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A Legacy Bigger than Barriers - from The Messenger

January 22, 2019

When Jesse Ulrich was an elementary student in West Bend, his lunch ticket was a different color than most.

“My lunch ticket was a different color because I was free and reduced,” Ulrich, the Fort Dodge Community School District superintendent said Monday night during a community celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. “My parents had little money.”

Ulrich was the keynote speaker during the event honoring the famed civil rights leader at Second Baptist Church. He was joined at the podium by the Rev. Michael D. Blackwell, of Fort Dodge; Julia Naylor, of Fort Dodge; Dr. Terry Moehnke, Fort Dodge city councilman; State Rep. Ann Meyer, R-Fort Dodge; Barbara Crooks, of Fort Dodge; and Car’mari Mosley, 11, a fourth-grader at Butler Elementary School.

In terms of growing up in a low-income household, Ulrich said, “That didn’t matter to me and didn’t matter to my family because we had a lot of love.”

About 60 percent of students in the FDCSD are of low socioeconomic status, according to the Iowa Department of Education.

Ulrich embraces that challenge of serving a district with high needs.

“We serve all kids in our community,” he said. “That is the blessing about our school district. It doesn’t matter where you live in our community. It doesn’t matter how much money your parents have. It doesn’t matter color of skin, and it doesn’t even matter what language you speak. You come to our schools and our doors are open. We will educate you like you are our own. We have truly tried to instill a family type of atmosphere for the kids we serve because we believe that is important.”

He said the district and the community has plenty of work to do in closing achievement gaps.

According to Ulrich, in the past six years, only 25 percent of minorities in the FDCSD have gone on to graduate with any type of college education.

He said less than 40 percent of all students go on to receive a higher education degree.

Man speaking at podium

“We need to change that,” Ulrich said. “We need everyone’s help to change that.”

Ulrich said the principles held by King still ring true today.

“When I think about Dr. Martin Luther King, the function of education, therefore is to teach one to think intensively and think critically,” he said. “Intelligence plus character, that is the true goal of education. Those things he said back then still hold true today. It’s our responsibility to be able to continue his legacy within our school systems.”

Ulrich said the most frequent question he is asked is what people can do to help.

“You can be mentors,” he said. “You can serve on our foundation board. You can serve on our committees. One of the greatest things our kids need are mentors that look like them, that talk like them, that understand their perspective in life and what they were able to do within their life.”

He added, “Their future is bright, but we have to remind them every day how bright it can be when we work together.”

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