Focus on Excellence – Preparing for a New School Year!

Greetings from the office of the Waukee Community School District Superintendent! For those of you new to the district, welcome! For those of you who’ve been a part of our district for a longer period of time you know, we are a dynamic district experiencing significant growth and delivering quality education to all students.

Each year we are fortunate to welcome between 450-600 new students and their families. We are proud of the fact that many of our families choose our district because they have confidence their children will receive an outstanding educational experience from the time they start school until they proudly walk across the stage at graduation. We anticipate welcoming around 10,800 students to our buildings August 23. In addition, we are adding nearly 150 new staff members across the district.

This year is especially exciting as we are in the middle of several important projects. Our ninth elementary school, Radiant, is under construction and scheduled to open in August 2019.

In February 2018, voters overwhelmingly approved a $117 million bond referendum to build a second high school and make improvements to the current high school. The ‘yes’ vote was 90.2%! Bids for the second high school will be received in September with the lowest responsible bid presented to the Board for approval on September 24. Construction will begin in October. We are excited about the opportunities a second high school will provide for our students.

In the midst of all the planning, we are intentional to ‘keep the main thing the main thing’ which is providing an outstanding educational experience for every student. Please visit our website waukeeschools.org for additional information, and plan to attend open houses on August 21.

We are pleased to welcome the following new administrators to our district this year:

  • Angie Morrison, Chief Financial Officer
  • Dr. Greg Carenza, Walnut Hills Elementary Principal
  • Elizabeth Griesel, Assistant Principal at Eason and Maple Grove Elementary Schools

We look forward to maintaining and strengthening the partnership we enjoy with our families and community in the upcoming months. Your support of the staff and the district are a major part of what makes our district a lighthouse for the state of Iowa.

Together we are better!

Focus on Excellence – Finish Strong!

May is upon us and we have just under 20 days of school remaining in the 2017-18 school year.  As I shared last year, when I served as building principal, our mantra during the month of May was “finish strong”!  Each and every day throughout the year, the staff in Waukee Community School District (WCSD) give 110% to be sure your children receive the best educational experience possible.  We are thankful that you, as parents, continue support the efforts to finish strong ensuring that students come to school every day ready to learn through May 31.

May is also a month of ‘thank yous’ and ‘celebrations’.  Join me in thanking our teachers the week of May 7-11 which is National Teacher Appreciation Week. Tuesday, May 8 is designated as National Teacher Day.  Consider taking a few minutes to send a handwritten note, a quick email, or share a brief conversation to thank your child’s teachers for being a part of their educational journey.  Research supports that the biggest effect on student achievement is the teacher in the classroom. We will continue to work to hire the very best and support their continued professional growth.

In addition to teacher appreciation week, May is also School Board Recognition Month.  Board members are elected officials who choose to volunteer their time to attend meetings, respond to emails and phone calls, and attend many of the events throughout the district. We are truly blessed to have dedicated individuals who keep the focus on serving and meeting the needs of each and every student. Our Board continues to go ‘the extra mile’ to ensure that 1) our students are receiving a quality educational experience, 2) facilities are in place to support learning, and 3) advocate for students throughout the year.  Thank you to President Susan Bunz, Vice-President Wendy Liskey, Mary Scheve,  Ethan Huisman, Lori Lyon, David Cunningham and Jerry Ripperger.

Also, this month is Senior Award Night scheduled for May 16 in the Waukee High School (WHS) Auditorium. May 21 is the WHS Commencement at 7:00 p.m. at the Knapp Center on the Drake University campus. Please join us in celebrating and congratulating our senior class on this fine accomplishment!

Speaking of celebrations, we recently were notified that WCSD continues to have one of the highest graduation rates in the state of Iowa! Congratulations to our students, their families, staff, community and members of the WCSD Board of Education for nurturing a culture focused on supporting students.

