ACSD Board of Directors hears updates as new year gets underway; Superintendent Mathis discusses impact of proposed legislation regarding AEAs

by Brianne Grimstad

The Allamakee Community School District (ACSD) School Board met for its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, January 16. Board President Al Rissman began the meeting with a moment of silence out of respect for Perry (Iowa) High School Principal Dan Marburger, who died of his injuries sustained in a school shooting January 4. Board member Beth Shafer was absent from the meeting.

Under the consent agenda, the board approved the following personnel: Andrew Dornath, Sub/Activities Bus Driver; Erin Andregg, Middle School Paraprofessional; Peggy Sivesind, Sub/Activities Bus Driver. The board also accepted the resignation of Jennifer Davis from her paraprofessional position and Kim Rathbone, who is retiring from her Special Education teaching position.

During the communications time of the meeting, the board heard a presentation from the Fifth Grade Professional Learning Team. The presentation explained how the fifth grade educators decide what content students should be learning, how to assess if the students are learning the content, what to do if a student has not learned the material, and what to do if the student already knows the material.

In her report, Waukon High School Principal Jennifer Garin gave updates on the Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. The student-built house was expected to have heat in it by the end of last week. The student builders were finishing up covering of the garage ceiling, and then would move on to insulating the attic. The NICC Welding class was finishing up a Clamp-Glue Up Table for the woodshop and a weight rack for the wrestling room. They are also planning projects for the remainder of the school year and Skills USA members will be preparing for district competitions.

FBLA members are getting ready for the District Leadership Conference. They will also hear from guest speaker Kristin Mathis and her experiences with the Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs organizations. FFA members are preparing for sub-district and district contests, and will be hosting the Northeast District Convention in March.

The high school is also working on the course catalog for the 2024-2025 school year. Garin updated the board on upcoming grade checks and professional development.

Waukon High School Activities Director/Assistant Principal Brian Hilsabeck thanked the custodial staff for all the work they did over the holiday break, and the school staff and administration team for stepping in to help with events. The NEIC Music Festival was held Monday, January 15 at Charles City, and winter activities are in full swing, with lots of events happening during the week. Hilsabeck also updated the board on upcoming regional, district and state qualifying events for basketball, wrestling and bowling.

Waukon Middle School Principal Luke Steege also thanked the custodial staff for the work they did over the break and for the time they put in clearing snow during the storms a couple weeks ago. The Middle School was wrapping up the FAST testing for math and reading. The Middle School will be hosting its first-ever girls wrestling meet February 12. The Middle School staff is also working on ways to improve its math intervention system.

East and West Elementary Schools Principal Samantha Thornton reported that they are getting ready for pre-registration for the 2024-2025 school year for preschool, Transitional Kindergarten (TK) and Kindergarten. This will begin February 1 and will be done electronically, similar to last year.

Preschool parent information night is scheduled for April 10 and TK and Kindergarten parent information night is scheduled for April 17.

East Elementary students began the new year with a PRIDE (Positivity, Respect, Involvement, Dependability and Excellence) Assembly, stressing the importance of students being the best version of themselves and the importance of showing Indian PRIDE. West Elementary students participated in a virtual assembly with Mrs. Thornton for a Bee Academy refresher, reminding students of the rules and expectations, specifically during recess and lunch. West students are also working on a Winter Recess Bingo card, containing activities for students to try at recess this winter.

ACSD Curriculum Director Kelli Olson updated the board on the January professional learning day as well as the continuing PLC work. She also discussed mentor/mentee teams, which recently participated in a ghost walk. This is a collaborative walk where participants walk through classrooms when students are not present. Participants can see the classroom layout, visual charts and get other ideas they may wish to incorporate into their rooms. The focus of this walk was classroom management. Olson noted that they would like to do more of these.

Special Education Director Karissa Otto noted in her report that her department is working on three different collaboration strategies for staff to practice. They have also been working on transitional meetings for students’ needs for next year. She also told the board about the “Our Kids” newsletter she works on with Olson to support the needs of all students and goes out to teacher leaders. Otto also highlighted the special education teachers who have been involved and co-teaching in classrooms, making changes to support interventions for students and collaborating with other staff to offer more support to students.

Buildings and Grounds Director Bill Hennessy noted that he and his staff were busy moving snow over the weekend. Contractors were at the school earlier in January to finish up some punch list items for the high school/middle school project. The semi-annual checks on the sprinklers for the High School and West Elementary showed everything was good. The custodial crew was able to get some projects completed over the break and Hennessy noted the buildings all look great and thanked his staff for doing a great job. There will be some maintenance work done on some of the rooftop units at the high school.

