Schools at a crossroads
The first stop of the three-day tour of Iowa was at Lenihan Intermediate School in Marshalltown, a town of 27,552 people northwest of Iowa City. Marshalltown is the home of the meatpacking plant Swift, Fisher Controls, which manufactures process control valves and accessories, and Lennox, which manufactures furnaces and air-conditioners. We met with a group of teachers and the superintendent, Dr. Marvin Wade.
Today’s student body composition in the school district is increasingly common in rural America: 89% of students are on reduced lunches, and this percentage keeps growing, while 66% are English Language Learners. Further, many students change schools during the academic year, as their parents move from one job to another. Anson Elementary has a 48% transition rate of students from the start to the end of the school year.
In the past two years, two of the town’s schools have seen problems with student achievement. In 2010, Miller Middle School was on the list of the state’s Persistently Lowest-Achieving Schools and in 2011 Marshalltown High School made the list. This list includes the bottom 5% of schools in the state and is based on student achievement scores from the previous three years. The idea of the ranking is to identify struggling schools and to help them, said Wade. “We saw the headlines, but we haven’t seen the help yet,” he said.
When asked about the type of help they wanted, Wade wished for time and money, “We have the staff we need. We need time and money.” Time would go toward extending the school day and the school year to allow for longer instruction of students and work in small-group settings. Money will buy them time … and an air conditioner.