Last evening my wife Lindsey and I attended the South Tama County Elementary School Carnival. As we approached the building we couldn’t believe the amount of cars that filled the parking lot. There wasn’t an empty space to be found! Making our way into the building, we noticed a genuine sense of excitement in the air. Students were playing games, getting their face painted, winning prizes, and taking pictures with Disney princesses. Parents were engaged in conversation, spending time with their children, and socializing with other community members.
What I saw made my heart happy, and was a much-needed distraction from some of the cynicism that has cast a shadow over our school district over the last few weeks. In my previous article I encouraged our staff to remain positive and focused on kids despite the school district's intentions and motives being questioned by a few outspoken community members. I have been incredibly proud of our faculty as they have done a tremendous job of remaining optimistic while blocking out the external drama.
Our data indicates that our students are achieving at very high levels, especially when you compare our district with schools of similar demographics across the state of Iowa. District “Power Metrics” such as student achievement data, graduation rates, behavior data, participation rates, and culture/climate results indicate our buildings are performing at very high levels.
Furthermore, our district has had a laser-like focus on ensuring all students are given individual support to help them be successful. We have invested in a number of new programs and staff members to ensure all students are receiving the help needed to achieve at high levels both academically and socially. We are proud to share our schools - proportionally - provide as many student support resources as any district in the state.
Where our district falls short is the lack of financial support needed to upgrade our schools and facilities. Take a quick road trip to virtually any school in our conference and it’s hard not to be envious our 3A counterparts. As has been well-documented, our district has struggled to gain community approval when it comes to supporting our fundamental building needs. The most recent example includes the failed Physical Property and Equipment Levy (PPEL) votes in 2013 and 2014. While nearly 85% of Iowa school districts receive PPEL money to support the improvement and upkeep of schools, technology, and transportation, we have been without this financial assistance for much of the last decade.
As most of our community realizes, our 105 year old building is well past its life expectancy. Originally opened in 1915, the current middle school first opened its doors to students during the middle of World War I. While the building has done a tremendous job of meeting the needs of the students and families over the last century, it's clear this building does not meet the needs of 21st century learners. Recall a few facts:
The average middle school life span is 70 years; our current middle school is 105 years old
The average middle school covers 35 acres, our current middle school covers 5 acres
The average middle school has 150 parking spaces, our current middle school has 20 parking spaces
The average middle school averages 850 square feet per room, our current middle school averages 760 square feet per room
Needless to say, our current middle school is not meeting the needs of our students in 2020 like it did during a time when the horse and buggy was a popular mode of transportation. For our school district to move from good to great, we must do something to address our facilities needs. We believe our school district has developed a proposal that does the best job of meeting these needs. Not only will this new middle school have a positive impact on our community for future generations, this option also does not result in a tax increase for property owners in our community.
During my time living here in Tama/Toledo I have seen the excitement our community has for our students - last evening's carnival was just another example of this passion. I encourage all STC residents to help us reach the next level of success by remembering to support our students on Tuesday, March 3rd. Our district is doing great things... and we are counting on you to make a decision that will impact our community for future generations.