NEA Visits Priority Schools in Des Moines
Last week, NEA Executive Committee Members Greg Johnson and Len Paolillo visited four priority schools in Des Moines, Iowa. Melissa Spencer, President of the Des Moines Education Association organized the tours at Hoyt Middle School, North High School, Edmunds Elementary School and Nathan Weeks Middle School, in addition to a meeting with Dr. Nancy Sebring, Superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools.
Professional development has been a big focus in the district with the School Improvement Grant funds. Each Wednesday, schools dismiss 90 minutes early for educators to engage in professional development. While the staff seemed to appreciate the professional development opportunities, there is also added stress with so much new information being provided each week. There is little time to process and implement the new skills and strategies before the next week’s meeting.
Evaluations are another new “thing” with SIG in Des Moines. At North HS, staff had gone years without any evaluation or feedback. The new principal there now does several evaluations with the staff and walk-throughs, as well as “district rounds” with a team of district staff and administrators.
There was an excitement in Des Moines that the schools actually can transform. At Nathan Weeks MS, successes are already evident with the SIG funds. The grant allowed them to add three school improvement leaders (one for each grade level), a homework support person, a general ed behavioral interventionist, community liason, as well as reading and math interventionists. Last year at semester time, students had earned over 3,000 F’s. This year at semester time, that number is 363. Last year there were 1,110 office referrals, down to 435 this year. Attendance is up and tardies are down at the school.
The team was impressed with the dedication and passion of DMEA members working in these challenging schools. Stress levels are high in Des Moines and everyone is working harder than ever to meet all the new and changing requirements. “What we heard here in Des Moines is that educators really want respect,” Len Paolillo said. “We’re going to ask that policymakers spend some time in these schools and see the conditions under which our members work. They work hard to make sure their students get the education they need to succeed.”
“We understand there is a lot of pressure for our members in priority schools,” Johnson said. “And we understand how difficult it is to adjust to new pressures.”
While Johnson and Paolillo spent 3 full days with educators and administrators in Des Moines, they also got to spend some time with elementary school students. NEA’s Read Across America Day was celebrated on March 2. Several priority schools in the area were invited to an event at the historic Hoyt Sherman Place. The young students left with Dr. Seuss books and a lesson in the importance of reading.