The Ottumwa Courier

August 23, 2013

Suggestions for school board

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — School district employees answer to the board of education. And every year, the board listens to research conducted by a group of Ottumwans.

At 6 p.m. Monday, the board will meet at the Ottumwa High School library with the Community Advisory Committee. That's a group made up of members invited by the school district to meet throughout the year.

They review student achievement numbers, the dropout rate and other data to determine whether the district is accomplishing its goals. Some years, those numbers are better than others. The committee always offers recommendations on how the district can improve service to kids and the community.

Though chosen by the district, members do come from a diverse background: teachers, business professionals, health care providers and everyday taxpayers who are not required to have kids in school to be on the committee.

In past years, the committee has repeatedly told the board they should focus on six “Strategies to Increase Student Achievement.” The reason for giving the same advice? Committee members have stated that switching tactics every year doesn't allow time to succeed. Of course that, they say, means coming up with good, sound tactics.

The strategies are: high-quality instruction; teaching that’s based on research; using good information to decide what’s working in school — and what's not working; coursework that gets students involved and keeps them interested; better communication between teachers, parents and students; and teaching kids early in their lives through an accessible preschool program.

Exactly how each of those "basics" is implemented may be adjusted annually; board members will find out Monday exactly what advisers mean by "high-quality instruction," for example.

One thing that hasn't changed in recent years is what kids should be able to do when they graduate from Ottumwa High School. Academically, of course, there's reading and math, science and history. But the advisory and the board have both sketched out some of the "soft skills" they want to see in young people.

They should be effective communicators, capable of critical thinking, respectful, informed decision makers, responsible community members and compassionate role models.

School board meetings are open to the public.

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