fall 2018

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
The south side of the new Duncombe Elementary School is shown here.

Between the spacious facilities and numerous programs offered throughout the Fort Dodge Community School District, there’s no shortage of opportunities for students.

Listed below is a summary of the major projects, programs, latest performances, and changes throughout the district during the past year.

The Duncombe Elementary School and the upgrades to Fort Dodge Senior High were included in the $27 million general obligation bond that passed about two years ago.

“I hope our community takes a look at what the school board and school administration said that we were going to do with the bond issue money,” Superintendent Doug Van Zyl said. “We really have worked hard to fulfill everything we said, but we will have to continue to look at what we do as a district to maintain and upgrade our facilities just as we do with our own homes. We are going to do everything we can to keep those facilities in top shape for our students.”

Duncombe Elementary School

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Jeremy Pearson, supervisor of information technology for the Fort Dodge Community School District, holds a stack of Google Chromebook computers at the Fort Dodge Senior High recently. The high school and middle school are implimenting a one to one initiative for their students.

Students living in the Duncombe district will be treated to a brand new elementary school in the fall.

The FDCSD board decided to open the building at the start of the 2018-19 school year to allow for additional move-in time. The new elementary boundaries will also be in place by then.

“I think the board made a wise decision in delaying moving into Duncombe,” Van Zyl said. “I think it gives the folks working on that facility the time to finish that job completely and do it to the level of satisfaction that we would expect it to be completed to.”

The historic Duncombe Elementary, which was the oldest school in the FDCSD at 104 years old, was forced to close in the summer of 2015 due to structural concerns.

Structural issues were noticed by the building’s staff during remodeling efforts that summer and were later verified by a structural engineer from architectural firm ISG of Mankato, Minnesota.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Don Miller, former Fort Dodge wrestling coach and athletic director, left, visits with John McBride, of Fort Dodge, Monday night in the learning commons, an area that is part of the new Freshman Academy at Fort Dodge Senior High.

The building was demolished in April 2016, setting the stage for the new Duncombe to be built at the same location, 615 N. 16th St.

Kolacia Construction Inc., of Fort Dodge, was hired as the project manager.

Woodruff Construction LLC, of Fort Dodge, was hired for the construction of the new 65,342-square-foot school in August 2016. The firm submitted a low bid of $10,937,700 at that time.

Construction on the 65,342-square-foot school began in the fall of 2016.

The Fair Oaks Middle School building, owned by Foutch Bros. LLC, of Kansas City, Missouri, has and will continue to house Duncombe Elementary’s approximately 350 students for the remainder of the school year.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Travis Filloon, director of buildings and grounds for the Fort Dodge Community School District, looks over some of the recently completed tile work inside the new Duncombe Elementary School building.

The new school will be two stories high and is designed to house up to 450 students with four sections of classes, kindergarten through fourth grade.

It will also feature additional room for picking up and dropping off students.

A large staff parking lot will be located on the northeast corner of the building.

Air conditioning, climate control, an updated lighting system, and increased access to natural light are a few of the amenities the new school will offer.

Fort Dodge Senior High Freshman Academy

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Kenneth Hayes, Fort Dodge Senior High principal, shows off the new locker rooms at the school. Guided tours of the new facilities at FDSH were offered Monday night.

The academy is designed to ease incoming students into the high school atmosphere by placing a majority of their classrooms in one designated area of the school, according to FDSH Principal Kenneth Hayes.

The space occupies 19,865 square feet.

Goals for the academy include 95 percent or higher attendance rate, completion of 15 to 18 credits by the end of ninth grade, increased exposure to extra curricular activities, and stronger relationships with staff and peers.

Some features include dividing walls which allow for more collaboration between classes, a learning commons, which is an area outside of the classrooms designed for flexible teaching, small group instruction, independent work, and team meetings.

Exterior windows that allow natural light to come into the corridor where the academy is located is another feature designed to enhance the educational experience.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Work continues at the new Duncombe Elementary School Monday evening.

Three English teachers, two math teachers, two social studies teachers, two science teachers, two special education teachers, a Spanish teacher, and a counselor are staffed specifically for the academy. A freshman counselor is located just outside of the academy for easy access.

English classrooms and a counseling area were also added as part of this project.

In all, 16 classrooms were renovated.

Two classrooms were moved to the library area. Part of the library was remodeled with a similar design to the Freshman Academy.

“To look at the academy wing and walk in there this year compared to last year is night and day difference,” Van Zyl said. “It’s very visually pleasing. The natural light that comes into that area. The design really does help our students feel like it’s a place they can learn and we as a community can value by giving them such a nice facility.”

