Courier Staff Writer
Without a thriving, progressive educational system, Ottumwa will fail in attracting families, businesses and jobs to the community, the superintendent said.
Ottumwa Superintendent Davis Eidahl will present his “State of the Schools” address at a luncheon today at Bridge View Center.
The idea behind this second annual event, which is sponsored by the Ottumwa Economic Development Corporation, Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation and Ottumwa Area Chamber of Commerce, is to provide an opportunity to open the lines of communication between the education and business communities, said OEDC executive director David Barajas Jr.
“Education is a very, very important component to retain and attract jobs to the community,” Barajas said. “This is also an opportunity for the business community to ask questions and provide some of their own thoughts.”
Eidahl said he will provide an overview of the school district’s facilities, finances and all other “nuts and bolts.”
“But then I’ll go into greater detail of defining who we are as a district, the opportunities we provide for our students and the advantages a child has who is attending Ottumwa schools,” Eidahl said.
In order to define the school district, Eidahl said he’s going to tell stories of current students and the successes they’re seeing.
Another key element of his address will be talking about the facilities, especially the changes coming to the south side elementary schools.
The State of the Schools is important not only for those already in Ottumwa but also communicating to the outside world that education is No. 1 in the community, Barajas said.
“It’s a message to the business community and to parents, because a lot of them are parents, too — parents first and foremost,” he said.
So far, 140 people have made reservations to attend, up slightly from last year’s group of 115 to 120 people.
Barajas first heard of a “State of the Schools” when he was a city leader in Sterling, Ill., and a nearby community, Rockford, Ill., held a State of the Schools address.
“It sends the right message that Ottumwa is all about education,” he said. “There is nothing more important than a good, strong educational system.”
The district has seen an increased graduation rate of 81 percent — though it’s still lower than the statewide average of 89 percent — and has also cut its dropout rate in half to 4.12 percent.
“And almost 50 percent of our students already have college credits on their transcript because we offer dual enrollment with the college,” Eidahl said.
Fully implementing the Iowa Core has influenced the curriculum and instruction in classrooms statewide.
“We’re emphasizing critical thinking, deeper learning and student-to-student collaboration,” he said. “Technology is a tremendous tool with that implementation and engaging students more.”
Iowa Core has been a huge benefit to the school district, he said.
“For the first time our students across the state will be taught the same curriculum and assessed the same way,” he said. “It gives us a curriculum to teach and research on best practices to teach that curriculum, but teachers still have a lot of autonomy and flexibility in delivering that curriculum.”
That implementation also has required professional development days, where students get out of school early in order for teachers to receive a few hours of training.
“Just so our community understands, we make very good use of that time,” he said. “It’s valuable time and we would only use it for professional growth and training of our teachers to enhance instruction, which results in higher achievement.”
Eidahl will also discuss the district’s three-year plan to commit $1.5 million into new technology in classrooms.
“There are various devices that we want to put into the hands of our students,” he said. “We don’t believe there’s just one device that fits all. Instruction is going to drive what device we use and depending on the grade level and course. The math department would probably benefit from a different device than, say, the English department.”
He will wrap up his presentation with a slideshow of successes Ottumwa students are enjoying outside of the classroom, in curriculum competitions (such as science bowls, math bees, etc.), athletic competitions and fine arts competitions.
“It’s important for our community to really understand and get a better picture of who we are as an Ottumwa district and the opportunities we provide our students and the advantages we give our students by going through the Ottumwa system,” he said. “We’re a very proactive district that is committed to growth and change in order to continue to lead.”
In order for families to move here to take a new job or start a new business, Ottumwa must have a great school system, he said, otherwise “those families might hesitate to come.”
“If a physician and that physician’s family move to our community, a good school system will be on their list as a key factor in their decision,” he said. “It’s the same way with Cargill, John Deere, all of our employers in town. It’s important they know that we have a top-notch school system, that students who graduate from the high school are prepared for a post-secondary transition, right into the workforce or into a four-year degree or into a technical program.”
State of the Schools luncheon:
11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. today
Bridge View Center
Keynote speaker: Davis Eidahl, Ottumwa superintendent
Tickets: $20 per person