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Tackling the Racial Disparity Gap: Step One

Racial Disparity Graphic

On May 25, 2017, the School Improvement Advisory Committee (SIAC) met to discuss the 2016-17 goals recommended by District content teams, and reviewed and analyzed the 2017 Iowa Assessment Data. They recommended District goals based on this data, that we, as a District, are required to report in our Annual Progress Report (APR) to the Iowa Department of Education.

During the analysis of subgroup data, SIAC uncovered with quantitative evidence that African-American students were underperforming compared to all other subgroups. Dan Andrews, the Data, Assessment and Program Evaluation Coordinator for the District, presented these findings at the July 17 school board meeting. The achievement gap is considerable and much more than a statistical anomaly: a 28.11 percentage point gap in reading, 33.73 percentage points in science, and 33.91 percentage points in mathematics.

This kind of achievement gap is not unique to the Ames community. In fact, African-American students are underperforming white students across the United States on high stakes standardized tests. In the past couple years, this achievement gap has become a topic in national publications like The Atlantic, U.S. News, and CNN, among many others, where the articles cite studies and show graphs similar to what the SIAC team reviewed. The authors talk about how students in the same building do not receive the same education, or have access to the same academic opportunities, and they call for schools to become agents of change and reform. We agree and believe we can do better in the Ames Community School District.

The difference with the SIAC data compared with those in the national publications is that the SIAC numbers reflect students within the Ames community. Those numbers, and more importantly, those students, can be directly impacted within our buildings.

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DACA Statement from the Superintendent’s Office

DACA Statement

On Tuesday, President Trump and his Administration announced plans to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The Ames Community School District believes that this decision will have a negative impact on many of our students and families, and we want to express our concern and support for those who may be impacted by this decision.

The Ames Schools are designed to provide quality education for all young people who enter our doors. We are inclusive. We are welcoming, equitable and caring for all students regardless of immigration status. We support ALL children, no matter their place of birth, religion, language, or color. We’re glad you’re here. You belong here and we support you.

The responsibility of the Ames Community School District is to prepare all students to be college and career ready, and to equip students to be productive citizens. Like our colleagues at Iowa State University, we have no control or authority over the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Students and families who are fearful or in need of emotional support can reach out to their building principal or school counselor. Additional support can be found here:

Human Resources Director, Ms. Lisa Negus – 515-268-6610

Student Programs Director, Dr. Anthony Jones – 515-268-6628

Registrar, Ms. Barb Peterson – 515-268-6605

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Ames High Junior Performs at Prestigious Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

Julie-Michelle Manohar, a 16-year-old junior from Ames High School, recently performed at the world-renowned Sydney Opera House as part of the prestigious 2017 High School Honors Performance Series (HPS) honor choir. The HPS program provides a selective learning and performance opportunity to qualified high school musicians who are invited to apply after being nominated by music teachers/directors familiar with their accomplishments. Students are accepted after a review by the Honors Selection Board based on their talent and achievements demonstrated in the application and audition recording.

Julie-Michelle (pictured right) auditioned and was selected to sing Soprano-1. HPS processed 18,000 nominations this year for their various programs at the Carnegie Hall and Sydney Opera House. According to the director, Nancy Richardson, 750 of these nominations were for the 2017 High School HPS at the Sydney Opera House of which only 150 were selected- 80 for the HPS choir, and 70 for the HPS orchestra. This was an international program; performers arrived from 44 states within the United States, Guam, several provinces of Canada, Australia, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea.

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Back to School Message from Superintendent Dr. Tim Taylor

August 23rd is the start of school for the Ames Public School system. It will mark the 156th year of public education, dating all the way back to 1862 when Hoggart’s School first opened. Since that time, we’ve become the #1 public school system in the state and we’ve held that ranking for some time. Niche ranked us #1 in academic opportunities, #1 in clubs and activities for our kids, and #1 in college preparation. I think the message here is that quality staff, quality programs, and most importantly, quality students provide for the highest quality of education, and that’s what you’ll get in Ames.

For the 400+ pre-kindergarten through kindergarten students, who are beginning their educational experience, our principals have put together a really tremendous orientation program that includes opportunities to get into the building and get set up before the education begins.

On the other end of the spectrum, for the high school seniors, this is going to be the fastest school year in your life. You’ll be going from the first day of school on August 23rd, and then in the blink of an eye, it will be commencement.

Another important message is that if you’re new to Ames, you’ve made the smart choice. Amazing Starts Here as we provide an amazing education for all of our kids. Ready, get set, go. Classes start on August 23rd.

As a reminder, start times for the first day of school are as follows:

  • Elementary schools start at 8:25 with an early dismissal at 2:05
  • Middle School start at 8:00, dismiss at 3:15
  • High School start at 7:50, dismiss at 3:05
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Ames CSD Ranked #1 again by Niche

Niche Ranks Ames #1

On August 7, Niche released their 2018 K-12 Rankings of the best schools in the country. For the fifth consecutive year, the Ames Community School District has been ranked as the #1 district in the State of Iowa, with Ames High School also receiving the #1 ranking for the third year in a row.