Technology Director Andy Reichard noted that they have sent out requests for proposals for the next copier lease, which should be brought back to the board for approval during the February meeting. His department is also working on gathering budget information for updating the phone system, which is nearing its end of life June 30, 2026. A reporting plug-in, which will allow for more detailed communication with parents of dates in PowerSchool, is being added to the PowerSchool Student Information System.

Food Service Director Jess Keenan thanked the custodial staff for having snow moved and making it easy for the Food Service staff to transport food when needed. She also noted that the changes in the summer feeding programs that have been reported in the news will not be affecting the Summer Feeding Program with ACSD. She stressed that these are two different programs. She also reported that the district will receive a fourth payment for supply chain assistance in December of $28,167.15, and it will be used on milk. Keenan also thanked the Booster Club for doing an excellent job of keeping things clean and organized when they use the shared space for the concession stand.

Transportation Director Justin Piggott noted that the Chevy Trax has been received from RW Pladsen. His department is continuing to look for substitute and route bus drivers. The Blue Bird bus has been ordered and its expected arrival is in April.

ACSD Superintendent Jay Mathis reiterated his concerns over Governor Kim Reynolds’ proposal to reduce funding for Iowa’s AEAs (Area Education Agency). Mathis said that the AEAs - Keystone AEA provides services to ACSD - provide a multitude of services, especially in Special Education.

“The AEA sends a van here twice a week with boxes of materials that our teachers can rely on,” Mathis said.

Media materials such as science kits, math manipulatives, talented and gifted materials and much more are included in these boxes. During the 2022-2023 school year, ACSD received the following classroom materials delivered from Keystone AEA: six videos, 2,144 books, 2,027 small media kits and 231 professional books. AEAs also offer digital resources by purchasing online subscriptions that are then available for students to use at no cost. If funding for these items is eliminated, the individual school districts will either have to find it in their budgets to purchase materials independently or go without.

Mathis also explained that the AEAs provide teachers and administrators with access to assistance and the latest training  to meet legislative requirements and mandates every year. “The Department of Education provides oversight to ensure district compliance with mandates, but the Area Education Agencies provide guidance and support. Our AEA has always been a stable employer for education specialists in this area and has allowed rural districts access to these specialists. Eliminating this employer will result in these experts leaving our area and going to the metro districts,” Mathis said.

The study bills, SSB3073/HSB 542, are currently being discussed in the Iowa Senate and Iowa House. If the proposed plan is put into effect, Mathis noted AEAs would no longer be able to provide support services like media support, crisis response and mental health services. School districts will need to find these services on their own, and that could prove to be quite a challenge for rural school districts. That would include replacement of the AEA for things like materials to support lessons, crisis and emergency response, mental health counseling and professional development training. Mathis encouraged anyone that would be willing to reach out to legislators to do so.

In his report, he also noted that Osage and North Fayette Valley declined invitations to join the Northeast Iowa Conference. He thanked all the staff for their efforts and being able to make things work when dealing with the snowstorms and extremely cold temperatures.

There was no old business, so the meeting moved on to new business. A public hearing for the 2024-2025 school year calendar was set for Tuesday, February 20 at 5:30 p.m. Mathis noted that there could be a possibility that the earliest start date for the school year will be approved to be the Tuesday following the end of the Iowa State Fair.

The board approved second semester Contracted and PICC classes. The board also received a request from Peoples State Bank to use the school logo on debit cards. In its request, the bank noted that 50% of the collected fees will go to the school of the cardholder’s choice. Funds would be remitted to the schools at the end of the year. Mathis noted that he had no issues with this, so long as the same allowance will be made for other banks if they choose to make a similar request. The request was approved.

The first reading of the following board policies was approved: 401.13 - Responsible Technology Use & Social Networking, 401.13R1 - Responsible Technology Use & Social Networking Regulation, 502.7 - Student Substance Use, 605.6 - Internet Appropriate Use, 605.6R1 - Internet Appropriate Use Regulation, 605.8 - Artificial Intelligence in the Education Environment, 605.8R1 – Artificial Intelligence in the Education Environment Regulation, 701.1 - Depository Funds, 701.2 - Transfer of Funds, 701.3 - Financial Records, 701.4 - Governmental Accounting Practices and Regulations, 703.1 - Budget Planning, 703.2 - Spending Plan, 405.2 - Licensed Employee Qualifications, Recruitment, Selection.

The board then voted to adjourn. The next regular meeting will be held Tuesday, February 20 at 5:30 p.m., the date being changed due to Presidents Day Monday, February 19.