BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Governor Kim Reynolds said Fort Madison High School’s recent growth in Career Technical Education programs fit snuggly into her Future Ready Iowa program.
Reynolds met with Fort Madison High School administrators, CTE instructors, the district’s Board of Education, and a group of about 20 freshmen Friday afternoon in the high school media center,
I’m pretty darned excited,” Reynolds said after the meeting. “Our greatest asset is our young people and this is all about providing them an opportunity to find a passion, something they like, and something they are good at.”
The school’s CTE programs have seen programming and enrollment advance substantially under the leadership of Principal Greg Smith. The programs including agricultural sciences, welding, family & consumer sciences, business, and industrial technology.
Building trades instructor Clint Kobelt said that program started with seven students when he joined the district and now has 150 students in all classes and a waiting list to get in.
He cited financial backing and support from businesses like Mohrfeld Electric and Mohrfeld Solar, and Carl A. Nelson Co.
Reynolds just announced a Manufacturing 4.0 Initiative which is described as a roadmap that outlines strategies to help Iowa industries adapt to the global technology revolution.
“It’s taking our existing manufacturers and companies and helps them get ready for the technology they need to be competitive. And so not only are we working with manufacturers to help them get brought up to speed and ready for the Internet of Things and the technology that they need to be successful but we’re making sure we have a workforce to meet those needs,” Reynolds said.
“So it’s very tied together and that’s what they’re doing here. And just the connections with the businesses… and the kids getting in there and seeing the technical and what that looks like is exciting and good for the kids.”
Lee County Economic Development Group President Dennis Fraise talked about the future of a joint career training center and asked the governor to look into work being done by State Rep. Joe Mitchell (R-Wayland) to address some of the hurdles in the way of completing the center.
LCEDG was months away from purchasing the KL Megla building in Montrose to house a Joint Education Center, but Central Lee School District stopped the effort because it was in their school district and current law requires their approval to offer educational instruction in their district.
Reynolds said she would have to dig more into that issue.
“I have to learn more about that. We’re changing what education looks like. It’s evolving every year and it should,” she said.
“Sometimes we have old statutes that don’t reflect what’s actually happening in today’s environment.”
Reynolds said she was most impressed with a brief conversation she had with the freshmen in attendance.
“My favorite part was talking to the kids. These were a bunch of freshmen and they were animated and talked about how much they liked it and they loved participating and learning and that made it very real,” Reynolds said.
“That’s not what you hear sometimes from freshmen. Their engagement and excitement says a lot about the program, the leadership, the school board, and the administration.”
She attributed the success to the aggressiveness of the district leadership in building the program and said the state was trying to support it through Future Ready Iowa, STEM grants, and the recent SAVE funding extension.
Smith said the partners in the community weren’t that tough of a sell.
“We really didn’t have to do a lot of arm twisting,” Smith said. “We just reached out and talked about what we needed and they were there.”
District Superintendent Dr. Erin Slater said these types of programs are “no-brainers” for the district to offer.
“She was excited about our growth in the program and our kids. It’s a no-brainer to give kids opportunities to get out in the workforce and figure out what they want to do.,” Slater said.
“We have to make sure kids can set their path and even change their path, so we give them the skills and an exploratory model where they can pick a path and change it.”
Reynolds answered a question on Senate file 159 and said the education saving accounts would be capped at $3 million per year and would only apply at this point to 34 failing school buildings.
The proposed legislation, which made it out of the House and was supported by State Sen. Jeff Reichman (R-Montrose), would amount to just .0007% of the entire state education budget. The bill would allow money to follow students in those 34 schools to independent charter schools or private school.
“This is a very narrow focus and only applies to schools that are failing. That’s about 34 school buildings out of 1,300 so it’s a very narrow definition,” Reynolds said.
“They’ll have the same metrics, the Board of Education will oversee them, they’ll have to be accredited and have a list of criteria that they have to meet.”
But Reynolds wasn’t sure if the influx of public money would subject those schools and additional schools in the future to Iowa’s sunshine laws, including chapters 21 and 22 of the Iowa Code.
“I think so, but I don’t know for sure, I have to check that out, but I think you probably can now.”