Fort Dodge Community School District

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Fort Dodge Community School District - from The Messenger Progress Edition

January 27, 2019

Serving a diverse student population is a constant challenge, but also a source of pride for the Fort Dodge Community School District, according to Superintendent Jesse Ulrich.

"We continue to strive and take pride in the fact that we are serving a very diverse population of students that is high in poverty and has many needs and that's just another reason why we need more support and continued support from the community," Ulrich, who is in his first year as superintendent, said.

About 60 percent of students in the district have a low socioeconomic status, according to the Iowa Department of Education. That is a higher percentage than each of the other schools in this nine-county region other than Eagle Grove Community School District. The percentage of special needs students served by the FDCSD is among the highest in the region at 14 percent.

The FDCSD serves the highest number of students in the region overall at more than 3,500.

Each of Fort Dodge's schools were recently scored by the state using a new matrix, and according to Ulrich, the results were encouraging.

These performance scores are included in Iowa School Performance Profiles. They designed to show how public schools performed in a new accountability system that meets the Every Student Succeeds Act. Every Student Succeeds is a federal law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act.

The profiles display a school's score based on overall performance, as well as scores based on the performance of subgroups of students.

Subgroups include students who are eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, students receiving special education services and students from racial/ethnic minority groups.

The FDCSD has four schools with no designations and three that have been identified for Targeted Support and Improvement.

Butler Elementary School, Duncombe Elementary School, Feelhaver Elementary School, and Riverside Early Learning Center did not receive designations.

Cooper Elementary School, Fort Dodge Middle School and Fort Dodge Senior High were identified for Targeted Support and Improvement.

Schools receive a Targeted designation if one or more student subgroup score is as low as the lowest 5 percent of schools in the state.

For the next three years, Cooper Elementary, as a Title One school, will receive federal funding. All three Targeted schools will receive professional development resources.

Schools that are no longer performing within the lowest 5 percent of Iowa schools after three years will shed the designations.

"What's important is to look big picture," Ulrich, a native of West Bend, said. "Four out of our five elementary schools did not receive designations, which is incredible compared to previous methods by the state. We were really happy with that. The only elementary school that had a Targeted designation was Cooper and that was for student achievement gap between low socioeconomic status students and their peers."

He added, "At the secondary level, the only targeted areas was students with IEPs (individualized education programs) and the achievement gap that exists between them."

The fact that some schools in Fort Dodge have been Targeted is not unique compared to other schools throughout the region or state. All but two other districts in the region had at least one school that was Targeted.

"When you serve students with high poverty and high needs, it's vastly different than a school district with less poverty and less needs," Ulrich said. "That was blatant within the scores. But I think it's a testament to our staff who love our kids and work diligently with our kids every day to show improvement."

Graduation rates

One of Ulrich's top priorities is to increase high school graduation rates.

"I still believe graduation is the great equalizer in our society," he said.

About 78 percent of students in the FDCSD graduate high school in four years, according to the Iowa Department of Education. The state average is about 91 percent.

"Research has shown those who do not have a minimum high school diploma do not have as successful of an economic prosperity as those who do have a high school diploma," Ulrich said.

He said about 46 percent of students in the district will choose to live in Fort Dodge for the rest of their lives.

"It's important we give them at least their first step in their life for a hope for their future," Ulrich said.

With that in mind, the district will introduce a new program next fall to connect students with local businesses.

The program, called Iowa Jobs for America's Graduates, allows students to learn about jobs in the area while earning credits toward high school graduation.

According to Ulrich, the program has a 96 percent graduation rate for students who participate.

"They receive high school credit for the work experience," Ulrich said. "Hopefully that can engage them in high school and keep them engaged after high school in our community."

New Duncombe

The FDCSD continued to upgrade its facilities in 2018.

At the start of the school year on Aug. 29, students and staff were officially welcomed into the new Duncombe Elementary School, 615 N. 16th St.

The building is two stories high and designed to house up to 450 students.

Air conditioning, climate control, an updated lighting system, and increased access to natural light are just a few of the amenities the new school offers.

The old Duncombe school was forced to close after structural safety issues were discovered in 2015.

It was subsequently torn down and has now been replaced by a brand-new building on the same site.

The former Fair Oaks Middle School building was home to Duncombe Elementary during the build of the new Duncombe school.

The Fort Dodge Senior High library was also renovated within the past year. It was opened to students following Thanksgiving break.

About 6,500 square feet of space was reworked for the new library.

The design is similar to the classrooms that were upgraded in 2017 as part of the Freshmen Academy.

The former Hy-Vee building

Administration from the current FDCSD central office may relocate to the former Hy-Vee building, which was purchased by the district in the summer of 2018.

