An Inspiring Start: Muscatine Community School District Energizes Teachers and Staff for 2019-2020 School Year
by Margaret Hurlbert
August 26, 2019

Just as parents and students have prepared for the start of school–buying supplies and getting back into school year routines–teachers and school staff must prepare too. Last week, Muscatine Community School District (MCSD) provided several opportunities for teachers and other school staff members to hone their skills and get excited for the year ahead of them. 

On Monday, MCSD lead a voluntary all-day training at the Merrill Hotel on creating trauma informed schools. The district invited Maggie Hartzler from Tanger Place, an organization in Cedar Rapids that provides comprehensive children and teen mental health services, prevention programs, and educational programs, to lead this inservice. Over the course of the day, teachers learned strategies to connect with students to reduce negative behaviors, and how to help students who have experienced trauma succeed at school.

 A follow up to previous trauma training teachers received last year, many participants found this additional session useful. Emily Doxsie, a first grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School shared that she found, “learning tools and resources for helping kids who have experienced trauma,” beneficial, and that she looks forward to using them to, “improve the environment of [my] classroom, and in making sure all kids’ needs are met.” 

Muscatine High School teacher Marcus Holler, a special education work experience teacher for juniors and seniors agreed. He appreciated the reminders that, “teachers have a positive impact on students, and we need to capitalize on it as much as we can.” In the year to come, he anticipates using some of the online tools to help his students better understand themselves and their own experiences and, in turn, use those tools to better understand their peers and how to connect with them. 

The following day, every member of MCSD’s staff came together for their annual Super Inservice day. After an introduction by Superintendent Jerry Riibe, Associate Superintendent Mike McGrory took time to celebrate some of MCSD’s greatest areas of growth over the past year. He focused on how the district has worked to level the playing field for students in need by providing free breakfasts and lunches at the four elementary schools with the greatest needs, lowering registration fees, shortening school supply lists, by providing free ACT and AP testing, and by giving free access to musical instruments to low income students. He also addressed how these changes have led to a ten percent rise in high school graduation rates, above average scores on FAST testing at the elementary level and AP scores at the high school level, and a drop in chronic absenteeism at all grade levels. 

These positive messages inspired teachers to keep up their hard work and to continue supporting MCSD’s initiatives. As West Middle School teacher Aaron Smith, a seventh and eighth grade social studies teacher put it, “It was a good refresher on how you have to reach every kid every day, and that kids want to be challenged and to learn.” 

Finally, Super Inservice closed with a telecasted speech by John O’Leary, an acclaimed motivational speaker. In his address, O’Leary encouraged everyone listening to live more grateful and inspired lives by changing the questions they ask and focusing on the positive parts of their lives and the differences they can make in any situation. This approach invigorated everyone to do their best this year and to pass their positivity on to the students they will interact with. 

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