RICEVILLE | On Friday, Oct. 27, Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise, along with Iowa Teacher of the Year Shelly Vroegh, visited Riceville Community Schools.

Riceville is the 116th school the director has toured in the two-and-a-half years since being named director.

“I try to tour a few schools a week,” Wise said. “It’s easy for policy to get disconnected from practice. I wanted to make sure what passes in D.C. and in Des Moines, plays out and works well in classes.”

Schumann shared with Wise that the Riceville, St. Ansgar and Osage school districts are in the process of developing a way to share resources. In addition, the districts are developing a common calendar so the districts which can’t afford a class or program might still offer it to their students through a partner school. In addition, Schumann went on to explain Riceville had just recently joined the Iowa-BIG North STEM program.

In addition to hearing about district programs, Wise questioned how Fast Testing was working in the school, and if the school was finding the data to be helpful to them in detecting students who needed aid with reading, to keep them from falling behind.

“That’s a question I ask at all of the schools I visit,” Wise said. “The Fast Testing measures if the student is on track. It allows the school to identify kids who are at risk and offer additional support to them. Having a dedicated person, who is focused on reading the data of those tests and working with teachers on plans for those students, is really the best practice and I’m glad to see that Riceville has that.”

The test has slowly been phased into all of the schools across the state, and is in its third year of being administered on a state-wide basis.

In addition, Wise was interested in hearing how Riceville had implemented the state-wide teacher leadership system within the school and what the district was offering, in terms of career and technical education, college and career planning and planning partnerships within the community.

“The idea is to give more equitable access across those high profile fields like welding and culinary arts,” Wise said. “In addition, the teacher leadership and compensation program is designed so every district, in Iowa, has an approved plan that they can tailor to their local needs.”

“The teachers are reading the book ‘Better Conversations,’ Schumman said. “They then get together and talk about what they read and how to apply it across classrooms. They look at the way they are talking to students, colleagues and parents, focusing on how something is said.

“The idea is to empower teachers to have these hard conversations with people, but recognizing that if they don’t have the conversations the right way, no one ends up happy.”

Wise then toured the school, having the opportunity to see the alternate seating in many of the classes as well as the classrooms set up for more project-based learning.

“The TLC has really helped teachers to think outside of the box,” said Emily Schipper, whose classroom was part of the tour. Her social studies students were working on postcards for members of the community to sign that they would then send off to their representatives. The focus being on getting kids involved in political participation. “I think it’s important we not be in the little islands of our departments,” she said. “If it’s not what we learned in college, it’s still okay if it’s working and getting students enthused.”