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Mason City school, NIACC partner to teach sixth-graders chemistry

MASON CITY | For at least five weeks, a portion of Lincoln Intermediate sixth-graders has been learning chemistry through a variety of hands-on activities.

“Doing is learning,” said Lisa Hugi, a teacher at Lincoln Intermediate in Mason City.

Hugi’s 90 sixth-grade students are part of a “pilot project” being done in collaboration with Nikae Perkinson, Natural Sciences Division chairwoman and a chemistry instructor at North Iowa Area Community College, and her college students, to prepare the school for new Iowa science standards required to be in place by the 2018-19 school year.

The state’s new standards are based on the Next Generation Science Standards, learning expectations for grades K-12 developed by 26 states, including Iowa, to equip students’ for college and 21st-century careers.

Under the new standards, which were approved by the Iowa State Board of Education in 2015, sixth-grade teachers will teach their students chemistry for the first time.

“We’re gearing up (for next year),” Perkinson said.

Earlier this year, Perkinson contacted Ashley Flatebo, an instructional coach at John Adams Middle School, about collaborating with a sixth-grade science teacher within the Mason City Community School District to teach chemistry as part of a service project.

Hugi was selected, and since then, she and Perkinson have been working together each week to determine what and how to teach chemistry concepts to her sixth-graders.

“(Perkinson) is the expert in chemistry, I’m the novice, so it’s been nice for her to kind of guide me that way,” Hugi said.

Once a week, Perkinson and several of her chemistry students — pursuing agriculture, medical and other fields — visit Hugi’s students and assist with chemistry-related activities.

On Tuesday, students made molecular models, while other weeks, they’ve learned about the periodic table and made rock candy.

“I like science,” said sixth-grader Greyson Brandt. “It’s fun.”

Brandt’s classmate Kylie Bergman agreed, noting she has enjoyed all the chemistry activities.

Bergman also said she enjoys having Perkinson and the college students visit each week because they provide “extra help in the classroom” when Hugi is busy helping other students.

“We’ve been team-teaching and working on projects to get students engaged and excited about science, and my college students have been able to use their expertise that they’re learning in the classroom in a really positive way,” Perkinson said. “It’s just a win-win for both of us.”

After Thanksgiving, Hugi said she will present the curriculum to other teachers at the school, where they will discuss what worked and what didn’t, and then, they’ll begin teaching chemistry.

“It’s fascinated me on how much they know, how eager they are to learn, and some of my struggling learners have really thrived in the classroom because it’s more hands-on,” she said.

Perkinson said she hopes the pilot project becomes a long-term collaboration between NIACC and Mason City teachers because it’s been “very valuable” for all the students involved.

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Wright County Supervisors approve CAFO proposals, ordinances

CLARION | The Wright County Board of Supervisors has approved two CAFO sites, along with two ordinances aiming to correct nuisance-related problems in the county.

Rick Rasmussen, chairman of the board, said that while the board approved the proposals at Monday's meeting, he would like the state Legislature review the state matrix scoring system for concentrated animal feeding operations when it reconvenes.

"I would like to see them boost up what it takes for them to be approved," Rasmussen said by phone Tuesday. "That’s the biggest thing ... so they’ve got all their ducks in a row and they can get after them."

He added he would like to see yearly water testing, manure control and more environmental testing at future sites, including the two just approved in Wright County.

The two LLCs that applied for the sites, Barn Owl Farms and Golden Hawk Farms, are both aiming to build two 2,500-head deep pit swine finisher confinement buildings. Prestage Farms is currently building a pork processing plant in Eagle Grove.

Michael Blaser is the agent listed for both companies, according to state records. He said he doesn't know who will construct the two CAFOs, but added the process to obtain a construction permit takes time.

"You have one year after the (construction) permit is issued to initiate construction," Blaser, an attorney based in Des Moines, said about the process Monday. "And I think then they have four years to complete construction."

Sandy McGrath, administrator of Wright County's environmental health and planning and zoning departments, did not return three phone calls for comment Monday.

Along with the CAFOs, Wright County supervisors completed the third reading of two ordinances — one of which aims to control illegal dumping throughout the county, and the other to "abate nuisances and unsafe conditions," according to the meeting's agenda.

Rasmussen said the two ordinances aim to give law enforcement more power to stop those issues from continuing.

"That's to give law enforcement more teeth," he said. "So they can go after them and pursue and clean them (lots with illegal dumping) out."

Preventing sexual harassment at Statehouse takes detour

DES MOINES | The Republican leader of the Iowa Senate did an about face Tuesday, saying a plan to hire a human resources officer in the wake of a costly sexual harassment verdict is on hold while he and his staff consult with an independent professional.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said the decision was made after an employee raised accountability concerns over plans unveiled Monday to establish a director of human resources to report to the Secretary of the Senate and the Chief Clerk of the House — who both are political appointees.

“We’re not saying that’s not going to happen. We’re delaying that decision until we get the advice of an outside professional,” said Dix, who did not have a timetable or cost associated with a new hire other than to say, “I think we should move forward as quickly as possible.”

But within minutes of the conclusion of Dix’s news conference, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, issued a statement saying the Iowa House will proceed separately with hiring a human resources director: “I believe that this is the right decision.”

Upmeyer indicated the human resources professional — who would cover the House, Legislative Services Agency and ombudsman’s office — will provide “expertise and continuity in an increasingly complex field in order to provide the best working environment we can for our employees.”

That person would review policies, look into employee complaints and help with hirings, job evaluations and firings.

