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Redhawk Reflections... A Look Back at 2016

December 23, 2016
David Hill - North Tama Superintendent , Traer Star-Clipper

Merry Christmas from North Tama! As our students and staff enjoy Christmas break and take in the final few days of the calendar year, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the milestones and major events that have taken place in the previous year. While it is impossible for this column to comprehensively cover all of the important events of the previous year, I think once you've reviewed these highlights of you'll agree that 2016 has been a year of tremendous change, growth, and accomplishment for our students, staff, and school district.

When I reflect on the year 2016, one of the things I'm most proud of is the way that the community came together to support the improvements at Dennis Field. This community can be proud of the new restrooms, concession stand, fences and landscaping, scoreboard, press box improvements, sidewalks and other improvements which provide better access to those with disabilities. What a great way to show our support for the young athletes involved with our ever-improving football program, both now and in the future!

The improvements at Dennis Field are a reflection of the community's strong support of our school. Community volunteers, alumni, school staff members, students, parents, and area businesses came together to make this happen. Your financial support, along with the in-kind support received from numerous volunteers, has provided a first-rate facility that will be a source of pride for us all for generations to come.

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I'm also proud of our district's accomplishments in the area of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). During 2016, one elementary classroom was transformed into a learning space that is custom-tailored for integrated STEM and Literacy instruction, and all elementary classrooms are placing more of an emphasis on an integrated approach to Literacy and STEM. The results are obvious, as our elementary students are exhibiting more growth on literacy assessments than their peers in other school districts as a result of this approach.

North Tama has truly become a recognized leader in STEM education in recent years. Evidence of this can be seen in our partnerships with the University of Northern Iowa, as well as the number of other districts that have come to visit North Tama so that they can learn from our teachers as they work to emulate our success in their schools.

To put the "icing on the cake," our own Lisa Chizek was recognized recently by Governor Branstad as an Iowa Finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. This award is among the nation's highest honors for teachers of math and science.

Financially, the district made great strides during 2016. In August, your school board refinanced the district's bonds that had been issued in 2010 as part of the building project which included the high school locker rooms, gym lobby, Junior High addition, and administrative offices. The board was able to lock in one of the lowest interest rates we have seen in many years, which will save the district more than $225,000 over the remainder of the loan.

The district also initiated numerous staff sharing agreements with neighboring school districts during 2016. Our Family & Consumer Sciences teacher is now shared with Hudson, while our Agriculture Education teacher spends part of his day at Gladbrook-Reinbeck. Splitting the cost of these teachers will have a big financial impact for the long term. Also during 2016, we started sharing our superintendent with Gladbrook-Reinbeck and our Transportation Director with Hudson. These shared positions allow us to benefit from sharing the costs of these employees AND provide additional revenue for the district in the form of sharing incentives from the state of Iowa. While it is never fun to talk about reducing, sharing, or cutting staff, these measures will help us to maintain our financial stability so that North Tama can continue to provide a quality education for many years in the future.

One big change that occurred across Iowa in 2016 was the implementation Iowa's new system of Teacher Leadership. North Tama's innovative system is one of the few in the state that provides full-time teacher leaders to work directly with STUDENTS who are struggling with barriers to success while also providing coaches and model teachers to assist TEACHERS in improving their instructional practices. We're very pleased with this new system and look forward to following the program's success during the year 2017 and beyond.

The new school year brought a number of changes to our staff. With two teachers retiring, two teachers leaving their classrooms to move into full-time teacher leadership positions, and several other teachers moving on to other opportunities during 2016, North Tama started the year with NINE new teachers in the classrooms. These new teachers include Brady Swenson (JH Science & Social Studies), Austin Pink (HS PE), Mike Runge (JH & HS Math), Matt Walston (HS Social Studies), Tyson Roberts (JH & HS Social Studies), Mark Reeves (JH Special Ed), Alex Tagtow (HS Science), Alivia McClain (5th Grade Language Arts), and Katie Wedeking (JH & HS Language Arts). Our new teachers have already made great contributions to the learning community, and I look forward to them becoming seasoned leaders among our staff in the coming years.

Finally, I want to recognize our STUDENTS for their tremendous accomplishments in 2016. North Tama's students continue to score among the top in the state and nation on their standardized tests and other measures, indicating their dedication to school and their commitment to success. Thirty-five students graduated in May as part of the class of 2016. These students earned well over $50,000 in local scholarships and I know that they will continue their accomplishments in college, the work force, and in their communities in the years to come. Our students have achieved so much success in the classroom, athletically, and in their other activities during 2016 that if I started to mention specific honors we'd need to add more pages to the Star Clipper. We look forward to following these students as they reach even greater levels of accomplishment in the coming year.

Yes, 2016 has been a great year at North Tama. I'm so pleased to be part of a school system and community that truly values and supports its school, its students, and its educators. I'm looking forward to the coming year with great anticipation - May 2017 be North Tama's best year yet! HAPPY NEW YEAR!

I encourage your feedback on this column, along with any questions you may have. You are welcome to visit my blog at where you can read all of my Star Clipper columns and leave comments if you wish. You are also welcome to follow me on Twitter, where my handle is @DavidRobertHill.



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