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Davenport school officials discuss returning to full accreditation with state officials during Thursday visit
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DAVENPORT

Davenport school officials discuss returning to full accreditation with state officials during Thursday visit

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Superintendent T.J. Schneckloth during a recent Davenport school board meeting.

Davenport Community School District school board members expressed their desire for the district to be fully accredited again during a Thursday visit by state education officials.

The district has been working for several years to address issues that led to it being cited by the state, including needing to provide more equitable education for Black students. Since October 2020, the district has been under the direct oversight of the Iowa State Board of Education after the Iowa Department of Education argued the district was not making enough progress on the citations. The district has been only conditionally accredited by the state for some time while it works on the citations.

In November, the state relaxed some of that control, and the relationship is expected to again be reviewed by the state board in March.

The state delegation, which included Iowa Department of Education Director Ann Lebo and several members of the state board of education, toured district schools, observed programs and had a conversation with the school board members in the early afternoon.

The school board members talked about the progress the district has made and its readiness to be fully accredited again.

“We have worked very hard, and I hope you remember that in March and return our control,” Karen Kline-Jerome, of the school board, said.

The district’s efforts to address the problems underlying the citations have included the ongoing development of uniform standards for students’ learning environments and staff response to crises and violence. The district is also working on improving its early literacy scores, and the school board has been undergoing professional development. 

Board member Bruce Potts said he was glad the state officials visited and saw some of the district’s efforts in person because it is hard to assess and supervise from a distance.

“I think that will enrich your ability to make judgments in March,” Potts said. “And also have conversations with your colleagues about not just what it looks like on paper but what it looks like in reality in the classroom, in the buildings and the district at large.”

Linda Hayes, school board vice president, said was thankful the district came under state scrutiny. Since the citation efforts began, things have been corrected, the school board has become more unified and the district has developed new strengths.

“Had you not stepped in, I don’t know where we would be today,” Hayes said. “It’s not that you’re not appreciated, but I do feel for the time that I’ve been on the board, there’s been tremendous strides made.”

Hayes said the school board wanted to thank the state for its efforts but was looking forward to the end of the current dynamic between the two entities.

When children are starting to walk, there is a time when parents let their hands go and let them fall, Hayes said.

“And they get up and they take off running,” Hayes said. “I think we’re at the point now where we’re coming to our feet and we’re ready to go.”

In November, the education department commended the school board and TJ Schneckloth, district superintendent, on their efforts, saying that, though the work is not done, a substantial amount has been completed.

The work to date has been on the upper levels of the district’s system, the department said then. The impacts the citation work is having on the students was only just starting to become apparent.

The scaled-back relationship adopted by the state board in November was based on an approach of gradually returning the district’s responsibilities to it, according to the education department. The idea was not to just stop the assistance abruptly but return the authority in increments and support the district as it started to exercise that authority again.

The delegation that visited Thursday similarly complimented the district on the progress it has made. Members also commended the district on the programs they observed firsthand on Thursday in its buildings but said they want to be sure the district’s progress is sustainable before further relaxing state control.

Bettie Bolar, the state board’s vice president, said the school visit, where she observed a phonics lesson, was awesome.

“The kids seemed engaged; the teachers were just amazing,” Bolar said.

Brooke Axiotis, the state board president, said she hoped something similar would be implemented in her child’s district.

“I thought it was absolutely incredible to see that,” Axiotis said.

The state officials got to interact with one of the district’s recently formed Youth Leadership Teams, Axiotis said.

“It’s nice to hear how empowering it is to be part of that,” Axiotis said.

On the district’s progress, Axiotis said after the meeting that ultimately, the state wanted the district to be successful but did not want to pull the rug out from under it.

The state is looking for sustainability, Axiotis said. Is the district at a place yet where these things can be done sustainably?

“You gotta peel back those layers and just make sure, so you take away one thing at a time,” Axiotis said.

The full meeting between the state officials and the district lasted about an hour. It was recorded and is available on the district's YouTube page.

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