"We are looking at utilizing the Hy-Vee space as a dual-purpose building where it will house our grounds and maintenance staff, serve as a storage facility, and create a different central office location," Ulrich said.

Under that plan, the current central office would be used for additional classrooms for students with special needs.

"The purpose is not just to move central office to move central office, but the purpose is knowing we are going to have an increased population of students with special needs to be served in our district, that we will have that space to serve them," Ulrich said.

The move will also allow future renovation work to be completed at Dodger Stadium, where structural issues have been identified.

Maintenance equipment is located underneath the stadium and getting items in and out of that space has been an issue, especially during winter weather.

The former Hy-Vee building is located at 109 N. 25th St. It was purchased for $625,000 from Essex Holding LLC, of New York City, New York.

The structure encompasses 33,064 square feet, according to online records. It was built in 1975.

"I know our community wants and feels the need for that building to be upkept and become a vitalized building in that area," Ulrich said. "By moving central office there, I think that meets that goal. But it also meets the goal of the district to be able to provide handicap accessible space for parents, community members, and staff."

Financially responsible

The FDCSD remains financially stable, according to Ulrich.

"We are a financially solvent district," he said. "When our patrons read the state audits occurring around the state of Iowa, they have faith that we as a district are reviewing all of our policies and making sure that every dollar we receive is accounted for and every dollar we receive is going to the best interest of our students."

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018, the FDCSD's total general fund revenue was $45,778,686.59. Its general fund expenses totaled $45,887,046.67.

The district's total combined revenue was $65,865,192.49. Total combined expenses were $76,081,448.48.

The district collected $11,094,000 in property taxes.

Ulrich was complimentary of the work the district's director of financial services has done.

"Brandon Hansel and the business department has done a wonderful job of making sure we have policies and procedures in place so that we are accountable for those dollars," Ulrich said.


The Messenger asked each of the principals in the Fort Dodge Community School District what they are most proud of and what they are working hardest on.

Butler Elementary School: Carmen Banwart, principal

I am most proud of the relationships our staff are building with families, students and community partners. These relationships are resulting in strong family engagement activities. I'm also proud of our teachers embracing change and their willingness to work with instructional coaches to do what's best for our kids. Additionally, our teachers are using their Professional Learning Communities to review and analyze academic and behavior data to make the best decisions for our students.

We continue to work on implementing our curriculum with fidelity, providing meaningful professional development aligned with our our building and district goals, and growing our relationships with students, families and the community.

Cooper Elementary School: Bruce Hartley, principal

I am most proud of the lines of communication we have established with parents and how students feel about school and attending Cooper Elementary. We start each day with a morning meeting to get students connected to one another and their teachers. These connections have helped diminish some of the peer conflicts we saw within our classrooms last year.

We continue to work to build strong relationships with our students and families because we know better relationships often means better engagement in the educational process.

Duncombe Elementary School: Pat Reding, principal

I am proud that the entire staff at Duncombe Elementary has made building relationships with students and families a top priority for this school year. A wide variety of activities and strategies are being put into action to build on the positive culture in our school and increase family engagement as well. Great things are happening at Duncombe.

We continue to work on building and strengthening our relationships with our families and encouraging families to engage in their students' learning.

Feelhaver Elementary School: Nancy Cross, principal

I am proud of the partnerships the Feelhaver staff have formed to help us provide our students with the best learning experiences. We are grateful for the assistance and engagement we receive from our families, foster grandparents, and local community groups. Their involvement and support continue to help us meet the needs of all our students.

We continue to work on helping all students develop their academic skills of reading and mathematics by strengthening our core instruction and implementing it with fidelity.

Riverside Early Learning Center: Tabitha Acree, principal

I am most proud of the positive, nurturing, and inclusive educational environment we provide for all children. Children, regardless of abilities, have the opportunity to develop positive social relationships and friendships with diverse peers.

We are working the hardest on helping children develop the social emotional, early literacy, and math skills to be successful in school and in life.

Fort Dodge Middle School: Ryan Flaherty, principal

I am most proud of the progress we are making in a variety of key areas: attendance communication with parents is resulting in improved student attendance, new curriculum adoptions in English language arts and mathematics is resulting in students thinking critically and demonstrating learning in higher level thinking ways, and continued efforts to make our school safe emotionally and physically, such as a therapy dog and emergency training with first responders.

We continue to work hard at a focus on social emotional learning that produces well rounded citizens in our community and unlocks the learning for all future subjects.

Fort Dodge Senior High: Kirsten Doebel, director of secondary education 

We are proud we are able to continue to offer so many opportunities for students from academic options to clubs, organizations and extracurricular activities. No matter what a student's area of interest, we offer hands-on opportunities to explore and develop their passions.

We continue to work on our dropout rate. We are working to ensure we understand why students become disengaged with learning and how we can keep them engaged, and will make changes accordingly.

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