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Newton school district felt ‘duped’ by YWAM Impact World Tour

During Monday night’s school board meeting at Aurora Heights Elementary, the district responded to the Youth With A Mission Impact World Tour performance at Berg Middle School.

“Where the issue came up, was that this thing (World Impact Tour) took a real strong evangelism turn. It more or less became an alter call during this program,” Superintendent Steve McDermott said. “This weekend it didn’t come off as it had been sold to us. Honestly, in my humble opinion, several folks were duped. In the future, we will be more careful about the rental of space and about how things are represented.”

McDermott said that he had heard from several citizens who expressed concerns with the show. One citizen, who spoke at the open forum and who attended the event, thanked the district for its explanation and said that the show “went evangelistic quite fast and quite deep.”

The school board also discussed the latest developments in the 1:1 iPad initiative and the hiring of a new wrestling coach.

Former collegiate wrestler Andy Swedenhjeld will take over the Newton Senior High School wrestling team after the resignation of long-time coach Bill Reed. Swedenhjeld was a former All-State wrestler for Dowling Catholic High School in Des Moines, wrestled one year at Truman State and is a native of Norfolk. Swedenhjeld also will serve as a P.E./health teacher at NHS.

NHS Principal Bill Peters and NHS LMC Director Ann Nelson updated the board on the 1:1 Digital Learning process and steps that are being taken as they prepare to equip students with iPads in the fall.

“We are trying to go paperless as much as possible,” Peters said.

Peters and Nelson explained that NHS has created several committees, each with specific goals for getting the staff, parents and students iPad-ready. In June, there will be an “iPad Boot Camp” for staff, and they are developing a similar student boot camp that would take place in September. They also explained that teachers will dictate how much or how little students will use their iPads in their classrooms and are working on an Acceptable User Policy and a student/parent handbook. Peters emphasized to the board they have been planning this for years and that the iPads will be “great tools.”

The current plan is for students to receive iPads during the fall semester. The tablets were paid for by a grant from the Iowa Speedway Foundation and money from the Microsoft settlement account.

In his report, McDermott mentioned the district was looking at adding a time card system in every school to “truly document how many hours employees are working.” McDermott and Board Secretary Gayle Isaac said the reason for a time card system would be essentially to help better track the hours of part-time employees’ before the new health care regulations come into effect.

“We have to be able to show that part-time employees are part-time,” board member Dennis Combs added.

McDermott said ideally the time card system would start by the next school year. His report also confirmed that board members will receive iPads and will have a workshop in May on utilizing the device. McDermott said iPads would allow the board to have the school board packets in electronic form versus the current paper version handed out at meetings.

Although not on the agenda, McDermott and Elementary Education Service Director Jim Gilbert brought up the possibility of expanding the district’s preschool program. The preschool would remain at the Emerson Hough building but would allow for an additional class session that would allow another 18 kids to attend the income-based program. It also would create a full-time director position.

There are currently 140 kids taking advantage of the pre-school program and there is a waiting list to get in. McDermott mentioned that if the expansion was approved, it would be on a first-come, first-served basis, and Gilbert emphasized that a district expansion would not affect other local pre-school providers.

Action items that were approved by the board included cooperative girls swimming with Pella Community School District, the early start of the 2013-2014 school year and Isaac’s Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan.

The early start would not actually move up the start of the school calendar, which had previously been approved, it would instead act as a confirmation of the district’s commitment to the calendar they set forth in case of legislative changes.

The Five-Year CIP would do a multitude of things for every school in the district. On a district wide scale all elementary and secondary schools would receive new classroom furniture paid for through the General Fund. All schools would receive new lunchroom tables paid for by a combination from the General Fund and the Food Service Fund.

Under the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy Fund, H.A. Lynn Stadium would receive maintenance and lighting upgrades. There would also be district wide carpet/tile replacement, roof maintenance and upgrades to technology as well as other improvements. The costs for these district-wide improvements would be spread from the 2013-2014 fiscal year to the 2017-2018 fiscal year and cost a projected total of $2,098,000.

Before the meeting closed, board president Andy Elbert said that the school board will be conducting superintendent interviews with applicants who have applied and candidates that search firm G. Tryon and Associates, LLC have found. Elbert said that by next week they hope to have the field narrowed down two candidates, who will be announced publicly.

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

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