College Community School District
Navigating the Future; College Community School District’s Blueprint for Educational Excellence
College Community School District redefines educational paradigms through innovative initiatives, personalized learning, and strategic community partnerships
Located in the heart of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the College Community School District. Covering an expansive 500-acre central campus, the district is more than just a group of schools; it’s a vibrant community shepherding the next generation. The district features a complete educational pathway, including five elementary schools for grades K-4, an intermediate school for grades 5-6, a middle school for grades 7-9, and a high school for grades 10-12. Moreover, the district also hosts an Early Childhood Center and three additional off-site programs.
The district’s commitment to innovation is evident in its ongoing construction and renovation projects to enhance the educational experience. Moreover, the district is at the forefront of educational technology, as demonstrated by the recent acquisition of Anatomage Table—a state-of-the-art 3D anatomy visualization and virtual dissection tool for Prairie High School.
Yet, its unwavering dedication to holistic development sets the College Community School District apart. The district recognizes the commitment of the staff and students alike, with accolades such as the 2023 Ying Ying Chen Educator IMPACT Award. This award, which includes a $1,000 stipend for educational projects, exemplifies the district’s focus on continuous improvement and community engagement.
College Community School District’s Vision and Community Engagement
Building on the district’s foundational ethos of “Success for All,” Dr. Doug Wheeler, the Superintendent of Schools, elaborates on the evolving landscape of education and the district’s commitment to adapt.
“Our vision has been a guiding light for our planning and execution over the years. We’re in the process of redefining ‘success’ as markets change, not just for our students and families but also for our staff,” he explains. The district is ardently working on a long-term strategic plan focused on personalized learning, ensuring that everyone—be it student or staff—derives maximum benefit from their time at the school.
Dr. Wheeler further explains that the district operates on four core values: the conviction that all students can achieve high levels of learning, the importance of educators, the role of community engagement, and the creation of post-secondary opportunities for students.
On his part, Steve Doser, the Community Relations Director, stresses that community engagement is more than just a buzzword in the district. He notes that they meet with local mayors, police, and fire departments every quarter and have numerous district groups involving parents. For them, community support and initiatives are paramount.
Middle School as a Launchpad for Specialized Learning
Jesse Gearhart, representing the middle school grades seven and eight, paints a vivid picture of the transformative years awaiting district students. “Seventh grade is a pivotal juncture where students begin to explore specialized classes. We offer a rich tapestry of subjects from industrial technology and engineering to family consumer sciences. Moreover, we’ve modernized our curriculum to include coding, video production, and even an introduction to agriculture,” he explains.
This expansive curriculum is not just about academic exposure; it’s about igniting passions. Gearhart elaborates, “Our philosophy is simple: expose them to as much as possible, and the students will naturally gravitate towards what they love.”
But the opportunities for exploration don’t stop at the classroom door. “We offer various extracurricular activities, including our First Lego League, where students can immerse themselves in engineering and robotics. We also have a First Tech Challenge robotics team for high school-aged students. The list of clubs and activities is extensive, catering to a wide array of interests, even for athletically inclined people,” he adds.
The Genesis of Personalized Learning
Continuing the riveting narrative of the College Community School District, Tracy Schipper, Executive Director of Elementary Programs, provides a comprehensive view of the district’s focus at the elementary level, intricately tied to its overarching ten-year strategic plan. “We aim to instill purpose and passion in our students from a young age, exposing them to various pathways that will be available to them. The crux of our personalized learning system is enabling students to own their learning journey,” she elucidates.
This ownership is cultivated through what the district calls the “Core Four Components of Personalized Learning,” which are integrated into the curriculum as early as kindergarten. “We offer self-reflection and goal-setting opportunities as a whole class, in small groups, or one-on-one with their teacher. This is complemented by targeted instruction, which could be individual, small group, or even digital resources designed to meet the student’s immediate needs,” she adds.
The Formative Years
As educational leaders increasingly recognize the importance of early childhood education, the College Community School District in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has taken proactive steps to ensure that even the youngest members of their community have access to quality learning experiences.
Laura Medberry, Executive Director of Learning Supports, sheds light on the district’s strategic focus on early childhood education. “We’re fortunate in Iowa to have state funding for voluntary preschool. We’ve expanded our preschool programming to include an offsite location at an income-adjusted apartment complex, addressing the transportation barrier that previously limited access for some families,” she states. This initiative is in its second year and has already garnered the district an award for being a “District of Distinction in Early Childhood.”
