Our vision: All learners are safe, healthy, engaged, prepared
I’m frequently asked during the summer if the pace of work slows down at the Department of Education. With schools and the legislature both out of session, the volume of questions is certainly lighter. At the same time, Department staff use this time to continue driving toward the vision that ALL Iowa learners are safe, healthy, engaged and prepared. And we’ve made significant progress on each front over the past few months.
In August, the State Board of Education unanimously adopted rules put forward by the Department requiring seat belts on all new school buses in Iowa school districts and state-accredited nonpublic schools starting this fall. The Department proposed these rules based on a recommendation from a group of Iowa school transportation officials as well as a recommendation from the National Transportation Safety Board. Lap-shoulder seat belts better protect students from injuries caused by side-impact or rollover accidents.
The new Children’s Behavioral Health System State Board met for the first time in August. I have the privilege of co-chairing this board alongside the director of the Department of Human Services. The board will facilitate the coordination of Iowa’s recently created Children’s Mental Health system, ensuring students have access to the mental health services they need.
This summer, we officially launched the Iowa Clearinghouse for Work-Based Learning. The clearinghouse is a virtual space that connects students and schools with employers statewide through shared work-based learning projects. High-quality work-based learning helps students prepare for future careers, helps employers grow a skilled workforce, and helps teachers make coursework come alive. The clearinghouse will make these opportunities more readily accessible to K-12 students statewide, especially in rural communities.
This summer, Iowa continued to build its reputation as the national standard bearer in teacher leadership. First, the Department hosted a sold-out, statewide conference on teacher leadership called “TLC: What Works: A Systemic Approach to Elevating Teacher Leadership.” More than 800 attendees from schools across Iowa spent the day digging into their approach to leadership and asking hard questions about the strength and impact of their local teacher leadership plan.
Second, the Department began its partnership with the National Institute for Excellence in Teaching (NIET) to implement the Iowa Instructional Framework in nearly 80 school districts across the state. This framework is built around four domains of instructional practice (Instruction, Planning, Environment and Professionalism) with specific indicators for each, creating a common language for teacher practices and feedback, and guidance for professional growth. This framework will support and enhance participating schools’ TLC plans.
The Department also continued to support efforts to expand high-quality computer science instruction in schools across Iowa through the Computer Science is Elementary initiative and the Computer Science Professional Development Incentive Fund. Thanks to a state appropriation of $500,000, 23 Iowa school districts and schools will use the incentive fund to pay for professional learning or university coursework for teaching endorsements in computer science, which will strengthen their computer science teacher workforce.
In addition, Gov. Kim Reynolds announced in June that six additional elementary schools will receive $50,000 grants each to transform themselves into models of innovative computer science instruction through a joint project of the Iowa Department of Education and the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. This increases the total number of schools participating in the Computer Science is Elementary Project to 12 across the state.
Finally, the Department continued to maintain our focus on ensuring ALL students receive the same high-quality educational experience in Iowa. We hosted a social justice and educational equity conference focused on promising practices and research-based strategies to ensure access to equitable learning environments, multi-cultural instruction, rigorous and unbiased curriculum, community services and accelerated interventions. In addition, the Our Kids Institute gave educators the opportunity to learn about better meeting the needs of our growing population of English Learners. And the Every Student Succeeds Act Summer Institute provided a range of supports to schools, focusing on closing performance gaps for student subgroups.
So, as is the case for educators, summer was not a time to sit back and kick our heels up here at the Department. We look forward to working with our partners in the months ahead to keep the momentum moving forward!
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