According to Van Zyl, the district may look to update the rest of the library in the next phase of facility updates.

An update to the library was not included in the bond.

Fort Dodge Senior High auxiliary gym

The auxiliary gym is being used for additional practices, freshmen and Junior Varsity games, physical education, and leadership training, among other activities.

The space occupies 9,141 square feet. It includes three basketball courts and three volleyball courts.

The gym offers seating for about 200 people. The previous auxiliary gym had limited seating.

It can be accessed by the public without having to enter the main building.

Sixty-seven parking spaces are outside of the gym. That parking is accessible for all students and staff.

Fort Dodge Senior High locker rooms

The locker rooms provide an equal amount of space for boys and girls athletics.

Two boys locker rooms and two girls locker rooms are included in the 11,016-square-foot space.

A coaches office, physical therapy center, officials locker, physical education instructor’s office, are also included.

The space also provides more efficient heating and cooling.

A team huddle area featuring an overhead projector and whiteboards allow coaches to go over plays with players.

New solid plastic lockers have replaced the previous metal lockers.

Fort Dodge Senior High wrestling room

At 6,678 square feet, the new wrestling room is double the size of the old one.

Wrestling practices, small tournaments, and cheerleading practices are held inside the space.

The wrestling room features improved air quality and ventilation.

Bikes, treadmills and physical therapy services are also offered there.

Future improvements

The FDCSD board will be taking a hard look at infrastructure upgrades throughout all of the buildings in the district, according to Van Zyl.

“We need to start looking at those behind-the-scenes items such as plumbing, wiring, within our facilities that are related to safety and security,” he said.

Van Zyl said the water in Fort Dodge can take a toll on pipes.

“We need to address those before they create some major shutdown issues for us,” he said. “The next items won’t necessarily be as visible to the community, but are just as important to make sure our facilities stay up and running the way they need to be.”

New elementary boundaries

The elementary schools within the district will start the 2018-19 school year with new boundaries.

RSP and Associates was hired by the district to reconfigure the borders.

RSP is an education planning firm. It is using current trends in city population, growth projections, and school building capacities among other factors to produce the proposed changes.

Anticipated growth within the district and the opening of the new Duncombe Elementary School next fall are two reasons the district is reconfiguring the boundaries.

“That should help should we see a large increase in students coming in,” Van Zyl said. “The middle school and high school have space to be able to absorb some students. The planning for that is in place and ongoing right now.”

New boundaries will mean changes for some families.

The boundaries directly impact where students are sent based on geographic location.

“There’s not a 100 percent perfect plan, but the goal is to get that boundary plan put in place and then give an opportunity to start addressing other questions or issues people have,” Van Zyl said.


The latest report card from the Iowa Department of Education suggests there is work to be done at all levels of education in the FDCSD.

“We are not necessarily happy with the complete end result,” Van Zyl said. “The challenge with that is there are several positive things that have taken place in our schools that aren’t always reflected in the state report card. It’s not always the most accurate reflection of what’s taking place in the district.”

The state’s 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.

Statewide assessments are also a factor.

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

Butler Elementary School was rated as needs improvement. In 2016, the school was rated as priority. The school’s proficiency score is about 20 percent below the state average. About 32 percent of the 485 students make up the minority. Almost 74 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.

Cooper Elementary School was rated as priority. The previous year, the school was rated as needs improvement. The school’s proficiency score is about 15 percent below the state average. About 20 percent of the 284 students make up the minority. About 50 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.

Duncombe Elementary School was rated as needs improvement. The previous year, the school was rated as acceptable. The school’s proficiency score is about 19 percent below the state average. About 40 percent of the 354 students make up the minority. Almost 76 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.

Feelhaver Elementary School was rated as acceptable. The previous year, the school was rated as priority. The school’s proficiency score was about 7 percent below the state average. About 21 percent of the 226 students make up the minority. About 48 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.

Fort Dodge Middle School was rated as needs improvement. The previous year, the school was rated as priority. The school’s proficiency score was about 18 percent below the state average. About 27 percent of the 1,066 students make up the minority. About 61 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.

Fort Dodge Senior High was rated as needs improvement. The previous year, the school was rated as acceptable. The school’s proficiency score was about 4 percent below the state average. Almost 24 percent of the 1,129 students make up the minority. About 51 percent of students are on free or reduced lunch.

In terms of subgroups, Van Zyl said Fort Dodge schools face some challenges that other schools in the region may not.

“We are one of the few districts in the state that is going to have some of those subgroups that can be an issue when it comes to closing the achievement gap,” he said. “Many districts don’t have that same diversity in ethnicity and economics.”

