The new year provides many opportunities to celebrate the good things happening in the Indianola Community School District. I will provide a brief overview in several significant areas although this is by no means an exhaustive discussion in any area.
Indianola CSD students exceed Heartland AEA and state proficiency rates in both math and reading for every grade level tested on the Iowa Assessment. Student proficiency rates range from 82-92%. District students taking the ACT test also exceed the state average on every subtest and the composite average. While standardized tests are only one measure of student achievement, they are an important measure.
The Department of Education has released Performance Center Rankings in response to a 2013 legislative mandate as well. The Iowa School Report Card designates attendance centers as Exceptional, High-Performing, Commendable, Acceptable, Needs Improvement, or Priority, based on eight measures: student proficiency rates, student growth toward college and career readiness, annual expected growth, closing the achievement gap, college and career readiness, graduation rate, attendance, and staff retention. Wilder Elementary was deemed Exceptional; Emerson Elementary, Whittier Elementary, and Irving Elementary were High-Performing, and Indianola Middle School and Indianola High School were Commendable.
Indianola High School has a graduation rate of 98%, and building average daily attendance rates across the district are in the 95-96% range. This past fall there were 326 fall sports participants with an average grade point of 3.422. Indianola CSD was also recently named part of the 6th Annual AP Honor Roll.
Indianola is a high achieving district because students rise to the challenge and take advantage of exceptional teachers, curriculum, and learning environments.
Throughout the first semester five projects were underway, three of which were funded through the 2013 bond issue and two of which were funded by sales tax, or “statewide penny,” revenue. Emerson Elementary was renovated, converted to geothermal heating and cooling, added a secure entrance, and received a new playground and new furnishings. Indianola High School received additional space for career/technical programming, a renovated counseling area, new secure entrance and office area, and new professional development space. Indianola Stadium saw the addition of new home bleachers and press box, new field buildings (concessions, restrooms, locker rooms, team rooms), and new video board. The two projects outside of the bond relate to baseball and tennis facilities. The baseball site will have significant field, drainage, dugout, and backstop improvements. The tennis site consists of ten new courts north of the high school. The district continues to plan for facilities improvements as well as routine maintenance. Because of the ambitious improvement schedule the district has been engaged in, setting clear priorities and carefully stewarding funds is essential.
The General Fund is what supports all staff and program costs and is totally separate from the facilities funds discussed previously. The district has done a good job of being fiscally responsible, and this is particularly important during times when state aid for education has been very modest. Since Iowa has a “pupil-driven” funding formula, it is significant that Indianola CSD has experienced some enrollment growth this year. The district’s certified enrollment October 1 was 3,471.45 an increase of 41.16 from last year. The district serves 3,534.2 students when open enrollment is factored in.
The district needs to continue to watch expenditures because operating costs and salaries typically increase more than the year-to-year growth in revenue. These costs may grow 3-4% in a year when state aid increased 1.25% this school year.
The school district has tremendous support staff, teaching staff, and administrative staff. I am continually impressed by the dedication, skill, and concern for students that Indianola CSD staff shows. Teacher retention is in the 94-95% range at the district’s different sites although the district did have 19 staff members accept early retirement packages last year. Early retirement, combined with the Teacher Leadership and Compensation grant hiring, made this school year a year with an unusually high number of new staff members. The hiring process was started last January, and the district had an extremely positive hiring season.
The district emphasizes continuous improvement, and staff is constantly undertaking professional development. Some training is very job-specific, like concussion training for coaches and annual bus training for bus drivers. Associates receive training for student health and behavior needs, as well as working with at-risk students. All contracted kitchen staff are Serve Safe certified and receive annual training on various other topics. All child care employees have CPR and first aid training. Each teacher and administrator has an Individual Career Development Plan that sets goals and guides personal growth. Teachers meet weekly in PLCs (professional learning community groups), and district professional development initiatives include Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR), which is a framework for delivering quality instruction, and Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW), which has teams of teachers score tasks, student work, and instruction to ensure rigor and relevance. Administrators reinforce effective instruction with classroom walk-throughs, and an Instructional Rounds visit is held at each attendance center annually to help support improvement efforts. The school district’s five-year strategic plan (available on the school website) sets over-arching goals and theories of action that keep school personnel focused on what is most important: Continuous School Improvement for Learner Benefit, Effective Communication and School District Promotion, Effective Technology Growth and Integration, Meeting Student Needs, and District and Community Pride and Identity.
Indianola is a wonderful community, and the school and its programs feel well supported by its citizens. PTOs, advisories, and booster groups provide tremendous support, resources, and guidance for our schools and programs. Whenever possible, school district staff seek connections with the community, too. School employees serve on the YMCA and ICYF boards, coordinate with Backpacks 4 Hunger and Meals for the Heartland, lead drives for United Way and Helping Hand, and have a positive impact on the community through civic and church involvement. Go to the Warren County Fair or the National Balloon Classic, and you will see school personnel along with your friends and neighbors. School people appreciate our local restaurants, shops, and businesses. When I describe Indianola, I call it “a wonderful place to work and learn and live.” Our school district and community are full of proud traditions and unlimited possibilities, and that is why the school vision, “Proud Traditions. . .Unlimited Possibilities,” is so fitting.
I could list many academic, musical, dramatic, athletic, agricultural, and business accomplishments of our students; and as I did so, I would be leaving out many other noteworthy accomplishments. The school district has a wide variety of activities and clubs in which students can participate, and participation is high. Coaches/sponsors and participants work very hard to represent the district well and put a quality product on the field, court, or stage. District programs and events enjoy a good following from the public and hours and hours of volunteer help, from youth programs on up through graduation.
Academic achievement has already been touched on, but I want to add something to my comments about Indianola students. Indianola students are friendly, helpful, and respectful. Everyone knows that students will have their moments when they act up or need discipline or counseling, but our students are impressive. They are positive, enthusiastic, and talented. They are thoughtful toward others and thankful for the support they get. I believe our parents and staff do a great job of modeling hard work and positive values, and we see that in our students.
As the new year begins, the state of the school district is very positive. There are a lot of good people working hard and supporting each other in this important work. Indianola students and staff are “committed to excellence and achieving a lifetime of success.” For whoever reads this, thank you for your role in this great district and community!