Director of Iowa Department of Education visits MFL MarMac

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Iowa Department of Education Director Ryan Wise (right) speaks with MFL MarMac high school Spanish teacher Jim Tripp during a visit to the district Sept. 19. (Photos by Audrey Posten)

Wise listens as MFL MarMac staff share their thoughts on the TLC program.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor

Dr. Ryan Wise, director of the Iowa Department of Education, visited MFL MarMac Sept. 19, speaking with staff and students about the educational issues that are important to them.

“This is the best part of my job,” said Wise, who noted that MFL MarMac is the 107th Iowa school district he’s visited since taking over his position in 2015. “This is where learning happens, so I make it a priority.”

“I think it’s important,” he continued, “that folks like me, on the policy end, see how those policies play out in practice. I want to know, ‘How can I work better and smarter to support your learning?’ I want to be able to see what you do and how policy connects to what you do.”

While at MFL MarMac, Wise made stops at the Smith and Bulldog Childcare Centers, chatted with staff over coffee and held assemblies and classroom visits with students.

He was especially interested in MFL MarMac’s positive experience with the teacher leadership and compensation (TLC) system, which he helped implement. 

The program works to attract the best possible teachers, retain both newly-hired and veteran teachers, promote extensive collaboration among teachers, reward professional growth and effective teaching, and improve overall student achievement.

The district’s TLC success prompted then-governor Branstad to visit in 2016. Then, MFL MarMac was one of the first districts in the state to implement the program.

“The TLC program has been very successful,” shared elementary principal Kathy Koether. “People have really stepped up to take leadership roles.”

Three of the district’s instructional coaches—Brent Pape, Melissa Haberichter and Heidi Meyer—commented on the increased collaboration among staff.

“It’s been exciting to watch [TLC] grow from an idea,” Wise said. “Statewide, we’re seeing an increase in and the quality of collaboration. They’ve truly embraced it here.”

Another topic Wise touched upon was the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the replacement for No Child Left Behind. Just the day before Wise’s visit, Iowa submitted its plan to meet the act’s standards to the U.S. Department of Education.

In the most basic sense, said Wise, Every Child Succeeds will allow “Iowans to have more control of the direction of education.”

He labeled No Child Left Behind as “very prescriptive,” in that it listed not only goals for districts, but sanctions if districts didn’t meet those goals.

“There was no context for how to make it work in individual schools,” Wise said.

Officials have spent the past year developing Iowa’s plan.

“I spent the past year hearing from school staff to see what support and accountability should look like,” he said. “We wanted to make a plan that works for Iowa, so that state and local entities can figure out what works best for them.”

Speaking with MFL MarMac high school students, Wise also shared some of his—and the state’s—current priorities, one of which is helping more people obtain post-secondary education.

By 2025, he said, the state has a goal that 70 percent of Iowans in the workforce will have a some form of degree past high school.

“We’re working hard across the state to make that happen,” he remarked.

Other goals include improving reading skills, developing good technical colleges, making sure students have access to high-quality STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) opportunities and building teacher leadership.

“Those are things I think a lot about,” Wise said.

Read more about the visit in MFL MarMac Superintendent Dale Crozier’s “Crozier’s Comments” column on page 8 of this week's paper.

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