The mutual benefits of a collaboration being developed between the Clarinda School District and Iowa Western Community College were discussed during a special Board of Education meeting May 17.
The focus of the cooperative arrangement will be to expand instruction in career and technical courses to boost employment prospects for students and to provide skilled workers sought by local and area businesses and industries.
“The programming that we’ve been scaling up in Clarinda and the programming that Iowa Western was hoping to scale up are parallel,” said Clarinda Superintendent Chris Bergman. “When you look at economic trend data in our area, we need to collaborate and do this together.”
The Clarinda district had been moving forward with the creation of an innovation center -- at the former Shopko store building -- offering authentic learning experiences in such fields as construction, including HVAC, electrical and plumbing; health science, including local high-need careers; agriculture, including bioscience and technology; and transportation and logistics, including all aspects within the industry.
The latter category, Bergman said, is the “number one need right now in southwest Iowa” since the area -- without railroad connections -- is dependent on trucks for the delivery of vital material and supplies.
While the district was involved in this project, an IWCC team was formulating plans for identical learning opportunities.
Bergman and Iowa Western President Dr. Dan Kinney had analyzed data and workforce requirements needed to keep the area’s economy strong, and both were using CTE licensure to hire professionals from specific fields as instructors.
According to a release issued by the district and IWCC, instead of competition, Bergman and Kinney “championed a collaborative spirit dedicated to serve students,” an “outside-of-the-box” approach that would “save taxpayer dollars and impact the entire region.”
The district “pressed pause” on creation of a new facility so “as to not duplicate the use of space and purchase of equipment,” the release says. “Confidentiality of the venture was necessary, as both leaders needed to gain feedback from their respective boards of directors, create proposed financial models, analyze needs [of both entities] and work through the logistics of a PK-14 partnership.”
The arrangement between the district and Iowa Western includes, but is not limited to, shared learning spaces, equipment and instructors; expanded business and industry access; a broadened range of career and technical offerings as well as increased high school certificates in high-demand jobs; rigorous, articulated coursework for college credit; and plans to apply for state funding as a career academy.
“To create the best possible experiences for our students,” the release states, “both parties are committed to strategic planning and stakeholder input; co-creation of curriculum; entrepreneurial opportunities; a shared career counselor; collaboration with Green Hills AEA, surrounding school districts and our 7-12 iJAG program; [and] continuous improvement and growth in best practice core instruction.”
Board President Greg Jones said the arrangement with Iowa Western will enable the Clarinda district to share costs for implementing instruction.
“It’s a feeder system for them and their programs, but also gives our kids experiences that they would not get otherwise,” Jones said. “This is going to go beyond Clarinda. Kids from other districts [are] going to be taking part in these programs at some point.”
He said Kinney and members of the IWCC board were supportive of the arrangement. “This is the piece we’ve been missing for a long time,” Jones said.
Director Ann Meyer noted that the collaboration “has ended up aligning with our strategic plan.” The district’s top priority, she said, “was to improve CTE opportunities. Not everybody needs to go to college to be successful. There are many other avenues.”
Learning, said Director Stacy Pulliam, “takes place not only in a seat, but in different opportunities,” such as on-the-job situations.
She said the district, Iowa Western and area businesses can work together to assess how more opportunities can be made available to students.
Establishing the cooperative relationship with Iowa Western will allow the district to enhance efforts already underway regarding CTE instruction. “This will be somewhat tying it all together,” said Director Trish Bergman. “We will be able to move a lot quicker and be up and running for the school year in the fall. We definitely need to stay on track.”
With students taking classes at a CTE location, “this might help with space at the 7-12 building,” said Director Darin Sunderman.
Once the agreement between the district and Iowa Western has been formalized, it is anticipated that an advisory board will be created to monitor the arrangement. Input from stakeholders will be solicited, Bergman said, and information about the programming will be distributed.
She said officials intended to “keep up with current industry trends and the marketplace” and would confer with individuals who had expertise in specific crafts and trades.
Scheduling, staffing and other decisions for the next school year will take place during the summer when two new administrators, 7-12 Principal Luke Cox and PK-6 Principal Lesley Ehlers, officially begin their duties. Pending board approval, more partnerships will be developed.
Meyer said that in regard to facilities, the district is limited to what can be revealed at specific times. She said officials would let residents “know things as soon as we can possibly let them know.”
In other matters at the special session, directors decided that for the few days left in the 2020-2021 school year, the guidelines related to mask-wearing contained in the district’s existing Return to Learn plan would be maintained.
Also at the meeting, directors heard comments from three individuals.
Scott Honeyman of Clarinda said school faculty members have “lost faith that they can be successful under the current leadership” and have been “silenced when they have tried to express concerns.”
He urged directors to make changes “before the board must accept another early retirement or resignation of another great community member and leader. It is your job to create and foster an exemplary requirement that sets all parties up for success. You’ve been elected to take on that responsibility, molding our future generations into successful leaders and citizens, and there is no great responsibility for any person.”
Jade Hagey of Clarinda said he felt “there is some questioning and doubt of the leadership, and some of the paths we’re going down. I would really encourage some open discussion, all of us together on where we should go, what the plan is. Lay it out so at least it’s clear. I would really like to have open communication and try to make this thing the best for all of us.”
He said he was “sure we’re all working toward the same goal, to make this the best school district we can.”
Nicole Derry of rural Clarinda said she believed that “over the last few years, things in the district have not been for the positive. Schedules and communication have been lacking. Despite this lack of guidance, our teacher, our staff, rose above and did their jobs.”
Mentioning that the concept of “Cardinal pride” has been stressed for students and community members alike, she said individuals have left administrative positions, staff and students have departed from the district, and the present administration has received a “no confidence” vote from a group of staff members.
Derry asked the board to “make us proud to be a Cardinal again. Put faith back in our staff. Listen to our concerns and take action. The decision is in your hands. Our children’s future depends on it.”
Per district policy on protocol at meetings, directors could not respond to the comments.