The Ottumwa Courier

May 6, 2013

Day off? Not when it means improving OHS

MARK NEWMAN
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — Supporters of Ottumwa High School have seen measurable improvement at their building. They want more.

A cleanup day brought kids, parents and teachers to the school on what’s usually a day off.  Some of the adults, normally wearing business suits with jacket and tie, were tough to recognize in jeans, muddy sneakers and sweatshirts.

Principal Mark Hanson, wearing an old hoodie, said the three dozen volunteers had “a good time.” That was despite the fact that recent rains had one of the areas being revamped during the “cleanup day” looking like a mud pit.

“I like the mud -- and I think it’s fun,” said Mady Feather, an OHS sophomore doing her part Saturday.

The mud was thick enough that one student stepped back onto “dry land” and was suddenly missing a shoe.  Mady went in after it.  That's the kind of thing faculty wants to see. While school climate is not perfect at OHS, students are getting along with each other better than ever, say administrators.  And they have the numbers to back that up, they said.

This year, 81.5% of students participate in the third survey taken annonymously via the Iowa Safe and Supportive Schools program.  Associate Principal Zach Wigle noted the biggest change was in student-to-student relationships, which went from 0 out of 3 in 2011 to 2 out of 3 in 2013. This measures the extent to which students demonstrate care for, respect for and collaboration with one another.

“The overall index score went up from 19 to 21 out of 36 possible," said Zach Wigle, the Safe and Supportive Schools grant administrator. "It is up four points (from 17 from) the initial student survey taken in 2011."

The score attempts to quantify a school's optimal learning conditions. Surveys are taken of students, parents and staff.

While the results have improved over three years, a recent press release from the high school said “the scores indicate OHS still needs intensive, targeted support to improve conditions for learning.”

Julie Wigle is the OHS faculty member who oversees activities that use Iowa  Safe and Supportive Schools (IS3) funding. She’s familiar with the guidelines.

“We can pay for [landscaping supplies] but they like to see a ‘service learning project’ when [possible to work as a community],” she said.

During this past year, grant activities included the development of the school's "10 Standards for Success," efforts to improve parent involvement and school spirit; a new graduation coach who is employed to work with 30-40 struggling students and environmental improvements such as the new paint in hallways and the cafeteria.

In fact, when “graded” using the Safe and Secure Schools survey criteria, OHS saw improvement or good scores in safety and relationship building.  One category that didn’t improve: Physical Environment.  Julie Wigle said that’s what encouraged groups that have a stake in improving OHS -- The Youth Leadership Team, made up of students,  and parents represented on the School Community Council -- to have a cleanup day.

And that, said students, explains the slogging through mud, the carrying of mulch and the raking, shoveling and sweeping over the weekend.

“I like the idea that we are all coming together to make the school look better,” Mady said.  “I don’t see it as a chore; I think the student body should  want to do this.”