Former teacher speaks up for AEAs


Dear Editor:
I am very concerned about the Iowa State Legislature dismantling the Area Educational Agencies.  I am currently a member of the Board of Directors for Great Prairie AEA, and I am a retired educator who worked for the Fort Madison Schools for 38 years as a teacher and administrator.  I wrote to Iowa legislators to encourage them to NOT change the Area Education Agency, its structure or its funding. Educators across Iowa need more support rather than less.  We are experiencing some of the most challenging times to be in the teaching profession.  If changes are needed, the Iowa Department of Education should work with the Agency to make those changes.
I started teaching fourth grade at Denmark Elementary School in the fall of 1978 when the Area Education Agencies were fairly new. I certainly didn’t know that they were created to solely provide special education support and services( this is what the governor stated in her Condition of the State report), because the agency provided a number of supports for me as a young teacher.  Those supports were focused on library / media and professional learning even in the early years of the AEA.  I took my first computer workshop in March of 1981 on a Radio Shack computer at the AEA.  The media van dropped off films to enhance science and social studies and I could borrow stacks of books on any topic in the curriculum.  It was like Christmas when that AEA order arrived!  They “published” our classroom-written books and made professional looking publications for me.
The governor appears to believe that the AEAs have expanded their services too broadly; however, the AEA simply responds to the needs of the districts (both public and non public) for which they serve. Accountability and oversight are in place for the Agencies.  They go through the same rigorous accreditation/ audit procedures that the local districts go through with the Department of Education. Prior to my retirement, I completed many of the state reports for the district, and it was very difficult to call the Department of Education to ask questions.  Leaving a message and waiting for a response was challenging because it took days and weeks.  So I called Anne at the AEA and she answered my questions.  The DOE also depended on the AEA staff to train local teachers on newly required assessments  and state sponsored initiatives.  Every Child Reads,  Every Child Counts and the FAST testing are examples.  It seems like the Department of Education’s right arm will be cut off if this legislation goes through.
In regard to the poor performance of our special needs students on state tests, I wonder if you realize that students are released from special education every year.  That is a statistic that is not publicized, and I’m not sure that other states do this.  When a student has developed and improved their learning skill, they no longer need an IEP; thus they exit special education.  This is not a rare occasion.  It happens regularly.
Finally, I wanted to encourage our state senators and representatives to consider if the legislation will improve the condition of schools and education in our state or make public education more challenging for teachers and for the students they serve.  If we want to attract and keep young families in our state, we need a strong public education system.  AEA is an integral part of that strength.  Please encourage the House of Representatives and Senators to think carefully about these proposed changes and vote to maintain the Area Education Agencies as they are.

Janice Burch
Fort Madison

Area Education Association, Great Prairie, Janice Burch, opinion, letter to the editor,


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