STC applies to join the NICL

News and updates from Monday’s school board meeting

South Tama Middle School Principal Ben Adams delivers a presentation on student behavior to the STC Board of Education during their regular meeting on Monday. PHOTO BY DARVIN GRAHAM

After 10 years competing in the WaMaC Conference, district administration at South Tama County has begun pursuing a different conference to call home — in this case, a familiar one.

On Monday, April 8 South Tama sent a letter to the North Iowa Cedar League (NICL) conference formally requesting to rejoin the conference beginning during the 2025-26 school year. The request would include all school sports and activities.

The letter cited issues such as decline in enrollment and extracurricular participation numbers as well as travel distance as reasons for seeking the change in conference. The NICL is a 15-member conference featuring mostly 2A and a few 1A sized schools.

Members include AGWSR, Aplington-Parkersburg, Columbus Catholic, Denver, Dike-New Hartford, East Marshall, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, Grundy Center, Hudson, Jesup, Sumner-Fredericksburg, South Hardin, Oelwein, Union and Wapsie Valley.

Should South Tama be admitted into the NICL, they would be the largest district by a sizable margin. The most recent BEDS enrollment shows South Tama at 358 with the next largest NICL school, Oelwein, at 259. Roughly two thirds of the 15 high schools presently in the NICL are below 200 in BEDS enrollment.

High School Activities Director Chelsea Ahrens talks with the South Tama Board of Education at their meeting at the middle school on Monday. PHOTO BY DARVIN GRAHAM

It’s not clear, however, if the schools in the NICL will be open to approving South Tama’s request to return to their conference. NICL administrators are expected to take it up at their next meeting in late April.

South Tama’s history with the NICL dates back to 1936, when Tama High School and Toledo High School were members of the Iowa Cedar Conference.

By the time the schools consolidated to become South Tama County in the 1960s, the Iowa Cedar League had split into separate north and south conferences and the Trojans had moved on to the East Central Conference and later the Central Iowa Conference into the 1990s.

South Tama returned to the NICL in 2011 after leaving the Little Hawkeye Conference. The membership lasted only a few years when the Trojans, somewhat abruptly, left the NICL for the WaMaC Conference in 2014.

The reasoning given for the move in 2014 was that South Tama was seeking a conference that better matched their enrollment and could offer additional sports like soccer, games for freshman and frosh-level teams and more robust conference events for fine arts activities.

According to STC High School Activities Director Chelsea Ahrens, the NICL has evolved to include many of the programs STC was looking for when they left the conference a decade ago.

Meanwhile, the WaMaC Conference has been in a constant state of change over the past several years. In 2018, the conference lost Western Dubuque and Anamosa. Two years later, in 2020, Central DeWitt departed, followed by Maquoketa and Beckman Catholic that dropped the total number of schools down to 11 in 2022.

The Grinnell Tigers joined the WaMaC Conference in 2023 to bump the roster back up to 12 schools.

The wild card right now remains Waverly Shell-Rock, which has twice applied to join the WaMaC Conference after being removed from the Northeast Iowa Conference in 2022 due to their enrollment (just under 600) increasing to outsized proportions.

WaMaC Conference administrators declined both requests, but Waverly-Shell Rock voted this month to appeal the conference’s decision, which would put the matter in front of the Iowa Department of Education to help mediate a solution.

The state department would have the authority to force the WaMaC Conference to accept Waverly-Shell Rock, though it remains to be seen if they would undertake such a measure.

Behavior report from the middle school

During their regular meeting on Monday, the South Tama County Board of Education heard a report from Middle School Principal Ben Adams on the topic of student behavior data and intervention systems the school has been using to address behavior issues.

Adams pointed out two metrics the staff use to assess how the building is doing with student behaviors. First, they track how many students out of the whole middle school student body have had less than two referrals to the office for major behavior issues in a given year.

This helps show if major behavior incidents (ones that rise to the level of needing administrator intervention) are occurring with several students or just a small group.

Adams reported that five years ago the percentage of students with less than two behavior referrals was around 82 percent and that this number had risen to 93 percent last year. This indicates fewer students overall are being referred to the office for behavior incidents.

However, the overall total of behavior referrals from year to year has followed a different trajectory.

During the 2021-22 school year, the building recorded 318 total referrals. The number dropped to 281 for the 2022-23 school year, which Adams said was the lowest total he had seen in several years.

But so far during this school year, the total number of major behavior referrals is at 315 with more than a month left to go before the end of the semester.

“Those are students that are going to need a lot of support,” Adams said. “There’s a lot of needs there. And we’re trying to solve some of those issues through our student support systems and all the different layers of interventions that look to improve the connection between the student and the school.”

During his report, Adams detailed a wide ranging set of resources and programs that the district staff use to address and respond to student behavior issues.

Students engage in the Prime for Life curriculum that helps address drug prevention and substance abuse issues.

Adams talked about the school counselors at the middle school and how they deliver regular guidance lessons to students at all grade levels; a practice that he said was not common among middle schools in other districts.

The district also practices the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) system that works to support student’s behavioral, academic, social, emotional, and mental health.

Some of the PBIS strategies Adams discussed at the middle school level included a check-in/check-out system where students are given an adult at the school that they are to check-in with at the beginning of the day and check-out with in the afternoon.

