February 03, 2023

Despite staffing shortage, test scores increase

Creston Community School District principals and board members took a minute to pat themselves on the back Monday at the board meeting after reviewing improved test scores.

“We were very excited to show that elementary and the early childhood center were high performing and the middle school and high school were commendable,” Early Childhood Center (ECC) Principal Callie Anderson told the board. “They’re all very high marks and so we are very excited about those ratings.”

Both Superintendent Deron Stender and Creston Elementary Principal Casey Tanner attributed the improvement to professional development the staff has been implementing over the past few years.

“We’re tying to professional development and the consistency that we’ve had and the energy we spent on that with our instructors,” Stender said. “And of course our students performing really well.”

In early childhood and elementary scoring, growth and conditions for learning make up 54% of the total score.

Growth was a major factor for the scores’ improvement. The state average for math and English language arts growth were 50%. Creston scored 71% and 62.5%, respectively.

“We are now faced with the challenge of maintaining those ratings,” Anderson said. “Our staff, we did take a moment, patted ourselves and everyone else on the back and celebrated our achievements, and then dug in and made plans for how to sustain that and keep growing. Once you get to a certain level, it’s hard to show growth.”

The conditions for learning portion comes from surveys taken by staff, students and parents. While staff and student participation were near 100%, Tanner said only 58 parents out of 400 kids completed the survey.

Board President Dr. Brad James said he took the survey as a parent and it took only five minutes to complete.

“We did a great job, and we’re celebratory of the results,” Tanner said. “But it’s always back to the grindstone in knowing that we have areas to grow in.”

The scores come amidst a multitude of staffing shortages at the school district. Not only is the district looking for educators in math, health and special education, support staff is also at an all-time low.

In his report to the board, Stender said despite the strong campaign to attract employees, the school continues to be short-staffed in food service, custodial, paraprofessional and transportation departments.

“Many of these departments are operating on very thin ice and we are close to not being able to provide services such as food service and transportation,” he said. “It is important that the board and community are aware that the ability to provide undisrupted transportation is at risk. Staffing levels are at a bare minimum and the substitute pool is empty.”

While the high school students are able to help serve themselves, Stender said he worries how they will continue to feed the younger students if staffing doesn’t change.

“The food service department has been short two staff members since the start of school and on any given day has an average of two staff members out, which creates a significant burden and risk that food service is not disrupted,” his report stated. “We are reassigning staff from other duties and responsibilities to help out, which impacts other services and programs. The district has been seeking staff since July and has tried a variety of employment promotions.”

A new option for the district is working with a food service company that contracts with school districts for food services. Winterset and Red Oak are local districts that use this option.

“I don’t know if this is the solution but it is worth exploring,” Stender said.

Cheyenne Roche

CHEYENNE ROCHE

Originally from Wisconsin, Cheyenne has a journalism and political science degree from UW-Eau Claire and a passion for reading and learning. She lives in Creston with her husband and their two little dogs.