The transition from April to May often brings unexpected challenges. Just when we’re anticipating sunshine and rainbows, Iowa weather brings us cold and snow. And as I remember well from my days in the classroom, exactly when I thought I could hit cruise control for the remainder of the year, the unexpected behavior challenge or the learning objective that took longer to reach than anticipated pushed me to maintain focus all the way through the finish line.
I find it helpful when I need that extra boost of energy to reflect on the many things that have gone well and to peek, and plan, ahead. A small dose of reflection and planning can do wonders for warding off the temptations to either coast through the remainder of the year or to hunker down and just grind it out.
At a state level, there is much to celebrate as we prepare to close out another academic year. We are on the verge of concluding a successful transition from the Iowa Assessments to the Iowa Statewide Assessment of Student Progress and from 100 percent paper and pencil delivery to over 75 percent of students taking the assessment online. Presently, educators have delivered more than 650,000 new assessments to students! Testing transitions of this magnitude have often created significant problems in other states. While this shift generated many questions and a few bumps in the road, Iowa educators responded to the change with the typical mix of advance planning and effective trouble-shooting. I look forward to bringing this testing window to a close and to working with educators to utilize the results to improve student achievement.
In addition to the statewide assessments winding down, the legislative session has also come to a close. One of the items I was most pleased to see was the development of a comprehensive children’s behavioral health system. As I’ve mentioned before, the single most pressing concern I hear when I’m in schools is the growing mental health needs of our students. This legislation codifies a state board for children’s behavioral health, aligns the governance of the children’s system with the adult system to ensure efficiency, and defines core services. In addition, the education appropriations bill provided $2.1 million to the Area Education Agency (AEA) system to support this work, which includes $1.2 million to provide mental health awareness training for educators and schools, $750,000 "to best meet the mental health needs of students and to strengthen community support for students," and $150,000 to the AEAs to create a clearinghouse of mental health resources.
We have also seen a flurry of recent activity to reinforce Iowa’s standing as the nation’s standard-bearer in the development of teacher leadership. Nearly 100 districts are taking advantage of the opportunity to adopt an instructional framework, which creates a common instructional language and vision for quality teaching across an entire school district. I’m also thrilled to announce that we will host a statewide teacher leadership conference on July 16 at the Iowa Events Center. This convening will provide teachers, teacher-leaders and administrators the opportunity to focus on the key components that allow schools to maximize the value of teacher leadership.
As we enter the final weeks of another great school year, I hope each of you find a few minutes to reflect on some of the recent accomplishments in your school community and begin to plan for the work ahead.
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