Jason Carter and Grundy Center Superintendent Cassi Murra in School Talk 'Xtra 7 talk about the delay in school funding, extending the school year, and what it will take to get more women in administrative roles.
GRUNDY CENTER (KWWL) -
School Talk 'Xtra, a segment exclusive to KWWL.com, continues the conversation between Today in Iowa's Jason Carter and a local superintendent. This edition features Grundy Center Superintendent Cassi Murra.
Jason Carter: In a recent posting on your blog, one of your school board members mentions a recent education seminar he attended which included "collaboration" as a means for student achievement. What kind of example of collaboration are legislators demonstrating to students by not working together on their legal requirement to set allowable growth in a reasonable timeframe?
Cassi Murra: Educating children is a very complex system that deserves continuous improvement efforts and attention. We truly want what is best for every student and understand the need for accountability. In December and January we were very optimistic that politicians would collaborate in an effective and efficient manner to approve both funding and reform in a timely manner. Unfortunately, they seem to have gotten sidetracked by typical politics. In my opinion, they should have pared the bill down to the items they have agreed upon (including funding) and passed it by the end of February. The remaining items could then be reconsidered, further negotiated, and possibly passed later in the session or next year. It seems absurd that nothing will actually get done because it was presented as "all or none." Very few things in our world work this way, and our children will be the ones negatively impacted.
Jason Carter: Can you plan/fund any new initiatives that might positively impact the student experience at Grundy Center community schools with your budget in limbo?
Cassi Murra: No. It is extremely frustrating as we have had to develop multiple plans just to ensure programs can be maintained with the understanding we will likely be using reserve funds to accomplish this. We continue to explore new initiatives that could be very beneficial to our students and their achievement; however, it is disheartening to tell teachers and staff that we cannot proceed at this time due to unknown funding.
Jason Carter: What part of the mixed and matched education reform policies do you feel would have the most impact on your district?
Cassi Murra: Extending the Early Intervention Block Grant is critical. We believe that early literacy skills are imperative to student success, and this additional funding allows us to offer better programming for our kindergarten through third graders. The premise of the Teacher Leadership and Compensation also would have a positive impact on student learning. The specific details on this do make a difference, though. Starting simple and growing this concept would make the most sense. Once again, it will need to be adequately funded to ensure the end results are positive and districts don't have to cut other effective programs to pay for this one.
Jason Carter: A majority of teachers in Iowa are female; however the majority of administrators are male. What will it take to increase the number of women in administrative (superintendent) roles?
Cassi Murra: Great question! I think the primary aspect of changing these statistics lies within the defined role of the superintendent. Over the past decade, superintendents have become more focused on instructional leadership and found more balance with the "managing" side of the job. With the use of technology and spending more time in classrooms, teachers and principals seem to have a better understanding of what the actual superintendent job entails, and that in turn, creates more interest.
Jason Carter: What technology-based reforms need to be made in your district right now? Could the state help fund them with their surplus?
Cassi Murra: We are already a 1:1 school and have been improving technology access for several years. The state could help by providing better options for increasing bandwidth at reasonable costs in all districts. Brokering statewide licensing/subscriptions at better rates for student management systems, learning systems, and assessments would also be beneficial -- even better would be the state purchasing some of these systems and providing them to districts at no or low cost. The state could also consider using their surplus to enhance the learning environments for all students in the state by providing the means to air condition all school buildings. The buildings in Grundy Center CSD are already air-conditioned; however, most of our neighbors are not, so it prevents us from being able to collaborate or be too innovative because of the "ripple effect."
Jason Carter: What would you do, right now, to change your district for the better if money and politics were not an issue?
Cassi Murra: Completely revamp the school calendar! I would love to see more "year-round school" with a few weeks of break in between the sessions. Students should be in a structured learning environment more than 180 days out of 365. These school days could be varied based on the level and the season. For example, summer months may have shortened days that would offer instruction from 8-11 a.m. and then have optional programming in the afternoon that could include outdoor activities, career exploration courses, or internships. By increasing the number of days students attend, it would also allow us to block time every week for the professional development time necessary for teachers, staff and administrators to collaborate.
Jason Carter: What exciting things will be happening in your district in the next couple of weeks?
Cassi Murra: May is packed full of exciting events! Performances, award events, celebrations, and graduation are just a few. We are also just beginning a large facilities improvement project that will include several community committees and focus group meetings. Grundy Center is a very progressive district and community, so there are always new and exciting things happening!
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