Waukee Community School District
Comprehensive education and career readiness
Waukee Community School District aims to educate its students both in the classroom and beyond
Waukee Community School District (WCSD), located in and around the city of Waukee, Iowa, just 15 miles west of Des Moines, is the 6th largest district in the Hawkeye State. With 10 elementary, five middle, and two high schools, WCSD serves over 13,000 students from Clive, Urbandale, Waukee, and West Des Moines, as well as open-enrolled students from other communities outside its 55-square-mile boundaries.
The District is also the fastest-growing one in the state, with an average of 450-500 new students each year. Accommodating that growth, while still maintaining its 100-year-old, small-town ethos, is a key focus of WCSD’s Superintendent, Dr. Brad Buck.
“One of the things that’s been special about Waukee is that we’ve tried to feel like a smaller district with all the amenities of a larger one,” he states. “We try to stay small, but experience big. We work hard to focus on the whole child; we want them academically healthy, emotionally healthy, with lots of access to opportunities for activities, programs, and athletics.”
Teachers Make it Work
Regarding its rigorous academic curriculum, WCSD’s Human Resources Director, Roxy Livermore, believes that “the best thing about Waukee is our reputation in how we teach our kids. And a big part of that is the support we give our new teachers.”
“First-year teachers have instructional support from teachers who are mentors,” she explains. “It’s not jumping in and saying ‘Good luck, here you go.’ We will walk along and co-teach with you because we want you long-term with us and we want you to feel that support.”
Added to that support are healthy compensation and benefits packages, flexible working hours and dress codes, and top-notch training and development programs. “We know that we’re educating students, so we need to educate ourselves to constantly get better,” says Livermore. “We have a budget for training and development.”
All of WCSD’s teachers are certified and most have three or more years’ experience. No wonder the District’s graduation rate is 98%.
Caring for the Whole Student
Regarding students’ emotional health, Buck reports that in addition to school counselors in all of its schools, the District has a number of community partners that provide supplementary, onsite counseling services, making sure that children are getting access to any mental health support they might need, even during the school day. Also, the District’s Student Assistance Program, which is available 24/7, provides support to students and their families through in-person counseling, telephone counseling, as well as written and online resources.
“In the last year or two, we’ve added a mental health coordinator and two social workers on staff who help families connect to resources within the community,” Buck adds. “A child who’s not mentally healthy is going to struggle to be academically healthy in school.”
Regarding school activities, programs, and athletics, Buck proudly maintains, “Our athletic programs are all high quality and competitive. Between our two high schools, we compete very well; we’ve had a number of teams qualify for state championships. And our facilities are some of the best around. Our band and our arts programs – they also win championships. And most recently, we’ve gotten more focused on debate; we’re adding assistant debate coaches at our high schools next year.”
Preparing for the Future
In addition to all these amenities, academic, pedagogic, psychological, and programmatic, the District’s focus on work-based learning and career preparation is perhaps one of its most significant features. The Waukee Innovation and Learning Center (WILC) is a state-of-the-art facility that houses the Waukee APEX (Aspiring Professional Experience) program and the Waukee CSD Career Center, both of which provide opportunities for students to grow their professional skills.
Waukee APEX is an entrepreneurial, innovative approach to education that is designed to give high school students hands-on, real-world experience in a profession of their choice. Students are matched with over 800 corporate and non-profit community partners, who offer them authentic projects and onsite familiarity within their respective professional domains.
In addition, APEX offers courses to high school juniors and seniors in five economic sectors identified as key trends within the local area: Financial and Insurance; Business, Technology, and Communication; Engineering; Human Services; and Bioscience & Value-Added Agriculture.
The Waukee Career Center will open this fall to all the District’s K-12 students.
Preparing students for success beyond graduation, the Waukee Community School District Career Center will offer a place for them to explore career pathways, connect with part-time/summer jobs and internships and more.
Keeping Students Safe
As has become tragically apparent throughout the country over the past several years, without a focus on school safety, all of the District’s quality programs and innovative agendas would be for naught. To prepare to respond to any threat to its students and teachers, WCSD has a quality School Resource Officer (SRO) program (full-time staff at each high school, and three officers among the five middle schools), and a close relationship with the Waukee Police Department.
“We also have interior and exterior camera systems in all of our secondary buildings,” Buck adds. “This year, we’re going to install interior and exterior camera systems in all of our elementary schools. Last year, we put in a buzz-in system in all of our schools, so now, you can’t enter a school during the school day without getting buzzed in by a secretary or other adult in the building.”
“Last year, we did a couple of tabletop exercises with our county emergency and local law enforcement,” Buck continues.
“We talked as if we had a significant event at one of our facilities, whose job would be what and what kind of resources would be needed. It was helpful to have all of those eyes and ears together around the table.” WCSD also trains its students in how to respond to dangerous situations, and the Waukee Police Department has prepared instructional videos for grades 6-12 and their parents, detailing the options students have if, and when, an internal threat occurs.
Keeping the Community Informed
Should a crisis ever take place, Kayla Choate, Director of Communications, will be the point person in informing the greater WCSD community. In addition to the District’s website and social media accounts, WCSD utilizes a communications platform called ParentSquare to connect parents, students, and staff via voice, text, email, and push notifications. It’s used for emergency and general notifications, including building newsletters, bus updates, late starts, or any other situations that may arise during or after school hours.
Meanwhile, Choate says she maintains great relationships with the local media to make sure that the community stays informed on all that goes on in its schools. She supplies them with stories about students and teachers, and particularly how the District is “focused on graduating students who are career and college-ready.”
Because of its continued increase in student enrollment year to year, WCSD necessarily maintains a robust capital investment portfolio.
“Three years ago, our community passed a $205 million bond referendum with almost 90% pass rate, which just speaks to how supportive our community is,” Buck offers.
“With those funds, we built a 10th elementary school and we’re in the process of completing a middle school building. We have another middle-level building under construction, and we have elementary #11 underway. And we’re finishing a district natatorium facility, which is going to be an amazing site for our student-athletes.
“We’re going back to our voters with a $180 million referendum this fall for additional facilities: elementary #12, a significant upgrade to our original high school, the addition of an auditorium onto one of our existing middle schools, and a whole bunch of other infrastructure work, like a northern operations and transportation facility, so as we get larger, we’ll have satellite transportation. Facilities are always top of mind – to continue to make sure those come in on time and on budget. And even as our schools age, we maintain them at the same high-quality level that we’d expect to see in newer buildings.”
A rather less physically-focused, but nonetheless equally significant long-term theme going forward, according to Buck, is exploring the notion of “joy” within the school setting. Joy is one of WCSD’s core values, which also include: keeping students first, equity and belonging, developing people, integrity, inclusivity, and innovative problem-solving.
“How do we identify moments of joy?” the Superintendent wonders. “How do we support one another in being more overt in creating moments of joy for others? I’m really excited about that as a theme for the upcoming year. We’re going to make a concerted effort with an all-staff kickoff event that’s energetic and fun. This work is hard and rewarding,” he says in conclusion.
“So let’s spend a little time finding joy.”
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AT A GLANCE
The Waukee Community School District
WHAT: A school district with 17 schools serving 13,000 students
WHERE: Waukee, Iowa
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