Wednesday, February 27, 2008

AmeriCorps NCCC Opening New Iowa Campus, Seeking Recruits Now

Des Moines - The AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps will be recruiting new members for its Iowa campus during Volunteer Awareness Day on February 26. The campus is set to open in July in Vinton. Of the 160 members and team leaders, 25 percent are expected to be Iowa residents.

“If you want to serve, the best way is to come to Vinton,” said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees NCCC. “NCCC members provide crucial aid to communities by focusing on needs that are determined by the communities themselves. We welcome eligible Iowa residents to our inaugural NCCC class in the state.”

NCCC director Merlene Mazyck explained that the first set of service projects will focus on Iowa communities. “With 14 teams deployed throughout the state, NCCC will help Iowa communities get things done while generating enthusiasm and interest about national service,” she said. During their service, NCCC members will undertake a variety of service projects in Iowa, in addition to traveling to surrounding states in the region. Besides the impact that NCCC members have in helping communities, the new campus is expected to add 20 jobs, and a payroll of $1.2 million, to the area.

Both Senator Tom Harkin and Governor Chet Culver have welcomed the new campus to the state. “For over a decade, AmeriCorps members from all over the country have served Iowans, and I welcome the National Civilian Community Corps to our state,” Harkin. Culver added, “The spirit of service is alive and well in Iowa, and especially in our young people. I encourage Iowans to take advantage of this great opportunity to give back to our communities, state, and country.”

AmeriCorps NCCC is a full-time, team-based residential program for men and women ages 18-24. NCCC members, assigned to one of four campuses, are organized into teams of 10-12 members and serve in local communities in every state responding to needs that are identified by community-based organizations. Approximately 1,100 members serve in NCCC each year. About 160 people between the ages of 18 and 24 will serve at the Iowa campus during its first year. NCCC is focusing its recruiting efforts on Iowa, with Iowa residents expected to account for 25 percent of the campus’s first class. For more information on AmeriCorps or to apply online, please visit The deadline for applying to the new Iowa campus is April 15, 2008.

Teams serve with local and national organizations, providing much needed skills and leading volunteers for Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross, and hundreds of other organizations. These dedicated and energetic young adults tutor students, construct and rehabilitate low-income housing, clean up streams, help communities develop emergency plans, and address other local needs. Trained in CPR, first aid, disaster response and firefighting, NCCC teams have responded to every national disaster since the program was established.

NCCC will be headquartered at the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School. During their year of service, NCCC members based at the campus will undertake a variety of projects in the campus’s service area, which, in addition to Iowa, includes Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. NCCC’s other campuses are in Sacramento, Calif.; Denver, Colo.; and Perry Point, Md.

The Corporation for National and Community Service is a federal agency that improves lives, strengthens communities, and fosters civic engagement through service and volunteering. The Corporation administers Senior Corps, AmeriCorps, and Learn and Serve America. For more information, visit

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Better select, train teachers; expect more from all kids

World-class schools for Iowa?

Des Moines Register Deputy Editorial Page Editor Linda Lantor Fandel is conducting question-and-answer sessions with Iowans and others as part of an ongoing examination of what it would take for Iowa to have world-class schools. Go to to read Fandel's blog about this issue and to share your ideas.

Please check out Linda Lantor Fandel's most recent interview with Iowa Department of Education Director Judy Jeffrey. Director Jeffrey shares her opinion on how in the future teachers should be selected and trained and what we should expect from students.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Raising standards, improving student achievement

We are making progress on improving Iowa student achievement. The Legislature is increasing basic state aid to local schools, bringing teacher pay up to 25th in the nation, and making quality preschool available to all Iowa families.

The next step is approving statewide curriculum standards.

This week, the Senate Education Committee approved a Model Core Curriculum. This curriculum covers kindergarten through 12th grade in math and science. It also includes practical skills needed to be employed and successful in today’s world: literacy in health, finances, civics and technology.

The Model Core Curriculum will ensure that all Iowa students experience a rigorous program of study that prepares them for success in post-secondary education and the emerging global economy.

The curriculum is a roadmap for what students need to learn, suggestions for effective teaching, and specific measures to gauge student success. The hoped for results include more effective classrooms, increased accountability and improved student achievement. Our bottom line is helping students succeed in school and beyond.

