Market on Main interior

Current interior of the Market on Main building.

OTTUMWA — The Ottumwa School Board was looking to the district’s future Monday night.

Members got a look at the proposed calendar for the 2021-22 school year during the meeting, which includes a start date of Aug. 23. Teacher work days are scheduled to be complete by the end of May 2022.

Other adjustments to the calendar include pay for new teachers on the days they train before the rest of the staff ahead of the school year. The calendar committee also proposed a more streamlined conference schedule, with parent conference weeks in November 2021 and March 2022. The Fridays of those weeks will be teacher comp days, where students would be out of school. The committee also proposed having more daytime slots available for conferences in an effort to reach families where parents work second- and third-shift jobs.

The calendar is set for an approval vote at the next meeting.

The board also heard more on the expansion of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programming, most of which will be located at the former Market on Main building.

Jeff Kirby, director of innovative programs, said one of the goals is to make the building something that benefits all community members. Future CTE offerings will also include new programming and revised programming in a number of strands.

Programs falling under the CTE umbrella include engineering, welding, construction, hospitality, computer science (a brand-new program), business entrepreneurship, and health sciences. The programs also offer concurrent enrollment with Indian Hills Community College, where students earn college credit for the courses.

The goal of the expansion is to provide all OHS graduates with a career or college-focused action plan based on their skills, interests and life goals. 

OHS Principal Richard Hutchinson said a recent survey of students found that 65.8% said they want to take classes that help them learn about a variety of career fields and how to prepare for college at the high school level.

Matt Thompson, president of Indian Hills Community College, said the program is set to prepare “the future workforce” and help students “find the path that makes the most sense for them.

“The college really believes strongly in the work that’s happening within our community between the school district and Indian Hills Community College,” he said. “We have so many students that benefit from education beyond their secondary days. Why not start that while they’re in high school? There’s tremendous savings that takes place when students enroll in concurrent enrollment and Career Academy coursework.”

In fact, the expanded CTE program offers a variety of certification or degree attainment: the new Computer Science Academy, IHCC entrepreneurial certification, hotel and restaurant management A.A.S. degree, Business A.A. Academy, journeywork certificate, certificate of completion of apprenticeship, OSHA certification, Serve Safe certification and, potentially, and A.A.S. in welding.

“I tell my students that if you have this, your application is going to the top of the list rather than into the garbage,” Mandy Walker, family and consumer science instructor, said about the Serve Safe certification.

Marci Dunlap, director of secondary education, made note that as IHCC makes changes to its programming, the CTE pathways will follow suite. “We have to keep updating because we want to stay as current as Indian Hills Community College,” she said.

But the new site will also be about community. “We worked with students on what does Market on Main look like when school’s not in session,” said Cindy Reed, instructor at SparkTank. “The students really came up with some good ideas.”

Those included summer camps, a place for virtual learners to work, renting it out for public events, school events, lunch and learn, small group meetings, catered meals, large-group meetings spaces, evening adult education classes and eventually a storefront for merchandise.

Currently, meetings with architects are ongoing, and drafts for the space are expected in about six to eight weeks.

“It’s just a great opportunity for our kids,” said Kevin Cochran, business instructor. “In my opinion, it’s a campus, it’s not a school, it’s a campus, so it’s going to be a complete different learning environment.”

Board president David Weilbrenner spoke on his concerns on buying the property. “The only thing that went through my head was are we going to make it something that really matters or are we just going to have another piece of property?” he said. “I’m convinced that we didn’t just buy another piece of property.” He went on to describe it as a hub where students can figure out what they want to do in life.

"I want this to be the standard for new education in Iowa," said Cochran. "It should be exciting for our community, and I'm excited for the vision for OCSD going forward."

“The price we paid and the buzz that it’s creating, if it creates this much buzz with our students, it’s well worth every dime,” said board member Brian Jones. “It’s not a new high school, but the buzz around it, it is almost like we’re building a new high school, so I’m very excited to see where we come out with this.”

— Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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