Students at West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS) won’t be the only ones talking with their peers about what they did during summer vacation when classes resume on Aug. 20. So, too, will Dr. Lisa Remy and a handful of other top administrators who spent their summer starting new jobs in the district.
Changes at the top of the administration made headlines in May when the WDMCS Board of Education unanimously approved a separation agreement with former superintendent Dr. Peter Ansingh on May 9. His contract was to run through June 30, 2014, but alleged differences with teachers, administrators and board members reportedly led to Ansingh’s firing, nearly two years after he took the job.
To replace Ansingh on an interim basis, the school board on May 22 unanimously approved hiring Remy, an employee of the district since 2000 who was serving as associate superintendent of human resources. Later, they also promoted Carol Seid, principal at Fairmeadows Elementary School, to fill Remy’s old position on an interim basis and asked retired Jordan Creek Elementary School principal Dr. Nancy Moorhead to lead Fairmeadows in the interim for the upcoming school year.
All three positions are labeled as “interim” until school board elections are held in September. After the elections, the board is expected to make a decision regarding a new district leader. If offered the job, Remy says she would accept it.
“I have the best position because I get to try it to see if I like it,” says Remy. “If it’s not a good fit then I can go back to my old job, as would Carol, but my belief is this is where I want to be. I’m excited about this opportunity, and I don’t view it as an interim position. I understand our culture and what the community expects.”
Remy has served the district in various roles in 13 years, including associate principal at Valley High School and principal at Indian Hills Junior High School before being named associate superintendent of human resources in 2006. She earned her bachelor’s degree in education, master’s degree in Spanish teaching, superintendent’s certification and doctorate in educational administration from the University of Northern Iowa and began her career as a Spanish teacher and principal at Hudson Community Schools.
Remy cites multiple challenges facing the WDMCS district, including a federal designation as a District in Need of Assistance because not enough students were performing on grade level in math or reading; a projected $1.9 million budget gap as well as an anticipated greater shortfall down the road; and the district’s changing demographics, which include more low-income and non-English-speaking students.
“Some of my goals are to increase communication and transparency to restore trust in the district. We have several challenges including a budget shortfall in which we need to be fiscally responsible. In mid-October, we’ll know more about our enrollment and our financial situation,” says Remy. “As for student achievement, when you look at West Des Moines as a whole, we do a good job, but we have sub groups that are not performing as well as we would like. We need to see more growth from them as we do with other students in the district.”
Remy says as the district meets these challenges, more members of the community need to be included in the conversation.
“There needs to be a lot of voices in that process,” she says. “The board has asked me what that process might look like. I have been talking to several people and hope to have an answer for them by the end of February.”
Though the district has a number of challenges to address, it also has a number of strengths to build upon. Among them, Remy says, is the curriculum.
“It’s what draws people to our district,” she says. “We’re always looking at how we can improve, and we’re always analyzing data.”
Remy says she is looking forward to working with newly placed administrators such as Seid and Moorhead as well as Eric Boyle, formerly a team leader at Valley who will now be an assistant principal at Stilwell Junior High School, and Kerry Ketcham, interim director of special education.
“I’m excited to have Carol in her new role. That position also evaluates all of our principals, and with her expertise in that area she will be great,” Remy says. “In my welcome back letter to teachers this summer, I talked about our great staff and administration and supportive parents, school board and community and how fortunate we are to work in a district that values education. We want to do what’s best for the kids.”
Valley construction update
The third phase of $66 million in renovations to Valley High School will continue when students return to classes on Aug. 20.
Construction crews have been busy completing work on the new parking lot in which approximately 100 new parking spaces were added and building new classrooms and facilities this summer for math, language arts, radio and journalism classes, as well as a multi-media room, all of which will be completed by the first day of school.
“They look incredible, and I’m excited for students and staff to see them,” says Valley High School Principal Jim Mollison.
The biggest portion of the latest renovations to Valley is the construction of a new auditorium for musical and theatrical performances. District officials say that construction is on schedule to be completed by Oct. 1, 2014, despite delays this spring due to rain.
“Evidence of the auditorium is being assembled daily,” says Remy. “The challenge this year for our music and theater departments will be hosting events offsite, but we are fortunate that we have good neighbors like Waukee and Norwalk who have agreed to open the doors to their facilities for us.”
Mollison says once it is completed, the new auditorium will include rehearsal rooms for orchestra, vocal and drama departments, as well as a level seating floor as opposed to the old auditorium in which audience members were seated on a slanted floor.
“The plan is for the work to continue through the winter break,” he says. “We also have plans in place for a practice facility for show choir and speech.”
Though Mollison says the construction will cause some minor inconveniences, he says students’ learning won’t be affected, noting that the “bulk of disruption to our building is done as we’re really on the down side of all the construction.”
In late July, the school board held an emergency meeting to approve an unexpected $400,000 sewer line project that would close restrooms on the east end of Valley for about a month, but would not delay the start of school. The work was necessary to meet city code regulations, and school officials say the project will be paid for using future sales tax revenue.
Interim principal at Fairmeadows
Perhaps no other school in the district will immediately feel the effect of the changing of the superintendency this past spring more than Fairmeadows Elementary, where students, staff and parents will incur three principals in three successive school years, spanning from last year to the beginning of the 2014-15 school year, as a result of changes in top administrative roles.
When school board officials named former associate superintendent Remy on May 22 as interim superintendent, they filled Remy’s old position in June with Seid who had served as principal at Fairmeadows since 2006. On June 26, the district informed Fairmeadows parents in an email that the school board approved Moorhead, who had retired as principal of Jordan Creek Elementary in 2012 where she had served since 1999, as interim principal at Fairmeadows. School officials say that they expect a smooth transition and that they are confident in Moorhead’s ability to lead again.
“A big thank you goes to Nancy for saying ‘yes’ to us. I think Fairmeadows won’t miss a beat with her at the helm,” says Remy.
Moorhead, who taught in the Saydel school district and served as an elementary and middle school principal in the Durant school district before moving to West Des Moines, says she is familiar with some of the staff at Fairmeadows and is looking forward to her role there as interim principal.
“I’m probably the most relaxed administrator in the district because I know I’ll be here only one year,” says Moorhead, who earned a PhD in education administration with an emphasis in special education law and school finance from the University of Iowa. “When Lisa and Carol were promoted, I knew it wouldn’t be possible to find someone quickly who was familiar with the district and that the last thing they wanted to do was to supervise a building with their new jobs. My friends tell me I’m crazy to come out of retirement, but I’m flattered to be asked and wanted to help. I’ve known the school for years, and it’s a very nice school with a caring and supportive staff and families.”
Moorhead’s year at Fairmeadows will be an eventful one as she will oversee the implementation of the new districtwide and elementary reading program there as well as guide committees assigned to explore possible renovations to the school that could start as early as next summer, including the addition of a full-sized classroom and a solution to the school’s decades-old parking congestion.
“This is a great opportunity for Fairmeadows,” says Seid of her replacement and the upcoming school year at the elementary school. “Fairmeadows has a professional and dedicated staff already in place that is focused on what is best for the students, and I’m ecstatic that Nancy chose to serve as the school’s principal.”