The voices of parents, school board members, administrators and teachers guided the development of this legislation. I’m also listening to Iowa’s business community. They’ve made it clear that a successful state economy requires graduating students who have the skills for high-wage, high-skill jobs.

To learn more, visit the Iowa Department of Education web site at

Saturday, February 23, 2008

New Dictionary Words 2007

Do you know what "ginormous" and "crunk" mean? Test your cutting edge vocabulary with a fun quiz based on the new words Merriam-Webster is adding to their dictionary in 2007.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Below Zero Temps Don't Keep Hearty Team ISEA Leaders Away From Lobby Day

A little wintry weather didn't keep Team ISEA leaders away from Des Moines and ISEA's Lobby Day today! Frigid temperature combined with wind chill made it feel like a minus 40 below zero and staff combined with leaders ventured to the Quality Inn and Suites to participate in our annual Lobby Day.

Hot coffee and sweet rolls hit the spot as we gathered awaiting the arrival of our first speaker. Folks from Nevada, Shenandoah, Hampton, Moulton, Fairfield, SE Polk, Mt. Pleasant, Centerville, Ft. Madison, Sioux City, Saydel, Des Moines and Iowa City were among the many locals represented.

A large contingent from both Davenport and Cedar Rapids had to cancel reservations to participate because of snow blocked and icy highways in eastern Iowa.

The first to address our group was Governor Chet Culver. Governor Culver, the only Governor in the nation to have served as a classroom teacher in the last twenty years, served as a high school Government teacher at Des Moines Hoover High School. Governor Culver fielded questions on Community College faculty salaries; students with mental health issues; and a Living Wage for Education Support Professionals.

We were treated to hearing from committee chairs from both House and Senate Education Committees today too! Representative Roger Wendt (on left) of Sioux City, a retired Middle School administrator and Senator Brian Schoenjahn (on the right) a retired Government teacher at Starmont addressed education issues that have worked their way through their standing committees.

ISEA Lobbyists Jon Studer (left) and Brad Hudson (right) shared with those gathered the education bills they continue to track that Team ISEA has said are our legislative priorities. Brad and Jon represent our 33,000 members every day at the state Capitol and work to inform legislators the priorities of our membership.

Representative Richard Anderson of Clarinda (center) discusses with Toni Graham, chair of ISEA's ESP standing committee (right) and Kevin Ericson (left) member of ISEA's Executive Board representing Mid-Iowa UniServ Unit issues he's working on.

Representative John Whitaker of Hillsboro shares conversation over lunch with Team ISEA's Bargaining and Rights Specialist Joann Mackin. All members of the General Assembly were invited to join us for lunch. We provided transportation for legislators on school buses driven by Team ISEA members from the Johnston Educational Support Professional Association.

Representative Eric Palmer of Oskaloosa (left) visits with Team ISEA leaders from Iowa City. A table full of Iowa City leaders braved ice-packed Interstate 80 to participate today.

Also joining us lunch today were Representative Paul Shomshor (left) of Council Bluffs; Representative Polly Bukta, retired teacher from Clinton; Representative McKinley Bailey of Webster City (second from right); and Team ISEA Student Program member from Drake University, Steve Chasse (right).

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (left) of Council Bluffs addressed the group over lunch. Senator Gronstal in addition to his remarks on education priorities of his caucus gave us an update on his two daughter. Senator Gronstal always gives tremendous credit for his daughters' success to the opportunities they were given in public school. Senator Gronstal chairs the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) for the Democratic National Committee.

The last to address our group was Speaker of the House Pat Murphy (at right) of Dubuque. Speaker Murphy shared priorities of his caucus then listened to concerns from our members and answered questions before heading back to the Capitol.

With very busy schedules and high demands to have a few moments with our elected state legislators, we are most grateful for Governor Culver, Majority Leader Gronstal, Speaker Murphy and House and Senate members that could join us today!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Pay up! Merit pay won't solve school issues

Here's an idea: Let's say workers at Mohawk Golf Course only get raises this year if golfers there score better than golfers at Page Belcher.

