West Sioux Hawarden and Ireton Elementary staff

West Sioux Hawarden and Ireton Elementary staff and administration gathered together last week to celebrate the hard work they’ve put in to get ESSA scores up.

REGIONAL—Both West Sioux Elementary schools in Hawarden and Ireton have improved their Every Student Succeeds Act test scores since being identified as needing comprehensive assistance, from the state of Iowa four years ago. At that time, West Sioux Elementary was ranked in the lowest 5 percent of Iowa schools, along with 33 others.

Then, Falcon administration and staff started with admitting that those scores were not what they wanted.

“Those were some tough reality checks. After that our focus was completely on helping our students achieve,” West Sioux Elementary principal Travis Popken said. “That meant looking at every aspect of what we did and how we did it. That took us looking at new curriculum and how we teach. We had to continually remember to look forward and keep in mind what could be and what will be. Positivity was crucial.”

In 2019 the scores put West Sioux Elementary at a combined 41.29 score overall and now it is up over 10 percent showing the Falcons scoring at 51.43 overall.

Popken applauds each and everyone of the Falcon staff who has “stepped up and been open and willing to make changes” for the betterment of the students in the district. According to Popken, instructional coaches Linda Haan and Mollie Koopmans and now assistant principal Conor Bertling, have all provided instrumental leadership throughout these challenging years making the process better. He’d also like to thank superintendent Steve Grond and the school board for all they have done to support their growth.

“The test results are showing us that our student achievement is increasing each year,” Popken said. “We are seeing the fruits of our labor. We have not finished this marathon. I suppose we will never completely finish. There are always things you can improve on. I am exceedingly proud to be a part of West Sioux and the turnaround that is taking place. We have fabulous educators here at West Sioux and I am blessed to work alongside them.”

The feeling is mutual for co-worker Koopmans who said Popken is an amazing leader.

“He is compassionate, patient, respectful and very appreciative,” Koopmans said. “He took on this role with setting high expectations for staff and students. There was specific committees created to involve a cooperative community.

“With collaboration, action planning, and support we have become better. His guidance through this whole process has been all for the students, staff, and community. He goes above and beyond in his role. He is a big asset to our district, and the elementary is blessed to have him as a leader.”

While the staff know there is still a lot to accomplish, the kind of changes that are being made are big and for that they remain proud and grateful.

“We are currently turning the ship and then we have to sustain our new course,” Popken said. “This kind of work takes time. Our focus for high student achievement needs to be sustained over time even though we our students, staff, and community are all changing. Our staff needs to celebrate. We had this special photo and assembly because they needed to be recognized for a big accomplishment and they needed to find some joy in it. It was a dark day when I explained to staff how the state had graded us. We have carried that yoke for years and it was time to throw it off, celebrate what we are accomplishing for our students, and take a breath before we get back to work.”