Finally, as we wrap up another year I’d like to take a minute to thank the countless number of parents and community members who continued to reach out to me to share your gratitude, thoughts, questions and suggestions this past year. The relationship we enjoy with our families and community is one for which I am both proud and thankful.  Let’s finish the year strong – together!

Special Election – Vote!

On Tuesday, February 6, 2018, voters within the Waukee Community School District will have an opportunity to cast their ballots for the $117 million bond referendum for the second high school, as well as for improvements to the current high school. If passed, the planned opening of the second high school would occur in the fall of 2021.

Referendum committee members and I have enjoyed the opportunity to share presentations with nearly 40 different groups within the community. This has included updates on enrollment, planning for a second high school, the upcoming bond referendum and the Comprehensive Boundary Process.  

The most important part of the message shared with stakeholders is that our students (your children) will have more academic, curricular and extracurricular opportunities with a second high school.   

Key facts highlighted during these presentations include:

  • 2017-18 Enrollment in grades 10-12 = 1,915 students
  • 2021-22 Projected Enrollment in grades 10-12 = 2,580 students
  • The bond referendum will have NO IMPACT ON TAX RATES     

There are three key reasons why this bond referendum will not impact the district’s portion of your current tax rate.

  1. The district has been planning for this referendum for a few years. We’ve been working to pay off debt early to increase our ability to bond as well as save taxpayer dollars. For example, to date, Waukee Community School District has saved taxpayers over $13 million.
  2. The bond referendum for the $117 million high school is a 20-year bond against future property valuations. Our current school tax rate is $17.85 per $1000 of taxable valuation on a home within our district. The debt service portion of the current tax rate is already at the maximum of $4.05. As a result, the referendum will not impact your tax rate.
  3. We are fortunate to have increasing property valuations within our school district boundaries.

While talking to stakeholders I have also shared the district’s commitment to maintaining fiscal integrity with taxpayer funds. In addition to oversight from the board, the district has internal controls in place to ensure the person who inputs the invoice for payment is different from the person who issues the check. There is always more than one person overseeing the payment process. An FAQ about construction oversight for the second high project is available online at 2ndHS.waukeeschools.org.

I encourage everyone to share the above information . . . vote . . . and then encourage others to vote. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. and voters can go to either of the polling locations listed below:

Waukee District Administration Office
560 SE University Avenue, Waukee, Iowa

St Francis of Assisi Church
7075 Ashworth Road, West Des Moines, Iowa

I hope this information is helpful and answers questions you may have about the upcoming vote.  Let me know if you have any other questions or concerns, but please be sure to vote on February 6!

Regards,

Cindi McDonald  

Focus on Excellence – Building for the Future

As we near the end of 2017 I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the past calendar year for Waukee Community School District.

The cities of Waukee, Urbandale, West Des Moines and Clive continue to grow rapidly. Since last spring we are fortunate to have welcomed nearly 600 new students and 65 new staff to the district.  

We continue to manage the growth on a daily basis while keeping ‘the main thing the main thing’ and our focus on serving students.

While that may sound like a broken record to those of you with whom I have regular contact, it is critical that we keep the focus on serving students academically, curricularly and extracurricularly.

If you’ve lived in the Waukee Community School District for any period of time, you know that we must pay a great deal of attention to the growth in student enrollment that has been steady over the past 22+ years. The district updates its own projections annually and also contracts with an outside vendor for statistical modeling and projections.

We also are provided annual projections from the Iowa Department of Education. Between those three data sources we’ve had very reliable information that has helped us stay in front of the growth with facilities and staffing. We use the projections to predict when new facilities need to be added.

We are at that point once again. The Board of Education is holding a special election on February 6, 2018. Voters will be asked if the district should borrow  $117 million in general obligation bonds to build a second high school and make improvements to the current high school.

Our projections indicate that without an additional high school there will not be enough classroom space in 2021 for the 2,400 students in grades 10-12.

Passage of this $117 million bond referendum will allow the district to construct a second high school to open the fall of 2021, located ½ mile north of Hickman road on R22.