Let's keep it competitive. If Page Belcher golfers shoot more sub-par rounds than Mohawk folks, the pro over there gets a bump.

A few too many bogies, and he's out of luck.

To add more incentive, let's put in some bonus options: 10 bucks in the pocket of the course pro for every hole-in-one anyone shoots.

Sound crazy?

So is merit pay for teachers.

Unmerited idea: The run-government-like-a-business folks are once again suggesting phony ''free market'' ideas for public schools.

If my teachers work harder and their students do better, they should get paid better, the merit pay argument goes.

The idea seems to be especially appealing to legislators from suburbs, where students consistently do better on standardized tests.

Funny how suburbs have all the good teachers.

Funny and false.

In fact, there are as many hard-working, qualified and dedicated teachers in Tulsa as Jenks.

Jenks students do better in standardized test scores. But that's not because the district has better teachers.

If you can measure teaching by test results then you can measure the greenskeepers by the number of birdies on his course.

Jenks consistently does better on standardized tests because it has fewer students moving in and out of classes, more involved parents, fewer immigrants with language barriers and, in general, better opportunities.

Merit pay would only exacerbate the inequity of opportunities, because good teachers would be lured out of challenged schools.

The rich get richer, and the poor get children.

The Nutmeg State solution: When he was a graduate student at Yale, my brother-in-law taught part time at the University of Connecticut.

One day he asked another instructor what was up with a certain group of high-achieving students.

Oh, the instructor said, those are the students from the Education College.

In 1986, faced with bad standardized test results and other troubling indicators, Connecticut's legislature passed a revolutionary mandate: a $20,000 minimum teacher salary.

Before that, the state had teachers earning as little as $11,000 a year and the best teachers were being lured away to other states.

The turnaround was quick. Connecticut's education colleges started attracting brighter would-be teachers, and were able to raise the minimum academic standards for education majors. The state raised the standards for people applying for teaching credentials.

More money brought brighter kids and higher standards.

Connecticut's schools still have many of the same problems that Oklahoma's schools do, but does anyone think that having smarter, better-qualified teachers won't improve whatever problems schools face?

In 2005-6, the average teacher's salary in Connecticut was $59,304, second only to California.

As a result, Connecticut lures the best teachers away from Rhode Island and New York.

In Oklahoma, the average teacher earned $38,772. In Texas, it's $41,744.

Where would you go to work if you were a talented young teacher?

If you want better golf courses, you have to pay the pros.

Wayne Greene 581-8308

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A Sweetheart Day in Lawton-Bronson

Today is Valentine's Day and Lincolnway UniServ Director Myron Halverson and I teamed up again today to visit another one of the great locals in Lincolnway UniServ Unit. Our association road led us to Lawton-Bronson on yet another snowy Iowa morning.

We arrived before the school day began in Bronson to the elementary building of Pre-K through 5th grade. Myron is pictured (on the left) with Lincolnway UniServ President Mary Siepker and 1st grade teacher here at the Bronson elementary building. The Lawton-Bronson EA hosted a breakfast reception where we had a chance to meet many of the great staff members.

Our first classroom visit took us into the 4th grade classroom of birthday girl Mrs. Wendy Oates. I read aloud the picture book 17 Things I'm Not Allowed To Do Any More. The students were great listeners and they have such a fun day a head! Mrs. Oates and her 4th graders are pictured on the right.
Next I was off to the 2nd grade room of Laurie Amick. Laurie had me read the book Miss Nelson Is Missing. I love this book and the students loved it too! Mrs. Amick is pictured with her homeroom of 2nd graders on the left.

The final classroom visit at Bronson Elementary took us into the 1st grade class of Team ISEA leader Mary Siepker. Mary had me read Marc Brown's book Arthur's Valentine. In the story Arthur has a secret admirer. In the end Arthur finds out who his secret admirer is and gives her candy kisses. Ms. Siepker had little gift bags for each student filled with Hershey kisses for me to give each student. Pretty creative, don't you think! Ms. Siepker and her 1st graders are pictured here on the right.

As we were ready to leave, the children surprised me with hand-made Valentines. Thanks, boys and girls! I read them all when I returned home to my kitties. The cards were all so beautiful!