The data speaks volumes about the impact of these early years. “Approximately 70% of our students enter kindergarten with some form of preschool experience. We’ve observed positive academic gains in both math and literacy for those who attended our Prairie preschool program, along with improvements in their social, emotional, and behavioral wellness,” she elaborates.
Dual Credits and Apprenticeships
In a move that exemplifies the power of community collaboration, the College Community School District has forged a meaningful partnership with Kirkwood Community College, conveniently situated just across the street from the district’s campus. Doser underscores the district’s symbiotic relationship with the college. “Last year alone, we had 480 students who took Kirkwood credit in our school, earning 3,832 credit hours and saving families over $750,000,” he reveals. This partnership brings convenience and a strategic alignment that simultaneously enables students to gain real-world skills and academic credits.
Dr. Wheeler elaborates on the district’s efforts to make dual credit more accessible. “We’ve been expanding the offerings of dual credit on our campus to reduce barriers related to poverty and access. One of our goals is to ensure that all students can take a college class before they graduate,” he states. This is part of the district’s broader strategy of personalized learning pathways, which begins with career exploration in the middle school years and continues through high school.
Eric Townsley, Executive Director of Information and Technology, provides a concrete example of how this strategy manifests in real-world opportunities for students. “We have a student who will be working with a local manufacturer through a registered apprenticeship program. They’ve taken our manufacturing classes, will work part of their day at the local manufacturer, and will also take classes at Kirkwood Community College. By the time they graduate, they’ll be job-ready,” he explains.
A Multi-Faceted Approach to Safety and Infrastructure
Switching gears to operational matters, the College Community School District strongly emphasizes safety and community engagement, given the complexities of managing a large, single-campus educational environment. Dr. Wheeler elucidates the unique challenges and opportunities the district’s single-campus structure presents. “We’re the 54th largest town in Iowa for 178 days out of the year, with over 7,000 people on campus during the core of the day,” he notes. This necessitates a robust safety infrastructure, including two school resource officers in collaboration with the Cedar Rapids Police.
Dr. Wheeler explains that the district’s dedication to safety goes beyond just staff and encompasses advanced communication and emergency response systems. He mentions that they have been actively updating their communication and radio infrastructure district-wide over the past five years. Additionally, the school uses an application for campus-wide emergency notifications and has specific responses for different emergencies. This commitment to safety is part of a larger strategy that a district-wide committee consistently reviews and updates.
On the topic of infrastructure, he shares that the district is in the process of future planning. He states that the school district is nearing the completion of a ten-year site master plan, which will enable the district to expand by another 30% before considering the addition of more buildings. This plan involves renovating all elementary schools, inaugurating a new intermediate school this coming fall, and introducing a ninth-grade center the following year.
College Community School District’s Vision for the Future
As the calendar year draws to a close, Dr. Wheeler outlines the district’s top initiatives that will carry them through 2024. “Our perennial priority is ensuring that students exit our elementary schools with a passion for learning and the literacy and numeracy skills they need to engage in middle school fully,” he states.
He also emphasizes the importance of community partnerships, mainly through the Prairie Ready initiative. “It gives us a story to tell. We have a vibrant business environment around us, and we can tap into that for mutual benefit,” he explains. The district has already forged partnerships with local companies like Cargill and Diamond V and educational organizations like Junior Achievement.
Schipper echoes his sentiments, adding that partnerships extend beyond academics to address social and emotional needs. Medberry elaborates on this, mentioning the district’s involvement in Lynn County’s My Care community and its partnerships with local nonprofit behavioral health organizations. “We’re blessed to be a part of this community because it is such a resource-rich place,” Medberry notes.
As the district looks ahead, its leaders are focused on what can be achieved within the classroom walls while remaining keenly aware of the broader ecosystem that supports student success. Whether it’s through nurturing early childhood education, fostering personalized learning, or building robust community partnerships, the College Community School District is not just preparing students for the next grade—but for life.
AT A GLANCE
College Community School District
What: A comprehensive public school district focused on personalized learning, community engagement, and safety.
Where: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
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Day Mechanical Systems, Inc. is a full service, women owned, mechanical contractor located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. From Project Management to Field Supervisors, we strive to supply our clients with the most experienced and professional personnel available. For 20 years, we have delivered value, quality, and service to our customers.