North Tama school board trio takes oath of office

Superintendent Hill addresses bond referendum results

The 2023-24 North Tama County Community School District Board of Education pictured on Nov. 20 in the North Tama main gym. Board members include (front row, from left) vice president Haley Blaine, Jenny Sniffin, Cheryl Popelka, and student representative Kinsley Even; (back row, from left) Doug Dvorak, David Boldt, David Calderwood, and president Rod Zobel. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

TRAER – The North Tama Board of Education held both its final meeting of the previous board on Monday, Nov. 20, as well as its annual organizational meeting during which three board members including newcomer Jenny Sniffin took the oath of office.

Incumbent board members Doug Dvorak and David Boldt were sworn in alongside the board’s newest member Jenny Sniffin who replaced outgoing board member Val Bradley. Bradley, who originally took her seat to fill a vacancy, elected not to run this cycle.

All three won their respective seats during the Nov. 7, 2023 city/school election. Also during the election, North Tama’s two-question bond referendum passed with 65% support — bypassing the 60% supermajority threshold which was required.

During the first meeting, the board approved the Tama County Auditor’s abstract of the election. Superintendent David Hill addressed the results, telling the board he had “a lot of people congratulate” him on the outcome.

“I’ve turned it right around and said ‘congratulations to all of us,'” Hill said. “[The results are] a real indicator of support for this school system.”

North Tama school board secretary/treasurer Sara Forrester, off frame, administers the oath of office to incumbent directors (l-r) David Boldt and Doug Dvorak, and to newcomer Jenny Sniffin. All three were elected during the 2023 city/school election on Nov. 7. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

Hill then also addressed the fact that a “significant number of people” voted against the bond referendum, telling the board, “We still owe it to those people to serve their interests [as well] and we will.”

Hill further said that in a few years time, the board will have to go back to the voters to pass additional public measures for future construction phases, and while none of those measures will ask to levy taxes any further than the initial referendum is slated to do, it is important, Hill stressed, to keep promises made during the election.

Prior to adjourning the 2022-23 board, motions were passed acknowledging the 2023 fiscal year account balances – there were no negative balances – as well as the 17 outstanding checks.

In a series of quick motions, several items of interest were unanimously approved by the new, 2023-24 board including the re-election of Rod Zobel for board president; the election of Haley Blaine for board vice president – Cheryl Popelka previously served in the role; the appointment of Sara Forrester as board secretary/treasurer; the approval of the North Tama Telegraph newspaper as the district’s official publication; and the appointment of three members of the community – Mark Keefer, Diane Panfil, and Carol Earles – to the Instructional Materials Reconsideration Committee in additional to three North Tama staff members. The committee reviews formal objections made against a classroom or library material. The committee’s decision is then sent to the superintendent as a recommendation, after which the decision is appealable to the school board.

The board also approved the dates and times for regular meetings of the 2023-24 board. Meetings will continue to be held on the third Monday of each month beginning at 7 p.m. aside from a few exceptions including the January meeting which was moved from Jan. 15, 2024, the night of the Iowa Caucuses, to January 22, 2024.

North Tama Principal Taylor Howard, right, discusses his plan for improving student literacy scores during the November school board meeting held in the Jr. High Commons. PHOTO BY RUBY F. MCALLISTER

As part of the consent agenda, resignations were approved for Shawn Stout (special education route bus driver) and Marj Stout (transportation assistant), while Mickie Finley-Worsfold and Evelyn Detje were both approved as ride-along transportation assistants, and Scott Miller was approved as a special ed route driver. Holly Sevey was also approved as a cook/kitchen assistant.

Principal’s report

Principal Taylor Howard provided a lengthy report to the board following the release in late October of the new Iowa School Performance Profiles by the Iowa Dept. of Education which include performance ratings and federal designations.

Like last year, both North Tama Elementary and North Tama High School received ‘Acceptable’ overall performance ratings this year, however, the district’s average scores for both language arts and math continue to fall below the state average.

Howard presented information on both student achievement over the last year as well as his long-term plan to improve literacy scores, making note of the fact that Mitchellville Elementary in the Southeast Polk Community School District – where Howard previously taught special education – has been one of the highest performing schools in the state.

Mitchellville’s student body, Howard said, “looks a lot like our population.”

Howard said his goal moving forward is for North Tama to eventually score 80% proficiency on any state test that is administered. He then dove into the specifics of the plan he and the North Tama staff have been implementing in an effort to move student scores higher.

“If you trust this process, it will work,” Howard told the board.

He ended his presentation by sharing a recent third grade student’s ‘success story’ which he said took about six to eight weeks of intensive services/targeted support to reach.

The student, who began the school year reading 42 words per minute (87 is the goal), is now reading at 70 words per minute.

Before sitting down, Howard was asked by Popelka about adding chorus to the high school curriculum offerings – a class that is not currently being offered. Since the late Terry Shay’s retirement from North Tama’s vocal music position at the end of the 2022-23 school year, the district has been unable to find and hire a replacement who would teach the class.

Howard said North Tama’s band instructor Channing Halstead recently offered to teach high school chorus next semester, but following a survey given by Howard to the student body, the decision was made not to offer the class at this time due to low interest.

While the district continues to search for a music teacher, retired North Tama kindergarten teacher/piano instructor Sharon Owens has been serving as the elementary music teacher.

Superintendent report

As part of his report to the board, Supt. Hill shared that he recently had a meeting with both the architects and the district’s construction manager in regard to the bond referendum passing. He is currently waiting for more information in order to begin selling the bonds to fund Phase I of the facility upgrades.

Hill warned against adding additional upgrades to the Phase I plan – something he has been approached about by half a dozen members of the public since the bond passed, he said. While many of the suggestions are “great ideas,” Hill reiterated the importance of sticking to what was described on the Nov. 7 ballot.

“It’s important to fulfill those promises in order to get another supermajority vote for Phase II,” Hill said – a phase which, if all goes to plan, should take place three to five years down the road and is “critical” for the district to implement as the phase replaces the aging 1917 building.

The district’s closing date on the purchase of the home located at 610 Walnut Street next to the playground was to take place this week.

Hill said he had a brief discussion with one of the owners of the home located at 606 S. Main Street in regard to a future purchase of that property by the school district.

“It was a good conversation,” Hill said.

No action was taken on the South Main property, however, and Hill said the homeowner needed time to discuss a possible sale with his family.

Hill ended his report by thanking outgoing board member Val Bradley for her service to the board, while also welcoming newcomer Jenny Sniffin to the board.