Before leaving the Bronson building, UniServ Director Myron and I had the chance to sit and visit with elementary principal Chad Shook. We discussed recent action of the Iowa General Assembly with Mr. Shook as well as the upcoming building project in which a new elementary will be built and ready to open for the 2009-2010 school year.

UniServ Director Myron and I were next off to Lawton to the Middle and High School building. When we arrived in the office we were greeted by Superintendent of Schools Jeff Thelander.

Mr. Thelander (pictured at right) made us a cup of tea to enjoy as we had a chance for conversation. We discussed the proposed core curriculum beginning to move through the Iowa Senate and the one cent sales tax as it currently in place and the proposed change moving through the Iowa House.[Note: Check out the University of Nebraska-Lincoln pennant on the wall! Mr. Thelander earned his Masters from UNL, I earned my Bachelor's degree from UNL--we became friends quickly!]
We had the chance to visit one classroom here in the Middle School. Seventh grade Language Arts and Reading teacher Beth Bellinghausen had Myron and I join in on teams as they played the game "Word Sweep". I was on a team with two great students that helped our team do well! Mrs. Bellinghausen had me share with the students some of the responsibilities I have in my job, then students had prepared questions for me.

Thank you so much Lawton-Bronson for your hospitality! You have amazingly great things going on in your school district!

Siouxland Tour Wraps Up With Reception and Unit Board Meeting

On Wednesday, February 13th after a full day of visiting members throughout Siouxland UniServ Unit, the UniServ Leadership Team hosted a special reception at MacBears in Sioux City.

(on the right) Siouxland UniServ Unit Administrative Assistant Lori Boyd and Siouxland UniServ Director Bruce Lear joined in with their well wishes and thanks for the team effort during the special reception.

Siouxland UniServ Unit President Marlin Jeffers promptly called the meeting to order at 5:15 p.m. Reports were heard from ISEA's four state committees; each local in Siouxland gave a brief update; and we heard Bruce's UniServ Director's report and Marlin's Unit President's report.

So many leaders throughout Siouxland have been long-time, special friends. You have been my closest allies over the were the first to contribute to my campaign when I ran for the Iowa House in 1992 and were supportive throughout my brief legislative career; and many Siouxlanders encouraged me to run for ISEA President.

Thank you my friends throughout Siouxland UniServ Unit for your friendship and support over the years. I look forward to our continued friendship as I head back to the classroom next fall! Thanks for all you do as leaders on Team ISEA!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Reconnecting With Great Friends at Western Iowa Technical Community College

I always love seeing the folks at Western Iowa Technical Community College in Sioux City! Spending time with them is almost as good as spending time with my folks at home at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs. There's something about sharing our western border that gives us that special bond.

One very special instructor here is Helen Lewis. Helen represents WIT on the ISEA Higher Education standing committee. Helen has tremendous enthusiasm and energy for her work as an instructor in the Humanities here at WIT as well as her leadership role on Team ISEA.

Also joining our conversation over coffee and cookies from the Humanities Department were Bea Houston (on left), an instructor in Spanish and Theresa M. Jackson (on the right) an English instructor.

(Pictured below) Past president of the Western Iowa Tech Higher Education Association, Brian Smith, stopped by briefly between classes today. Rhonda Briggs, an instructor in Psychology, was able to spend a bit more time visiting with us about issues of concern.

WIT Counselor Penny Schempp and current Western Iowa Tech Higher Education Association President Don Custer (below) joined in for conversation today too.

Conversations centered around WIT competing for students with a community college in South Sioux City, Nebraska; diversified staffing issues; professional development opportunities; community college faculty salaries and issues in state government; and a new venue to have voice in campus issues at the Faculty Forum.

The last of the faculty members of WIT to stop by for conversation were (below) Jim Wiederspan, Dr. Patricia Simmons, and Misty Kirwan.

Thank you my friends of Western Iowa Technical Community College Higher Education Association for your friendship and hospitality! I appreciate your advocacy for both the students and our Team ISEA members.

We are lucky to have you as leaders on Team ISEA!