Workplace rules became an issue at the Statehouse most recently when Kirsten Anderson, a former state Senate Republican Caucus Staff communications director, said she was fired hours after complaining of sexual harassment on the job. A jury found in her favor, and the state paid $1.75 million to settle without an appeal.

Tuesday, Dix stood by his contention that Anderson was fired for poor work performance, but he conceded that “the jury saw it differently.”

He said an internal investigation was completed and a review both by his staff and the Attorney General’s Office determined existing policies were appropriate and provided a safe work environment. But he continued to insist that the investigation’s findings stay secret.

“At a future time I might reconsider that if an outside organization deems that to be the best thing. The reason I hesitate now is that that investigation took place with the expectation of the employees to provide that information confidentially,” he said.

Dix did say one employee resigned after the Anderson court case.

During her weekly news conference earlier Tuesday, GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds said she thought hiring a human resources officer would be the right move. She said she believed the Senate majority leader should release the review of sexual harassment allegations against his staff if there's more information than what came to light during last summer’s trial.

“I do believe that if there are additional facts that were not brought out through the trial process, being cognizant of personal information, I think that they need to be transparent and open and that they should release that information,” she told reporters. “I think there’s a way to do that and I think they need to do that.”

Iowa Democratic Party Chair Troy Price reiterated his call for Dix to step down as Senate majority leader and said he hoped Reynolds would join in.

“From the very beginning of this scandal nearly four years ago, Bill Dix has consistently blocked any attempt to find out more about the sexual harassment allegations in the GOP Senate Caucus, and refusing to release this report is only the latest in a long series of efforts to protect those who sexually harass co-workers over those who have been harassed.”

Dix said it is his personal responsibility to take care of the work environment in his office and he has attempted to handle the situation in the best way possible.

“I’m trying to do the right thing and that story doesn’t get told,” he said.

Iowa Legislature  



Sessions denies lying on Russia, pleads hazy memory

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday displayed a hazy memory of the Trump campaign's discussions about and dealings with Russians in the 2016 election, denying he ever lied to Congress about those contacts but blaming the chaos of the race for fogging his recollections.

During more than five hours of testimony to Congress, Sessions sought to explain away apparent contradictions in his earlier accounts by citing the exhausting nature of Donald Trump's upstart but surging bid for the White House. He also denied under repeated questioning from Democrats that he had been influenced by Trump.

But after saying under oath months ago that he was unaware of any relationship between the campaign and Russia, Sessions acknowledged for the first time that the arrest of a low-level campaign adviser reminded him after all of a meeting at which the aide, George Papadopoulos, proposed setting up a get-together between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"After reading his account and to the best of my recollection," Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee, "I believe that I wanted to make clear to him that he was not authorized to represent the campaign with the Russian government or any other foreign government for that matter.

"But I did not recall this event, which occurred 18 months before my testimony of a few weeks ago," he added, "and I would gladly have reported it had I remembered it because I pushed back against his suggestion that I thought may have been improper."

Papadopoulos was arrested by the FBI and pleaded guilty last month to lying to authorities about his own foreign contacts during the campaign. That guilty plea came in a wide-ranging criminal investigation led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who as the Justice Department's special counsel is looking into whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential election and into whether the firing of James Comey as FBI director was an effort to obstruct justice.

During the Trump campaign, Sessions, then an Alabama senator, led a campaign foreign policy advisory council on which Papadopolous served. The attorney general has struggled since January to move past questions about his own foreign contacts and about his knowledge of Russian outreach efforts during the election effort.

Each congressional hearing, including Tuesday's, has focused on Sessions' own recollections, and he recused himself in March from the Justice Department's investigation into election meddling after acknowledging two previously undisclosed encounters during the campaign with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Questions for Sessions have only deepened since the guilty plea last month of Papadopoulos and recent statements to congressional investigators by another foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, who has said he alerted Sessions last year about a trip he planned to take to Russia during the campaign. Sessions insisted Tuesday that he did not recall that conversation with Page at all and appeared incredulous at times that he could be expected to remember the details of conversations from more than a year ago.

"In all of my testimony, I can only do my best to answer all of your questions as I understand them and to the best of my memory," Sessions said. "But I will not accept, and reject, accusations that I have ever lied. That is a lie."

Sessions insisted that his story had never changed and that he had never been dishonest. But he also suggested to the committee that it was unfair to expect him to recall "who said what when" during the campaign.

"It was a brilliant campaign, I think, in many ways, but it was a form of chaos every day from day one," Sessions said. "We traveled some times to several places in one day. Sleep was in short supply and I was still a full-time senator ... with a very full schedule."

The oversight hearing divided along stark partisan lines.

Republicans, buoyed by the announcement a day earlier that the Justice Department might be open to a new special counsel to investigate an Obama-era business transaction that Trump himself has railed against, repeatedly challenged the underpinnings of Mueller's investigation. Democrats grilled him on the evolving explanations about how much he knew of communication during the campaign between Trump associates and Russian government intermediaries.

A day earlier, the Justice Department said Sessions had directed federal prosecutors to look into whether a special counsel might be merited to investigate allegations that the Clinton Foundation benefited from a uranium transaction involving a Russia-backed company during the Obama administration.

On Tuesday, Sessions said that any such review would be done without regard to political considerations.

"A president cannot improperly influence an investigation," Sessions said in response to questions from the committee's top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers of Michigan.

"And I have not been improperly influenced and would not be improperly influenced," he added. "The president speaks his mind. He's bold and direct about what he says, but people elected him. But we do our duty every day based on the law and the facts."