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Changes in store for next school year

Board members discuss iPads, more cameras in schools

Despite a last minute change form Aurora Heights to Emerson Hough, the members of the Newton Community School Board of Education came prepared and went over a vast amount of topics in the nearly three-hour meeting.

First up under the superintendent’s report was the expected arrival date of the new iPads as a part of the 1:1 Initiative.

“Teachers will actually be receiving their new devices this Wednesday,” NCSD Superintendent Steve McDermott said. “They are pretty excited about that. We have a meeting Tuesday morning with the Apple people working on the step-by-step process. But we are getting there.”

Along with providing students the iPads, McDermott wanted to provide portable hotspots for students who don’t have a high speed internet connection at home. However, there wasn’t a sufficient amount of money left in the districts E-Rate fund to make that happen. The expected cost of the iPads is more than $125,000, which is being covered from the Microsoft fund and a donation from Iowa Speedway.

Other items covered under the report were the success of the new Berg driveway dropping off procedure. The new process “went very well” and there were only 2 instances of confusion. Another point of interest was getting parent volunteers to be crossing guards at Thomas Jefferson Elementary to alleviate some of the overtime cost from the Newton Police Department. There was also a progress report on the new tech building that will house the district’s tech staff and servers. The new building is expected to open by the end of February, and the board would also like to have an open house to showcase the new building.

The topic that brought out the most discussion amongst the board members was the 2013-2014 school calendar. The calendar — which already has two potential drafts, one with early-out Wednesdays and one without — sparked a debate among the members of the board.

“I don’t think as a district, we’re quite ready to leave those early-out Wednesdays,” McDermott said. “There is a potential for a middle ground there, and with that being said I think we will continue to study Wednesdays.”

One board member who expressed opposition to early-out Wednesdays was Nat Clark.

“I’ve gone into several buildings at 2 o’clock (on a Wednesday), and it’s a ghost town,” said Clark. “Their (students and teachers) aren’t getting anything out of it now.”

While the debate rang on no final resolution of the matter is expected for awhile. Another big issue on the report was the need for a treasurer for the non-profit organization, Newton Community Education Foundation. McDermott described the NCEF as having “substantial assets” and brought up the idea of making treasure a paid position to draw up more interest in the job. In order to keep its non-profit status the organization has to start moving some of its fund outs.

After wrapping up the Superintendents Report, Jim Gilbert, the Director of Elementary Education Services, presented the Q&A from the DINA Survey and the Districts response. The survey provided an insight into teacher’s thoughts about everything from the Iowa Core Curriculum to whether they thought all students can learn at a high level?

There was also a survey for community members that focused on the NCSD Mission Statement, their Culture: The way we do business, and Climate: How do we feel about the way we do things. One two part question posed to community members was, “What should be prioritized for student learning goals in the future?” And, “What should not be prioritized for student learning goals?”

The response from the community was, “Parents want more real life connections, problem solving, hands on activities, and social skill development. Parents don’t want busy work, worksheets, crosswords and activities with low rigor.”

The districts response was, “NCSD has adopted the Iowa Core as its new curriculum. NCSD will ensure alignment across curriculum, assessment and instruction to the Iowa Core with a focus on 21st Century Skills.”

While both survey lengths varied, the answers seemed to be in a majority very positive of the district, its curriculum and its current mission statement.

Two items also came up to vote during this meeting and both passed unanimously. The first was a measure to raise the driver’s education fees from $275 to $280 and the second was the raise the price of the summer government class from $145 to $150. The reason for the price increase was the decrease in the number of students using the two programs. In 2008 there were 195 students who took Drivers Ed and in 2012 only 114 took the course. The amount of money they lost for driver’s education in 2011 was $12,000 and last year that number decreased to $4,500. The other measure that passed was a proposal to later vote on budget levy that would affect the 2013-2014 school budget, the levy doesn’t have to be finalized until April 8.

The board also declined to pursue further action in the early retirement for part-time employee’s proposal. Many members of the board conceded that it wasn’t cost feasible and that the savings weren’t great enough to go forward with it and that there “wasn’t that great of a demand for it.”

The last big issue of the meeting was school safety. The board will soon put out to bid a plan that would put new security cameras in all of the schools in the district. The plan, which is paid for by a grant from the government, would allow for new cameras inside the hallways and outside the buildings. They would not be in the classrooms or any other area that would constitute a violation of privacy rights. This upgrade in security is likely in conjunction with all of the recent tragedies that have taken place in the country.

As the meeting got closer to adjournment, board member, Donna Cook, brought up one more thing that could spark discussion amongst school kids in Newton.

“One thing I would really like the board to consider and think about in the long term, is school uniforms,” said Cook. “I heard a lot about them at the ISB Conference and was very intrigued by the results that districts are seeing with the use of school uniforms. That might be something down the road that we should explore.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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