Last Day of Siouxland Tour Begins at Office of Northwest Area Education Agency

It was a treat to return to the home office this morning of Northwest Area Education Agency in Sioux City. Here my great friend and Chair of ISEA's AEA standing committee, Marlin Jeffers, has his office. Marlin, a staff development consultant, is pictured here (on the left) with Northwest AEA's Chief Administrator, Dr. Tim Grieves.

This is Dr. Grieves' first year heading up Northwest AEA. Dr. Grieves (on the right) previously served as an administrator in the Iowa City Community School District and most recently as the Superintendent of Schools in Spirit Lake.

We had a great conversation around current legislative initiatives, infrasturcture needs of the AEA's, as well as the direction of the Institute for Tomorrow's Workforce in which both Dr. Grieves and I serve on the board. We thank Dr. Grieves for his leadership!

Later in the day Marlin and I returned to the Northwest AEA office to a reception hosted by both PSA and ASPA (the professional and support staff associations). I'm pictured (above on left) with Cesar Narvaez a school Social Worker with Northwest AEA.

President of ASPA (Associate Professional Staff Association), Debbie Gibson (pictured at right) joined us for lunch and for the reception this afternoon.

A great crowd stopped by for conversation and delicious dessert treats during the 90 minute reception! It was a nice opportunity to experience the stories they shared and fun they have as a team that works together!

Thanks to all Team ISEA members at Northwest AEA for all you do every day on behalf of Iowa's students!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Little Snow Doesn't Slow Us Down in Siouxland

Northwest Iowa received anywhere from 4-6" of snow last night and many school districts in the area had late starts this morning. Unfortunately my visit to Sgt. Bluff-Lutton had to be canceled as their district was one of many to have a late start this morning.

My day didn't start until mid-morning, but when it did--it was on a high note with a return visit to West High School in Sioux City.

With the opportunity to tour the building and meet many staff, I had a chance to stop in the classroom of long-time friend, Ron Colling. Ron teaches Math here at West High School and continues to serve on the Negotiations Team for the Sioux City Education Association.

Sioux City Education Support Professional Association President, Leslie Dake (pictured on the left) works in the West High School office in Finance and Payroll. Pictured with Leslie is SCESP Association member Jodie Larson, a Media Assistant, selected by Team ISEA to represent us at the upcoming national meeting to be held in Baltimore, Maryland in March as an emerging leader at NEA's ESP Conference!

Marlin Jeffers (on the left) Chair of ISEA's Area Education Agency standing committee and President of Siouxland UniServ Unit is joined here with Steve Mullenberg, a School Psychologist with Northwest Area Education Agency. Steve works at West High School 2 1/2 days a week as part of his professional responsibilities.

As we returned to the office area to check out, I asked both our host Leslie Dake and Marlin Jeffers who joined us on our West High visit that I thought there was something "missing" here in the front foyer. They explained that the school mascot, a wolverine , had an "accident". The school is raising money to replace the mascot "Wooly".

Lunch today was at one of my all time favorite stops in Iowa here at Green Gables in Sioux City. I always have to have a cup of their matzo ball soup and a hot fudge sundae. Yum, all was just as delicious as always!

Joining us for lunch at Green Gables was Siouxland UniServ Unit Administrative Assistant, Lori Boyd. Lori is highly respected for her great work and well loved by members throughout all Siouxland UniServ Unit! Thanks for all you do on Team ISEA, Lori!

My afternoon took me to Whittier Elementary in the Sioux City Community School District. I had the chance to read to a number of classrooms this afternoon!

My first classroom visit took us in the room of 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Larson. She is pictured with her homeroom (on the left).

Next two groups of 3rd grade joined together to hear the read aloud I shared. The two classrooms are pictured below with their teachers, Mr. Juelfs and Mr. Mason.

Nearing the end of the day our next visit took us into the room of Kindergarten teacher Mrs. Karrer. These were darling little kiddos that were so excited to help with the read aloud! Mrs. Karrer is pictured (on the right) with her homeroom.

The last classroom to visit before the end of the school day was in the Kindergarten classroom of long-time friend and great association activitist, Amy Snodgrass. Amy is pictured with her homeroom here on the left.

So when I feel a little tired at the end of my school visits, I think how I've had a pretty easy day compared to all the great educators I've visited throughout the day! You continue to do magic every day! Thanks for all you do every day for all Iowa's students!