They have also recently started Tune Up Tuesdays where staff works with students to create short videos that review schoolwide expectations for situations like how to behave in the bathroom or the lunch line. The videos are then presented to students on Tuesdays on a rotating schedule.

“Overall, we have seen (these methods) improve some of our students’ behavior and increase academic success,” Adams said. “And then it also provides that stronger home to school connection. Sometimes our check-in, check-out person makes a very good connection with a family and helps bridge that gap between the school and the family.”

In response to the presentation, school board members thanked Adams and his staff for their efforts to work outside of the box to help meet the needs of students.

“I think you’ve heard some of this before but, fantastic job,” Board President Elizabeth Dolezal said. “I love seeing so many different ways in which you are connecting with kids and identifying behavior issues at the source when possible.”

Board Member Jackie Ellenbecker reiterated the importance of relationships in helping to bring kids to a place where they can be successful in school.

“Relationships are that starting point,” Ellenbecker said. “Some kids don’t even have one trusting adult in their lives. And so good job of targeting (those connections) first.”

Access road discussion

During his report Monday, Superintendent John Cain brought the board a request he had received from the Meskwaki Nation in regards to the access road that runs parallel with Highway 63 and provides the school vehicle access to the high school baseball field and the city of Toledo road access to the city wastewater facility.

Cain said the request was due to a new apartment housing project the tribe is pursuing on undeveloped land directly west of the school grounds.

The access road was seen as a potential way to connect the apartment project with Highway 63. In the request, the tribe asked the district if there would be a way that future residents of the apartments could utilize the access road to enter and exit the apartment area.

It’s not clear exactly where the apartment development is intended to be located. The tribe owns four parcels of undeveloped land that border South Tama’s high school and elementary school grounds.

There are three parcels totaling 46 acres that sit between the high school softball complex and the city wastewater lagoons. Further south, there’s an additional 104 acres the tribe purchased in 2020 that runs alongside the STC Rec Trail from the elementary school grounds down to County Road E49.

Although the school board did not take any official action on the request, there were multiple board members that expressed concerns over the logistics of such an arrangement.

In other board news,

Staff Hires: Jason Castor, Middle School Custodian; Valarie Piper, Transportation Paraeducator; David Wiese, Head Varsity Baseball Coach.

Staff Resignations: Rachel Davis, High School English Teacher and Individual Speech Head Coach; Cecilie Harrison, TAG Teacher – Middle School; Charlie Shuckahosee, 8th Grade Basketball Coach; David Wiese, Assistant Varsity Boys Basketball Coach; Allisyn DeFields, 6th Grade Literacy Teacher; Marsha Keahna, Assistant High School Girls Basketball Coach; Baron Davis, High School Assistant Cross Country Coach; Anna McBride, Elementary Art Teacher.

The board approved early graduation requests for 14 students. Two of those students will graduate this spring and the remaining 12 will graduate in December 2024.

Following a second public hearing Monday, the board approved and finalized their certified budget for the next school year. The school’s property tax levy rate will be 14.4733 per $1,000 of taxable property value. That is expected to bring in $16,028,613 in property tax revenue for the school district.

The board accepted a $1,000 donation from K&M Sanitation that will go towards the sound system project at the high school gym.

A resolution was approved that authorizes the issuance of a $5 million general obligation bond for the school. This resolution is the final part of the $15 million bond South Tama voters approved at the ballot in 2022 to construct the new middle school facility in Toledo.

The board approved cooperative sharing agreements with East Marshall (girls soccer) and Meskwaki Settlement (baseball and softball).

The board approved a resolution to allocate their state funding for media services and educational services to the Central Rivers Area Education Agency for the 2024-25 school year. The resolution comes on the heels of a recently signed education bill that will significantly change the funding structure for the state’s Area Education Agencies (AEA). For the 2024-25 academic year, all funding allocated for special education services will be directed to AEA organizations to facilitate those services. In contrast, the state funding distribution for media and general education services will see 60 percent allocated to individual school districts and the remaining 40 percent to the AEAs. In the following year, the AEAs will be allocated 90 percent of the funds designated for special education services. Meanwhile, school districts will gain full authority over the allocation of resources for media and general education.

The board approved 10 different quotes and invoices during their meeting Monday, including a quote for Mystery Science kits for 2nd grade through 5th grade in the amount of $12,245 and cleaning equipment for the Elementary, Middle School, and High School buildings in the amount of $99,011.40, funded by COVID-19 relief ESSER funds.

Three items were approved for the middle school construction project. Those included two change orders from Garling Construction, one for $8,225.06 and another for $6,202.42. Additionally, an invoice from ISG was approved in the amount of $15,000.

Invoices approved by the board included an invoice from The Iowa Association of School Boards in the amount of $5,654 for 2024-2025 board member dues, an invoice from the Tama County Auditor in the amount $5,831.31 for fees related to the PPEL Special Election in March, an invoice from SHI International for $19,247.12 for the renewal of the JAMF software, used in managing mobile devices across the district; an invoice for The Scanlan Center for School Mental Health in the amount of $5,498.25 for mental health services (to be covered by the Stronger Connections grant fund). Lastly an invoice from JMC was approved $23,723.98 for software supporting attendance, grades, lunch accounts, and scheduling.

At the conclusion of the regular meeting the board held a closed session regarding a personnel matter. The closed session lasted around 20 minutes and the board took no action once the group came out of closed session.