Visit the district’s #2ndHS website for graphics and additional information.

Don’t forget to vote February 6!

Focus on Excellence –Thankful

It’s the time of year where reminders of our blessings seem to be all around us. I am thankful for many things and three, in particular, I’d like to share with you.

First of all, I am thankful for the collective commitment shared by all staff to support students each and every day. The culture in Waukee Community School District is to do ‘whatever it takes’ to help students learn and grow. It’s part of the reason our graduation rate is 99.26%. #kidswin

Second, I am thankful for the partnership we have with our parents, students and communities. Not to sound cliche, but it truly does ‘take a village’ to raise our children and support their goals and dreams for the future.

Third, I am thankful for facts. Yes, facts. As the superintendent of a rapidly growing district, I am asked a lot of questions. As we prepare to open Radiant Elementary, engage in a planning process for the second high school, ask the community to vote on a bond referendum and begin the comprehensive boundary process, it is essential we keep our community informed with the facts. Here are a few for quick reference:

Radiant Elementary School

Fact: Radiant Elementary, located at 5050 170th Street in Urbandale, is under construction and scheduled to open for the 2019-20 school year.

Fact: The building is planned for 750 students and will serve PK-5 students.

Second High School

Fact: Due to increased growth in enrollment, the district is planning for a second high school.

Fact: The Waukee Board of Education approved the schematic design for the second high school in September 2017.

Fact: Staff members are currently engaged in a design and development planning process.

Fact: The school is scheduled to open the fall of the 2021-22 school year.
For up to date information or questions about this project, visit 2ndhs.waukeeschools.org

Bond Referendum

Fact: Voters in Waukee Community School District will have an opportunity to vote for a bond referendum on Feb. 6, 2018 to fund the construction of a second high school.

Fact: The referendum requires a 60% approval in order to pass.

Fact: There will be several public forums offered to the community in January to learn more about the project.

Fact: The referendum will not cause a change in property tax rates.

Fact:: Upon receiving the cost opinion updated information will be shared on our second high school website.

Comprehensive Boundary Process

Fact: The first Boundary Committee meeting is scheduled for January 30, 2018. The members of the committee are charged with taking a recommendation to the Waukee Board of Education for boundary changes in December 2018.

Fact:: This is the sixth time that elementary attendance boundaries have been adjusted since Waukee began growing. Previous changes occurred in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2009 and 2015. The last time the boundaries were adjusted for 6-9 was in 2015. This will be the first time in the history of Waukee a boundary change will impact students in grades 10-12.

Fact: The public will have an opportunity for input in the spring of 2018 and the fall of 2018.

Fact: The demographers overall accuracy rate for enrollment projections is 97-98%. Even the best prognosticators cannot predict with 100% certainty where development and growth will occur…only time reveals, and as a district, we then must adjust.

Fact:  Boundary Committee meetings are meetings held in public. Agendas and minutes of these meetings will be available on the district website. In addition, families will receive reminders prior to the committee meetings.

Fact: Timeline and Comprehensive Boundary Process


This will be a defining moment in the future of the district. It will be a challenging task but one I know the district will embrace as we plan for our future! Please submit any questions about the above topics online.

Focus on Excellence – Planning for Rapid Growth

We are a little over three weeks into the 2017-18 school year. Thanks to the efforts of every single employee and our students and families we’ve enjoyed an extremely smooth start to the school year. Routines have been established, students are engaged in meaningful learning opportunities, and the weather has been outstanding!

Despite the challenges we face as a growing school district, including the ever-increasing expectations of the public and the decreased funding support from the state, Waukee Community School District (WCSD) continues to thrive. The quality of the educational experience provided to our students continues to be top-notch.

