The Ottumwa Courier

April 9, 2013

Teacher never gives up on students facing challenges

By MARK NEWMAN Courier staff writer
The Ottumwa Daily Courier

---- — ELDON — You may not care about whether you go to school. But Ms. Kildow cares, and she will find you.

Cardinal school district’s “Vision Alternative High School” teacher Heidi Kildow was just named Educator of the Year by the Iowa Association for Alternative Education.

“She grew up in Eldon and knows everybody,” said her boss, Cardinal Superintendent Joel Pedersen. “She’ll call the parents or uncle or aunt to find out why the student is not in school.”

For her part, Kildow, who’s going on nine years in the district, seems cheerfully stubborn. “I’ll go to their home. One girl, I went right into her room and said, ‘Get out bed; you’re going to school.’”

Pedersen said Kildow knows what the general public does not about programs that work with kids in need. That it’s some of the brightest, not the most troubled, who go through Cardinal’s alternative high school. Often, they’re facing challenges that hurt their grades but are not scholastic: trouble at home, a failure to connect at the regular high school or some serious personal problems that could be difficult even for an adult.

“I have conversations with my kids in school, out of school, in the summer, on weekends. I send out 6,000 texts a month,” she said. “At least 5,000 of those go to kids and parents.”

She didn’t go to college for her teaching degree until she was 35. Maybe being a mom at that time helped her. “I knew that I loved students, especially the more at-risk students.”

Her own son was “ornery” in school. And in 13 years of school, she received only one positive phone call about him. Maybe that’s why she contacts parents so much and why parents are so supportive.

“I have a lot of support from the school board, the school, the parents, the community … and I have great kids,” she said.

“She’s really good,” Pedersen said. “She captures their hearts and then, later on, worries about their minds.”

So when a student’s father died, she attended the funeral. To offer support, she took the student’s classmates, too. She cares enough to pop up in unexpected places, like the hospital, when a kid is in need. None of her students, regardless of family income, will be shoeless or without a winter coat.

She once received a call at 2 a.m. from a student who needed a ride. She went and got them.

“Whatever they need,” she said, “it’s like they have an extra grandmother. That’s the only thing I do differently.”

Yet, when she broke her hip, her mother had to drive her to school. Four of her boys ran out to carry her walker and lift her wheelchair out of the car.

“These are supposed to be the ornery kids, the ‘bad’ kids,” she said. “I haven’t had a bad kid yet.”

“She never gives up on them,” Pedersen said. “When the parents don’t know who to turn to, they turn to Heidi. Her cell phone is on 24 hours.”

He said she is big reason why Cardinal High School just “celebrated our best graduation rate in school history. She acts as a safety net for our students. She is living proof of the power of building relationships with kids.”

Much of the success lately in Eldon has been because of the staff, Pedersen has said, adding that this teacher is a great example of that caring nature.

“I can give them a new strategy to teach reading,” he said about applicants for education jobs. “I can’t give them what Heidi has.”