The Ottumwa Courier

August 15, 2013

Ottumwa district differs between this year and last

By MARK NEWMAN
Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — School will be different this year for kids, parents and teachers. And that, said the district chief, is not a bad thing.

"We had an assembly with all district teaching staff Thursday morning," said Superintendent Davis Eidahl later that day. "We asked those who have a new assignment, or who will be in a new building, to please stand. Out of 360 teachers, about 200 stood up."

School doesn't start until Wednesday for Ottumwa children.

"Students will see a lot of changes this year. Whether it's a new school [to attend], new teachers for their school or a new principal, there are a lot of changes this year," Eidahl said.

With the opening of the first new school in the district in 40 years, Liberty School off of Mary Street, second- through fifth-grade students who would have attended a south-side school know they'll be going to the state-of-the-art building. But things will be different for children in that part of town going into kindergarten and first grade.

"This year, students who would have gone to K-1 at Pickwick or Wildwood will all go to Wildwood," Eidahl explained.

"And K-1 students who would have attended Douma or Agassiz will all go to Agassiz."

No students at all this year will end up going to Douma school.

"Douma is closed for one year while we completely renovate the interior," Eidahl said.

Parents, especially those who drive their children to school, will see changes at Evans Middle School.

"There's a plan in place to route traffic by opening traffic to Hamilton. This should reduce congestion and separate bus and vehicle traffic," Eidahl said. "It's a safety decision."

Traffic at Liberty Elementary School will be all new.

"We're confident in the plan we have on paper. Now it's a matter of executing it. We've included our transportation provider, a city official, and that plan will be distributed to parents at our open house. We're also going to try to put it up on our website," the superintendent said.

While all of those changes tend to be logistical, there will be some differences in the classroom, too.

"We're on 'year one' of our technology plan. The Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation contributed $1.4 million to go with the district's $1.6 million to fund a three-year vision. A tremendous amount of technology, with greater access for students in and out of the classroom," Eidahl said.

Spending on that plan had originally been spread over a six-year period. The Legacy donation means the same amount of tech will get into the hands of teachers and kids twice as fast. The new computers and software aren't just for fun, Eidahl said.

"Elementary students will see a new literacy curriculum that aligns with the Iowa Core — and technology will be a big part of that. It raises the bar and emphasize a lot of writing. Reading is still very important, but there will be much more writing, and writing for various purposes: informational, persuasive, descriptive writing."

Schools across the district are seeing gains in student achievement, he said. They've proven that if they challenge students' minds, the kids will rise to those challenges. Dropouts at the high school have dropped from 133 to 50 over the past five years. Eidahl said changes are designed to increase such improvements.

"During the teacher assembly, I told staff that we are accelerating our momentum."

— To see reporter Mark Newman's Twitter feed, go to @couriermark