According to Van Zyl, sometimes growth is taking place with students, but it doesn’t show on the state report card.

“So I may have a student who starts significantly behind grade level, but made substantial growth in that year,” he said. “Maybe a year’s worth of growth, but they are still behind grade level.”

Van Zyl said he is impressed with the co-teaching model taking place at Duncombe Elementary School and Cooper Elementary School.

The co-teaching model puts a special education teacher and general education teacher in the same classroom to serve all students.

Duncombe, for example, was 13 percent above state average in terms of serving special education students, Stacey Cole, Fort Dodge Community School District director of education services, reported in the spring of 2017.

“Our special ed students are able to be immersed in a regular ed classroom as much as time will allow,” he said. “It’s a benefit to all students. The strategies help both students.”

He added, “We will continue to look at what we are doing with math especially at the elementary level and the changes we have made. We aren’t there yet, but we are seeing progress.”

According to Van Zyl, economics of families play a role in education.

“Most of the time students come to us that may be challenged economically,” he said. “They don’t have the same opportunities to be exposed to learning as far as someone reading to them or doing math problems because many of our hard-working families have to work to be able to support themselves and their families. That’s a great thing, but does create some obstacles for our kiddos coming into school.”

He added, “If you look at Waukee or Johnston and areas like that, the economics are quite a bit different. You probably don’t have single-family homes or parents where they are working both jobs. Opportunities for education at home might be more limited.”

The level of diversity in Fort Dodge schools is a selling point for teachers, however.

“For someone to really want to make a difference in the lives of young people, Fort Dodge is a great place for them to be able to have that opportunity to be impactful in the learning in the lives of young people.”

Van Zyl the staff continues to get better at working together.

“The work our staff is doing as it relates to collaboration and professional learning, so we are able to meet the needs of our students,” he said. “We are not there yet, but we continue to move forward, continue to get better at communicating and meeting the needs of our students.”

English Language Learners

According to Van Zyl, less than 100 of about 3,800 students in the district receive English as a second language services. But that number could increase when Prestage Foods of Iowa opens its pork plant in Eagle Grove next fall.

“We have been having conversations with how we would work with students and expand our existing program,” he said. “When Prestage opens their second shift in a couple of years that will probably have a bigger impact on space.”

He added, “English language struggles would be one of our bigger concerns at the moment. Education is our top priority and if families and students aren’t able to learn within our schools, then we need to incorporate the strategies they need in order to be successful.”

1:1 initiative

Fort Dodge Senior High and Fort Dodge Middle School embarked on a 1:1 initiative at the beginning of the school year.

1:1 means that there is at least one computer for every student in the school.

All students received Google Chromebook laptops.

The district had been using Chromebooks for the past five years, but the laptop computers were not issued to every student.

The machines help students complete their work at school, from home, or anywhere else they might be.

Van Zyl said the implementation has taken some time to catch on.

“It’s a learning process for our teachers and students,” he said. “But I have heard numerous positive comments from students and staff on how they have been able to utilize technology much more effectively in their classrooms, whether that’s through research, developing presentations or just being able to collaborate through Google classroom or other interactive platforms.”

Still, Van Zyl said it’s just another tool for staff and students.

“Technology can be a resource,” he said. “But I want our parents and students to understand our teachers are still the most important resource.”


Jennifer Lane, director of communications for the district, shares the variety of programs, clubs and activities for the students.

There are also a host of programs for students who may need help with their academic success and programs for students who are more advanced than their peers.

In addition to the programs listed here, there are also a wide variety of athletic programs at the high school level.

• K-12 Talented and Gifted program

• K-12 English Language Learner program

• K-12 special education program



• Academic Behavior Collaboration Supports (ABC Program) at elementary level

• Kindness & Compassion Club at Feelhaver

• Dodger Academy after-school program for K-4 students

• Band and orchestra as early as fifth grade

• Middle school volleyball, football, cross country, basketball, wrestling and track

• Middle school after-school clubs (11 offered this spring)

• FOR (Friends of Rachel) Club at FDMS

• Seventh- and Eighth-Grade Musical

• Advanced Placement Classes at FDSH

• Honors by Contract Classes at FDSH

• Freshman Academy

• Approximately 40 Iowa Central Community College classes are offered onsite at Fort Dodge Senior High, which allow students to acquire college credits before graduation.

• Iowa Central Community College North Central Career Academy

• 21 FDSH Athletic Teams: volleyball, cross country, football, golf, soccer, swimming, basketball, wrestling, bowling, track, tennis, softball and baseball.