Iowa Department of Education Director praises Ottumwa Career Campus progress

Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 9:34 PM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - Ottumwa Schools’ Career Campus got a visitor Tuesday - Dr. Ann Lebo, the director of the Iowa Department of Education. Staff at the Ottumwa school district were eager to show off the new facility, as well as the new courses offered that blend the line between high school and college.

Ottumwa’s Superintendent Mike McGrory explained the district put $21 million into providing more of these resources, as well as adding in over 20 new teaching positions in the last year. He noted that’s an outlier, where many school districts in Iowa are struggling to staff their classrooms.

All this progress leads into McGrory’s ambitious goal: “We really feel that we’re going to be the best school district in Iowa,” the Superintendent explained to Lebo.

His introduction led into a tour of the Career Campus, where Aiddy Phomvisay, Ottumwa Schools’ executive director of teaching and learning, shows Lebo each of the spaces around the building. The Career Campus is use by high school students for a variety of non-traditional classes and academies, such as construction trades, culinary, and computer science. The district explains this not only prepares students for college, but gives students the opportunity to learn skills they might otherwise miss out on.

Many of the courses involve partnerships between the district and entities around Ottumwa, from Indian Hills Community College to John Deere. Lebo praised the district’s initiatives, and says a school sees success when it looks beyond its walls. “It’s the schools, it’s the businesses, it’s making the most of the spaces you have, and really focusing on the opportunities for kids.” Another example of that: bringing in instructors for those courses who aren’t traditional teachers.

But Ottumwa Schools isn’t stopping their progress with their career and technical education courses (CTE). Ottumwa High School principal Mark Hanson presented a proposed expansion to the Career Campus: an Agriculture Sciences Academy. Due to the large presence of agriculture industries around Wapello County, Phomvisay teased they might even be able to bring in students from other districts to participate.

526 students, nearly a third of the Ottumwa High School population, are enrolled in Career Campus classes. The district plans to up that number next year.

And Lebo notes there’s no one size fits all solution when it comes to CTE. Her goal is to make sure students and districts just know it’s an option. “It’s knowing that those opportunities are there, and having that one visionary leader who’s willing to champion that for you and your community.”

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