It is a pleasure to serve a district where continuous improvement is sought and student achievement is a priority. Proficiency rates in math and reading across grade levels 3-11 range from 82-92% in Indianola CSD, and the percentage of students scoring in the proficient exceeds both the AEA and state averages in every grade level for both math and reading. Indianola CSD students who take the ACT, considered a good indicator of college readiness, outscore the state average on all tests year after year. Indianola High School had a 98% graduation rate last year, which is significantly higher than the Iowa average that leads the nation.

I share some of these data points for context because the national conversation—and sometimes the state conversation as well—seems to center on how public education is failing. This could not be further from the truth. While standardized test scores (definitely not a complete measure of learning) have been stagnant in Iowa, they are improving even as our state sees many demographic changes and schools receive modest education funding. The SINA (School in Need of Assistance) and DINA (District in Need of Assistance) designations fuel the perception of failing schools, too. If a school does not meet AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) in reading or math for two consecutive years, for all groups or a subgroup, it is deemed a SINA school. There are 394 SINA schools in Iowa this school year, including Emerson Elementary in Indianola. This number includes many high achieving schools that simply did not meet their academic goals.

Remember that local proficiency rates range from 82-92%. It does become challenging to keep growing toward 100% proficiency, which is the mandate from NCLB (No Child Left Behind) legislation. I compare it to weight loss or fitness training. After a while it is natural to plateau. We might enjoy great success at first, but as we lose weight or as we become more fit, continual improvement becomes more difficult and we have to change our approach.

This is where Indianola CSD’s focus on continuous improvement comes in. District and building improvement goals guide our actions, and teacher professional development is a priority. Instructional coaches working within the Teacher Leadership and Compensation grant are a big asset as well.

I conduct classroom walk-throughs and lead Instructional Rounds in each attendance center in the district, and Indianola CSD students and staff impress me on a continual basis. There are so many good things happening in our schools! Our achievement scores tell part of the story, and they are very good. Academic excellence is one of our proud traditions, but we seek continuous improvement because we know the possibilities are endless.