Students continue to excel, staff members have the necessary resources and the learning environment is student-centered. Student achievement data across all grade levels is high and trending upward for several years in a row. Teachers continue to differentiate instruction to ensure students have a strong foundation and are provided opportunities to extend their learning. In addition, staff members work to provide opportunities for students to perform and compete outside the classroom. These successes are, in part, due to the continued support from our parents and communities and a laser-like focus on the part of our teachers on doing what is best for students.

You may have heard the district continues to grow! The district has experienced enrollment growth for the past 26 consecutive years. Last year we grew by 574 students and this year we estimate we will grow by nearly 600 students. The official number will be available in October.

Keep in mind that we don’t receive any state funding for those nearly 600 new students during the current school year. The way the Iowa school funding formula works means that funding for new students to a district always lags by one year. That’s a challenge…we grew by more than the total PK-12 enrollment for 120+ school districts in the state of Iowa last year. So in essence, we’re educating the equivalent of the enrollment for some entire districts in Iowa with NO MONEY.

We don’t dwell on the growth, but little things we do each day help us plan for it. It’s part of our culture, and we’ve taken great pride in knowing that despite the growth our student achievement, data is high and has been on an upward trend. We’re also very proud of the fact that we have been able to handle the facility challenges that come with the growth.

Would we like more parking at the high school? Yes, and we have money allocated in our five-year plan for that.

Would we like to be able to accommodate all our new elementary students without ever having to change elementary attendance boundaries? Yes, but that’s not a realistic expectation.

Would we like to establish more bus routes? Yes, but each bus route in our district currently costs over $45,000 to operate for a school year, so we try to be as efficient as possible when adding additional routes.

The fact is, there will always be needs in a district like WCSD. We can’t meet all those needs at once. Growth is not a problem, it’s a challenge and one that our district will continue to meet head-on through diligent planning and partnerships with our parents and communities. Thank you for your support of our schools, and thank you for the ongoing partnership in pursuit of the best education for our students.

Because rapid growth is unique to WCSD (and a few other districts in the state) we often share information related to that growth and the impact on our community. However, it’s important to note we will continue to see a strong focus on our core business and main mission, the education of the students entrusted to us.

Throughout the school year, we plan on providing you with updates on student achievement data, various student accomplishments, teacher professional development and other items that are a part of our energetic and dynamic school district. Students are our first priority!

Just recently we received our ACT test results from the 2016-17 school year. Our overall composite score was 23.6. That composite average compares with the state average of 21.9 and a national average of 21. Test scores are just one measure of our students’ successes. As we move forward into the 2017-18 school year, also watch for articles featuring our elementary programs, visual and performing arts, middle school and high school academic programs and athletics.

New Board Members Elected

The local board of education is a uniquely American institution that has made the public schools flexible and responsive to the needs of the local communities. The school board represents a continuing commitment to local citizen decision-making in education.

Congratulations to the following incumbents who were re-elected on September 12:
David Cunningham resident of Clive, four-year term
Wendy Liskey, resident of West Des Moines, four-year term
Jerry Ripperger, resident of West Des Moines, two-year term
Mary Scheve, resident of Clive, four-year term

Also, congratulations to newly elected board member Lori Lyon. Lori is a resident of Clive elected for a four-year term.

Board members are locally elected, non-salaried, public officials. Honor, respect and satisfaction are the rewards for helping the school district meet the educational needs of students and our communities. Take time to thank them for the enormous amount of volunteer time and commitment they contribute to making Waukee Community School District the great place it is.

Please take a special moment to thank retiring school board member Pat Nehls for his service to the students and communities of WCSD for the past four years!

Focus on Excellence – Gearing Up for A Great Year!

Welcome to the 2017-18 school year! I am excited to begin my first full year as superintendent of schools in Waukee. I consider it a privilege to be able to serve the students, staff and families of our district. This year we will serve somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,400 students with a senior class of 612 and third grade at 903. We’re still enrolling kindergarten students but anticipate that number being in the 850 range. We continue to be the fastest growing school district in the state of Iowa, averaging 450 new students per year for the past several years. But enough about the growth. As we look forward to the new school year, many things remain the same for our district including a laser like focus on a strong educational program for our students, teachers committed to our children, providing opportunities for each and every student to develop their academic and leadership skills, and a community that supports our schools.

