While not directly related to City Council, many have requested my views on the proposed High School. And since this inquiry came in at the same time as the new website, we'll try out the blog!!
Sound investments in school infrastructure can add value to a community and has the potential to improve student achievement. But when is the investment sound? The short answer, 'when it demonstrates operating efficiency gains and improved student achievement'. I responded to a questionnaire from UNI and thought it would be worthwhile to share.
Q1 - What do you feel better for the students, staff and the city: build a new high school or renovate the current one?
A classic cost-benefit analysis. First and foremost, the environment must support a learning culture. Secondly, it must support efficient delivery of effective instruction. I'm not familiar enough to opine on which is better at this point since most analysis is preliminary at best. I am supportive of the study. I would also encourage the School Board to closely interact with UNI's College of Education - Iowa's preeminent K-12 research institution.
Q2 - The high school is sitting on 17 acres. Do you feel that is big enough?
Land area should not be a determining factor unless land-grabbing parking lots and athletic fields are correlated to student achievement.
Q3- How important is it that the students and teachers work in an environment with air conditioning?
Very important, especially to serve a full year academic calendar (which should be considered immediately).
Q4 - How does the community feel about the parking situation? Is it a problem that many students park on the street instead of in a parking lot?
Parking is mostly adequate, parking policy is the problem. The number of parking slots could be improved through better street/lot designs on Division, 12th St., and the existing lots. Parking demand could be curtailed through permit strategies as well as encouraging alternative methods for transport (car pooling, busing, walking, biking, drop-offs, etc.). If there is a financial disincentive (or incentive) to change driving behaviors to improve parking conditions, it will reduce parking demand.
Q5 - What is the sentimental value of the current high school?
Sentimental value should account for nothing.
Q6- How well is the current high school providing for the students’ educational needs? Are the teachers able to incorporate technology well into the classroom?
Difficult to comment, questions are better answered by the School Board, teachers and student (and parents). We appear to be making gains in meeting student needs; yet student achievement as a function of historical spending should be a key point of study.
Q7 - How well do you think the security is in the high schools? Will it need to be updated?
Policy and strategy should always be reviewed for improvement. We should also avoid hasty responses as a result of improbable events, rather we should review all potential threats, analyze, and implement sensible solutions.
Q8 - How do you feel about the partnerships with the school? Is the community benefiting from its partnership between the city and the school? Is it helpful or harmful for the high school to use UNI’s athletic complex?
Intergovernmental partnership and cooperation is essential to deliver cost-effective programming and to leverage the intrinsic qualities of the involved institutions. Partnerships should reduce costs (or be one of the goals) which means more money will trickle into classrooms, while also improving outcomes and experiences.
Q9- How much do you think finding a long term solution is valued verses finding the best solution for the present?
Developing a long-term solution requires evaluation of current problems and perceived opportunities. We should seek optimal solutions.
Q10- How should the projected overcrowding of the schools be handled? By the 2018-2019 school year, the high school, both junior highs and half of the elementary schools are predicted to be overcrowded.
Obviously this is a long-term concern that requires strategic planning, it's too complex for an abbreviated response.
Q11 - Where should the 9th graders attend school; a high school, junior high, or their own building?
Facility consolidation has practical benefits for programming, overhead and expense management. High school or junior high options are both reasonable options.
Q12- How do you perceive the potential extra cost of building a new high school? Is it worth it? Will the community support it?
If it can be clearly (by quantifiable measures) demonstrated that efficiencies will be gained and student outcomes will improve, and if we hold ourselves accountable to this end, it is worth it. In business terms, we need to define the 'return on investment'. If it can be presented in this light, the community would be wise to support it. I suspect that other reforms could have equal or better benefit, and should be pursued with equal enthusiasm.
And while this wasn't asked, no conversation can take place without discussing our funding approach. I have innovative ideas that touch on fairness, ideology, with total focus on student achievement. To be covered, another day.