ACSD Board of Directors holds special work session, schedules another session for this Thursday to meet with parents at Waterville Elementary

by Brianne Eilers

The Allamakee Community School District (ACSD) Board of Directors met for a work session Thursday morning, November 30 to discuss the superintendent search, the high school industrial arts room ventilation system and Waterville Elementary. The final agenda item drew the most discussion, with the board ultimately deciding to hold another work session this Thursday, December 7 at Waterville Elementary for further discussion with Waterville parents and community members in regard to the school's future. Further details of that discussion and upcoming work session appear later in this article.
Announced at the board's last regular session November 20, ACSD Superintendent Dave Herold will be retiring at the end of the 2017-2018 school year, effective June 30, 2018. The board discussed potential firms to aid in the search for a new superintendent. Board member Tim Waters asked for clarification on what services these firms can provide for the district. Board member Patty Nordheim, who has been involved in the superintendent search process during a previous board term, explained that the companies help with networking, reference checks and the interview process. "We need these guys," she said.

The board will narrow its choices to two firms and have each attend a board meeting for further discussion before deciding which firm is the best fit. The board directed board secretary Jaime Curtin to contact Else Leadership Group to make a presentation to the board, and board members Tom Baxter and Patty Nordheim would make reference checks on the other two potential firms.

Moving on to the ventilation system agenda item, ACSD Building and Grounds Department Head Bill Hennessy explained to the board that the ventilation system in the Industrial Arts classroom at Waukon High School/Middle School is not working properly and would be expensive to fix. It was noted that Northeast Iowa Community College would possibly like to and use the facility for classes, but has concerns about the current ventilation system.

Hennessy said that they have looked into a new ventilation system, and he felt it would be better to install a new system than to try and repair the current one. The item will be on the December 18 regular meeting agenda for approval.

The final item of discussion was further consideration in regard to the board's upcoming decision regarding Waterville Elementary School. The decision to close the school at the end of this school year or leave it open is scheduled to be made at the board's December 18 regular session.
Board member Scott Melcher asked how it would affect the district financially if the school should be closed and the district decided to do something with the building and land. Superintendent Herold noted that it would not affect the district's spending authority.

Melcher also talked to the board about some of the concerns and opinions that have been expressed to him on the issue. "This is a very emotional issue for people in that area," he said. He noted that there are still many people in the Waterville area that remember the loss of the high school in Waterville. "It was tough for Waterville to lose that," he noted.

Melcher stated that he knows the teachers work hard at Waterville Elementary and that if the school closes and the kids are moved to the schools in Waukon that things would work out, but that there are parents with concerns out there. Patty Nordheim stated that she felt the board hasn't had enough contact with the parents of Waterville students. "There's not a lot of trust, especially with the short timeline," she said. "Trust is important." She felt that the board needed to find a way to bridge that trust issue.

Ultimately, the board decided to hold a work session in Waterville this Thursday, December 7 at 5:30 p.m. in the Waterville Elementary School Library in an effort to be able to have a conversation with Waterville Elementary parents.

Board member Tom Baxter noted that he has spoken with people regarding the issue one on one. "Some people were shocked by that first mailer," he said, referring to the information mailed out to constituents in the ACSD. "Waterville has a wonderful school down there," he said.

Baxter related his experiences as a student when the State of Iowa began closing the country schools and students were sent to Waukon for school. It was noted that the district has worked to keep the school open over the years, and they gave the example of combining classes in order to keep the school open. "The teachers do an excellent job," Baxter said.

Waterville Elementary Principal Julie Askelson and East and West Elementary Principal Joe Griffith informed the board that they have been working together to come up with strategies to help the Waterville students transition should they be going to school in Waukon next school year.

The subject of the boundary line to determine which students attend Waterville and Waukon also came up for discussion. Melcher noted that he felt changing the boundary would not necessarily help with enrollment numbers, as there are parents living in those boundaries that choose to open-enroll their students out or home school their children.

ACSD Transportation Director Randy Nordheim explained to the board that he had looked into what it would take to transport students from Waukon to Waterville, as the suggestion to close East Elementary was mentioned in questions presented by the public to the school district in regard to considerations for Waterville Elementary School. Randy Nordheim noted that if that situation would ever happen, rural students would likely be bussed to Waukon and then they would have to send several buses to Waterville to take the children to school and then get them back to Waukon to catch their bus home. In addition to other factors, he expressed concerns with the potential for students to be on the wrong bus or in the wrong place, as well as forgetting or losing items in the process of switching buses.

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