By Katie Dahlstrom Herald Assistant Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — CLINTON — Believing in the students that compose the Clinton School District is non-negotiable, Superintendent Deb Olson told a room of people Tuesday morning as she delivered her annual State of the District address.
“I want them to have a future. Because no matter where they come from, they can make it as long as they have a solid education,” Olson said. “I believe the best place to live is right here in Clinton, Iowa and I would tell anybody that.”
Olson started her address by apologizing to the people who gathered at the District Administration Center if she seemed distracted. Moments before she was set to deliver her speech a Clinton School bus carrying a handful of children was knocked on its side in a traffic accident.
With district representatives on the scene of the accident, Olson pushed forward.
She detailed some of the district’s success such as the Clinton High School baseball team’s trip to state and the CHS girl’s tennis team state championship and then dove into the numbers that indicate how the district has fared in the past year.
The district lost 106 students this year, which results in the loss of $653,702 from its operational budget. Total enrollment is 3,860, which is down by 313 students from 2007.
Olson explained the decreasing enrollment is fueled by two factors: the highly transient student body and open enrollments to other districts such as Camanche and Northeast.
“This year again will be a challenging one with our budget. However, I am confident that we can maintain our opportunities for students and live within the means of our budget,” Olson said.
While officials have some concerns about standardized test scores for seventh grade students in math and reading, the district has made growth in other grades and testing levels, such as elementary school science results across the district coming in above 74 percent, which Olson dubbed at the phenomenal level.
“These are the results of dedicated individuals working with children,” she said.
Olson also asserted the district has a commitment to students’ physical and mental wellbeing. According to student responses to the Iowa Youth Survey, more than 30 percent said it would be easy to get prescription medications in their neighborhood and 23 percent of 11th grade students have seriously thought about committing suicide.
“As responsible adults we need to make sure students know it is not OK to treat others poorly,” Olson said. “I want you to be cognizant of the signs of hopelessness and loss. We need to hear and be aware. And don’t be afraid to be involved.”
District staff also works to thwart indicators commonly tied with lower student achievement. Olson said the district is ensuring success by expecting every student to learn at high levels and focusing on individual student’s growth. Clinton also is seen as a leader in the region for its use of the response to intervention system to ensure student success, she said.
The district has the lowest level of special education student enrollment in a decade, at 16.6 percent. Clinton is closing the achievement gap between special education and general education students, Olson explained.
A little more than 60 percent of the district’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch based on their family’s income levels. Although Clinton’s free and reduced level is well above the state average of 38 percent, Olson said a student’s economic background cannot serve as a crutch for levels of academic success.
“It’s not an excuse for student achievement. We must give you kids the best education we can give them because that is the best way we can counteract the effects of poverty,” Olson said.
Olson detailed a number of achievements worth celebrating at Clinton High School including the 10 percent increase in students in the 3.0 club, the 58 percent decrease in course failures, the 100 percent increase in the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses and the 5 percent graduation rate increase.
In addition to academic success, the district has physical accomplishments to celebrate. The $21 million middle school project is progressing with students expected to fill the halls by next fall and the Clinton High School football field is equipped with field turf thanks to the Restoring Royalty campaign.
“I think we are the best kept secret in the region,” Olson said.
The district also is home to an innovation room that focuses on 21st Century learning and preparing students for college and the workforce.
She called on the audience to relay the district’s ability to provide a first-class education and contribute to student’s progress.
“As a school district and community, we are our children’s greatest hope for success. We are the difference makers for them to reach for their dreams. I implore you, I ask you to be a part of a child’s life,” Olson said. “This is our district our community. Make the conscious decision that our future children, our River Kings and our River Queens will make our community strong.”