The Ames CSD earned this ranking through key factors such as strength of academics, quality of teachers, school resources, as well as student and parent reviews. The statistical data used in this ranking was obtained from the U.S. Department of Education and then analyzed by Niche’s team of data scientists to create the 2018 rankings.

The Niche 2018 K-12 Rankings are based on rigorous analysis of academics and student life data along with test scores, college data, and ratings collected from millions of Niche users. Their wide-ranging data allows them to provide a comprehensive suite of rankings across all school types.

Thank you to our students and staff for continuing to make the Ames Community School District the best in the state. We’re very proud of our long tradition of excellence, and we’re confident that the upcoming school year will continue that tradition.

Learn more about the methodology of the Niche rankings on their website.

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Little Cyclone Teacher Academy

Little Cyclone Teacher Academy for Blog

During the week of August 7-11, teachers from every building, 135 in total and nearly 40% of our teaching staff, voluntarily participated in the Little Cyclone Teacher Academy at the Ames High School. The week long Academy offered a variety of courses to teachers, allowing them to select from professional development opportunities that they would want to focus on. Examples of the courses included Differentiation for all Learners, Calibrating Conversations, Incorporating Technology into a Gradual Release of Responsibility, Advocacy: a Counter Narrative, Twice Exceptional Learners, and many more.

The courses were primarily led by Teacher Leaders in the District, a few administrators, along with Area Education Agency (AEA) staff. It was a great way for teachers to get back into the swing of things, collaborate with colleagues, and brainstorm about the upcoming school year. On Thursday of that week, the entire group participated in a PLC Workshop led by Jack Balderman from Solution Tree. He provided practical ways to effectively implement the professional learning community (PLC) process in their buildings, with a focus on developing strategies to make it as authentic and useful as possible.

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A Guide to Understanding the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL)

What is the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy?

The Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL), pronounced “pepple” in school jargon, is one of the most important sources of revenue for public school systems. It is a voter-approved tax of $1.34/$1,000 on property valuation of home and commercial property owners. For the Ames Community School District, this combined with a board approved option creates about $4 million annually.

What can the money be used for?

The $4 million are categorical funds that can only be used for specific purposes as it relates to building and grounds upkeep and repairs, new construction, technology (our 1:1 program for computers in every student’s hands), and equipment such as vehicles, maintenance equipment, furniture, and even large musical instruments for the band and orchestra program. The money cannot be used to pay teacher salaries, to fund student programs, or pay for utilities.

Why is it important?

Without the PPEL funds, many things that keep the District running would need to be paid for out of the District’s general fund, which also covers teacher salaries and programs for kids. Those are the things that are essential to educating students! It would mean making decisions to reduce staff and student programs by $4 million each year to take care of our physical plant and equipment needs.

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New Chromebooks Support 1:1 Computer Initiative

Acer Chromebook

Shipments of new Acer Chromebooks started pouring into the District Office at the end of July, continuing the Ames Community School District’s commitment to its 1:1 computer initiative that began in 2013. The goals of the initiative are wide ranging, and has a huge impact no students within the classroom and beyond. Students learn 21st Century skills, are able to create and collaborate using digital tools, and teachers are able to personalized learning centered around the individual needs of their students.

One of the most significant aspects of the 1:1 initiative is that eliminates the digital divide by putting a computer in every student’s hands. Technology Director, Karl Hehr, has led the 1:1 initiative and sees it as a game changer in the Ames School District. “We can put a device in every student’s hands, regardless of their background, and give them access to learning beyond the classroom. They are then able to explore passions on their own, and this has created areas where students can become lifelong learners.”

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AHS Girls Swimming & Diving Team Defines Dynasty with National Championship

AHS Girls Swim State Team

Congratulations to the 2016-2017 Ames High Girls Swimming & Diving team for being rated the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association (NISCA) National Champions for the second straight season.

Head Coach Dan Flannery is proud for the work that this team put in. “We had a great year and the girls worked so hard to put themselves in this position.” In many ways, the second consecutive National Championship is the work of years of training and commitment by the community. The Ames High Girls program has entered the “dynasty” conversation and has some staggering statistics to back up that claim:

  • Undefeated for 7 straight years
  • Conference Champions for 7 straight years
  • State titles 6 of the last 7 years
  • Back-to-back NISCA National Champions (‘16 and ‘17)

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Middle School Principal Dan Fox

AMS Principal Dan Fox

On June 5, the School Board accepted the appointment of Dan Fox as the new Principal of the Ames Middle School. His career began in the Saydel School District where he taught 6th and 8th grade mathematics, but he has ties to the Ames community, having earned both his undergraduate degree in elementary education, and his Masters degree in Educational Administration from Iowa State University.

His first administrative position was in Burnside, Iowa, at the middle school in the Southeast Valley School District, just south of Fort Dodge. “Middle school is a passion of mine. They are not elementary students any more, but they are not ready to be treated like high school students either. They still need guidance and help figuring out situations, and I love that about them.”

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