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Education reform topic consumes forum with Story County legislators

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Logo courtesy of State of Iowa

By Kathy Hanson Director of School, Community and Media Relations
     Ames Community School District

(Dec. 8, 2011 – 11:30 a.m.) Ames Community School Superintendent Tim Taylor had some expert advice for area legislators who joined Story County school administrators and board members for a forum Wednesday in Nevada.

During the forum’s hour-long question-and-answer session, the discussion of Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal for education reform left less than five minutes for an exchange covering other legislative priorities for the 2012 Iowa General Assembly.

Taylor called for legislators to protect the momentum achieved by districts like Ames, whose education plan addresses many of the Governor’s aims.

“We already have in place (peer) learning communities for teachers to collaborate day-to-day on the job, on their professional development,” he said. “We already have experienced teachers working with other teachers. We call them instructional coaches. They are full-time coaches, not mentors who teach part of the day and coach part of the day.”

Taylor said the state’s best use of funding allocations would be to support teacher professional development to build on “what good teaching is.”

“I firmly believe the (best) ways to impact students is to make teachers better and improve the relationship between the teacher and the student,” Taylor said.

Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames, said the education reform bill has yet to be drafted, so any stand legislators might take on its details would be speculative.

Branstad has been working with Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass to roll out aggressive reforms to the state’s education system with the goal of restoring its ranking. Iowa’s student achievement scores have remained static, while other states have made gains, the Governor says.

Heddens said she believes the General Assembly will strive to maintain the promised 2 percent allowable growth for fiscal year 2012-13, although state funding for mental health programs, no longer funded by counties, will compete for those dollars.

Roland-Story Community School Superintendent Mike Billings asked the legislators to keep in mind, as they review education bills, that there’s already “great reform” going on in Iowa’s school districts.

Among the other suggestions for education reform from the educators and board members in attendance:
•    Preserving funding for early childhood education
•    Including early reading assessments—to identify struggling readers before third grade
•    Developing models for mentoring teachers that don’t require pulling teachers out of elementary classrooms for part of the day
•    Aligning reform of teacher evaluation and pay with the realities of collective bargaining

Besides Heddens, legislators in attendance included Sen. Robert Bacon, R-Maxwell; Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada; Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames; and Rep. Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, D-Ames.

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