As in the past, there are many new and exciting things happening in Waukee Community School District (WCSD). We continue to research and study how best to prepare our students for success in the 21st Century. Offering rigorous and relevant learning opportunities for students in all grades continues to be a priority. In addition, we’ll continue to provide opportunities for all students to develop leadership skills in the classroom, through participation in activity and athletic programs, clubs, intramurals, within the community, and among their peers.  

Over the past several years we have developed meaningful partnerships with the business community. Those relationships continue to grow through our School-to-Work and APEX programs. In many ways, the school and community have set an example for the rest of the state in transforming the high school experience. I believe the APEX program represents what we provide in all grades PK-12: authentic and meaningful learning opportunities that include 1) complex communication, 2) collaboration, 3) creativity, 4) critical thinking, 5) flexibility & adaptability, and 5) productivity & accountability. These competencies and habits of mind are needed for future successes in careers, college and citizenry.

We have also identified a need to broaden our focus on the overall health and well being of students, staff and their families. Currently, students, staff and families are under an immense amount of pressure.  As Thomas Friedman states in his latest book, Thanks for Being Late, “our lives are speeding up at a dizzying rate”.  Because of these changes in society, the needs of students, staff and families are also changing. And, as a public school, we believe we have a responsibility to partner with the community to support students, staff and families during this time of change. As a school district, we have identified three areas to focus our efforts: academic health, social/emotional health, and physical health. Again, the importance of partnering with families and community to provide support is more important than ever.

Each year we add new staff. We also regularly add new facilities. Last year we opened Grant Ragan at the start of the year, and the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center (WILC), located at 295 SE Ashworth Road in Waukee, was opened at the start of the second semester. Currently, the APEX program is housed at the WILC. In the future, there may be additional uses for the building as we continue to grow. This past spring the operations and transportation facilities on 6th street in Waukee were completed.

With a district the size of WCSD, these are much needed buildings to support the overall operation of the district. There is a fueling station at the sight which is the result of a 28E agreement with the city of Waukee. This allows fuel to be purchased in bulk, thus saving the district thousands of dollars annually. In addition, a significant cost savings is realized with the facility no longer located 3 miles outside of the city limits. This eliminates thousands of ‘deadhead’ miles (12miles per bus per day). Construction on Radiant Elementary, located at 170th St in Urbandale, continues and will open the fall of 2019. Finally, construction to secure the west entry of the high school will be completed in August. All school buildings in the district now have secure entrances!  

School Board elections will be held September 12. There are five positions open in our district, with candidates vying for 4 four year terms and 1 two year term. Board members are locally elected, non-salaried public officials. Successful board members continue to look at research, best practice and innovation in education and have the courage to continue to move the district forward. Successful schools educate students to be prepared for the future…not the past. When times get tough, it’s natural to retreat to what we’ve done in the past. We simply can’t afford to do that when planning for the future of our children. Sometimes, that can be challenging or uncomfortable. There will be times when not everyone will agree, when parents will question the need for change and there will be times when it will appear that some educators are moving forward without all their ducks in a row. It’s incumbent upon us all to work together, to ask questions in a civil manner, and to realize that education in the 21st century needs to look much different than in the past. That includes instructional practice, curriculum and even how we report and communicate student progress to parents.

Please be patient these first few weeks of school as bus routes stabilize and driving patterns develop. Last year we transported 4,600 students on a daily basis.  That number will grow prior to the start of the next school year due to our growth.  We are excited to once again fill our hallways and classrooms with students eager to learn and grow!

So welcome to the new school year! Ask questions, seek answers, and above all actively support your schools and staff as we partner together to keep the Waukee Community School District a lighthouse district in the state of Iowa for high quality internationally competitive education!