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Departures, emergency planning dominate school board meeting

The end of the school year is prompting some major changes for the Newton Community School District. At Monday’s Board of Education meeting, Superintendent Steve McDermott let it be known that it was his last day of work and longtime board member Don Poynter announced he won’t seek re-election.

“Eleven years is long enough,” Poynter said.

McDermott, meanwhile, said he plans to take advantage of some of his stored vacation time. He also said that he promised the district’s office staff he would be available if they required his assistance.

With Poynter stepping down, it would seem that only board president Andy Elbert and board members Sheri Benson and Dennis Combs will be seeking re-election in the fall.

July 8 is the first day to file nomination papers with Board Secretary/District Business Manager Gayle Isaac. Potential nominees need a minimum of 50 signatures to run for election, have to be more than 18 years of age and be a U.S. and Iowa citizen.

Aug. 1 at 5 p.m. is the last day to file nomination papers, and Sept. 10 is the election date.

In his report, McDermott provided the board with updates on ALICE and the district’s efforts to help universalize Jasper County’s emergency planning within the school districts.

He said the planning is gaining momentum.

“Folks have really committed to updating the emergency plans,” McDermott said.

“We put together this Jasper County Emergency Plan committee … it really came about after a discussion with (Jasper County Emergency Management Agency Director) Jim Sparks,” Isaac said. “We pulled all of the county’s school districts together, along with the (Newton) fire chief, (Newton) police chief, Jasper County Sheriff (John Halferty) and other first responders from the local areas.”

“We formed the committee to address what the first responders considered the immediate need,” Isaac said. “That was to have uniform expectation of what schools will do under various scenarios.”

The resolution came from Lynnville-Sully Superintendent Shane Ehresman, who created a template with solutions to various emergency situations in the form of a flip chart. That flip chart model will be universally adapted and modified to fit every school’s needs. The customization will include building floor plans and classroom-specific escape routes and alternate routes.

“It will have simple language and be universal across the county,” McDermott said.

McDermott also updated the board on the ALICE training that district administrators will undergo on Friday.  McDermott mentioned that all district building personnel will go through the training, and Isaac said some teachers have offered to take additional courses so that they will be able to teach the ALICE program.

In their education services report, Elementary and Secondary Educational Services Directors Jim Gilbert and Tina Ross, respectively, updated the board on several items.

Gilbert updated the board on the Elementary Literacy Academy that took place on June 6 and 7. Starting in the fall, elementary students in the district will start learning language arts through the Reading Wonders reading program.

“This is newly published and our old stuff is eight or nine years old,” Gilbert said.”

Gilbert also said the new program is:

• Aligned to the Iowa Core standards.

• Will encompass student, teacher and student technology components.

• Have digital assessments that are tied to the Common Core Initiative.

• Provide online data storage for teachers.

• Provide reports to help teachers use data to adjust their instruction.

Ross provided the board with an update on the 1:1 iPad Boot Camp, which she qualified as a success and informed the board that district administrators will be attending a Special Education University in Colfax on June 20 and 21.

In the district business portion of the meeting, Isaac recommended the board choose TimeClock Plus over Time Management Systems to contract and install the new district-wide time clock system.

“Normally, I select the lowest bid,” Isaac said. “In this case, I have to go against the lowest bid.”

Isaac said his and other staff members’ research indicated that TimeClock Plus provided the superior service. He stated that 65 districts in Iowa use its services versus just 10 using TMS.

Isaac and several board members reiterated that the time clock system is so that they can accurately keep track of employees’ hours and thus know who qualifies for health care benefits and who doesn’t.

The board approved the measure unanimously.

Time Clock Plus services will cost $34,955.24 and will come with 12 months of technical support.

Board member Donna Cook asked if incoming superintendent Bob Callaghan knew of the impending purchase of time management system.

“He (Callaghan) uses it in Texas and said he wonders why we didn’t already have it,” Board president Andy Elbert said.

In other business:

• The board approved the 28E agreement extension with the Newton Police Department to provide a school resource officer. Board members Dennis Combs and Nat Turner agreed that it was a good program and were glad the city was willing to re-commit to it.

• There was no public input for the school bus purchase public hearing. Hougland Bus Co. of Marshalltown won the contract to provide the district with two new buses with a low bid of $177,014. Outgoing Transportation Supervisor Kris Simbro said it is a good company and the new buses should last awhile. The district now has 43 buses total, 35 of which are traditional “yellow” school buses.

• The board, after heavy discussion, voted to have both board meetings in July. Meetings are set for July 8 and 22.

• In human resources, Curt Roorda was formally introduced to the board as the new Transportation Supervisor. There was also a new hire, as Jasper County Historical Museum Director Audrey Rex was hired by the district as a bus driver starting in August.

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

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