FCS Suspension, Transparency, and the future of CTE at Ames High


Oliver Chen

FCS teacher Carol Vanwaardhuizen instructs foods students on how to make pancakes.

Oliver Chen, Co-Editor in Chief

In a Jan. 11 press release, the district announced that Family Consumer Science classes would not be offered during the 2019-2020 school year.

The school district cited budgetary concerns in several key areas. In order to comply with state Career Technical Education (CTE) standards, the district announced the creation of a new Agricultural Science career pathway to begin in the 2019-2020 school year. Together with Business, Information Solutions, and Applied Sciences pathways, the Agricultural Science pathway will complete the minimum of four distinct service areas set forth by the Iowa Department of Education.

***See “Designing a different kind of agricultural pathway” on page 4 for a detailed look at plans for Ames High’s future ag program.***

The new pathway, when combined with staffing needs in core classes and state financial literacy requirements, meant that the decision to temporarily suspend the program had to be made, Superintendent Jenny Risner said.

“In order to meet the state requirement of that financial literacy, and get a complete pathway, which is required by the state, a true career technical education pathway – we needed to move that to a teacher we already had,” Risner said. “The idea was never to eliminate [the] human services pathway forever.”

The district’s announcement was met with criticism from many members of the community, with a petition titled “Protect Students’ Access to FCS in Ames, Iowa” since receiving 1,738 signatures. Criticism toward the administration was especially pronounced on Facebook, where a post written by FCS teacher Carol Vanwaardhuizen criticizing the administration was widely shared. Local news outlets picked up on the story, with KCCI, WHO, and Channel 5 all reporting on the issue.

While declining to comment on district communications with specific personnel, Risner said much of the outrage was due to false information that was circulated.

“It’s sad to me that there’s this idea that we’re eliminating FCS when one we’re not, we’ve never said that, I made the statement very clear – I was putting it aside for a year to meet the state requirement, until I could get staffing up,” Risner said. “And unfortunately the message from our own teacher got communicated very poorly. Very poorly.”

While the suspension of FCS classes is temporary, Vanwaardhuizen said a lack of communication from the district meant the future of the program appeared uncertain.

According to Vanwaardhuizen, she had not been consulted prior to being informed of the program’s suspension the last day before break. “I was just blindsided, very much so,” Vanwaardhuizen said.

Vanwaardhuizen said that other staff had already learned about the district’s decision to suspend FCS more than a week prior to her being informed.

“They were at meetings where they were talking about the new building not having FCS, and so it seemed like there was some secrecy.” Risner declined to comment when asked about this delay.

Although she has since met with the school district earlier this month concerning FCS curriculum, Vanwaardhuizen said she had received no direct contact from the administration up until that meeting.

“I did give a four page letter to the superintendent on the 11th before the 14th Board Meeting…nothing was communicated.”

Vanwaardhuizen said that she had not been told that the suspension of FCS was temporary until the school board meeting on the 14th. “That was news to me. Elimination is not temporary,” Vanwaardhuizen said.

Concerns also existed about the lack of an FCS room in OPN plans for the new high school released on Jan. 10.

Risner said this temporary absence was due to the original room being moved from the CTE wing to near the cafeteria, in order connect the FCS and cafeteria kitchens.

“It was added in later [because] we couldn’t figure out how to get it done and stay within a reasonable budget,” Risner said. “We couldn’t stall the process for the whole entire high school because we couldn’t figure out where to put this… Once we figured it out that we could, it was put back in.”

The future of CTE at Ames High

Beyond recent changes to FCS, the school district is moving to overhaul the way career technical education is approached at Ames High.

Curriculum Director Amy Lane said that exposure to CTE options will begin much earlier, with more exploratory courses in key CTE areas taking place during middle school.

Lane said shifting introduction to CTE options to an earlier time would allow students to focus on specific career pathways once they entered high school. These career pathways would eventually lead to some type of certification, which Lane said is crucial to providing educational equity.

“Not all students may go to college – so how beneficial to a student to graduate with a certification such as a paraeducator license that they can go right into the workforce, or a child development associate certification as a high school student.”

In addition to earning certification, the district is moving to provide more concurrent enrollment courses – high school classes that allow students to earn college credit in partnership with DMACC or ISU. For example, concurrent enrollment courses in child development could lead to 3 college credits, for no cost to the student, according to Lane.

Lane said that Ames High’s is far behind in the number of concurrent enrollment courses it offers to students.

Whereas Ames High School offers 5 concurrent enrollment credits, Ankeny High School offers 48 credits, Waukee High School offers 47 credits, Urbandale High School offers 25 credits, and Valley High School offers 58 credits.

“We are significantly behind the mark in thinking of schools our size and our level in the opportunities that we have,” Lane said. “And for me, that brings tears to my eyes. I went into education to provide the best, the very best opportunities for all kids. All kids. Not just college bound kids, all kids. And that’s not what that is doing.”

Transparency in the Future

Science teacher Mike Todd said that communication between the school district and stakeholders is vital to maintaining healthy public schools, an area Todd said has been lacking in the past.

“I think if our public schools truly are public, what does that mean…that means the public has input. [That] doesn’t mean that they’re the decision makers – we hire the decision makers, but it means you have input,” Todd said. “That’s why it’s a public system, that’s why people have supported it for so long.”

Risner said that improving transparency would be a priority for the district in the future. Risner said the district would work to include a student representative on the school board to improve communication between the district and stakeholders, something she said had worked well for her in the past.

“I’ve proposed the policy to the policy committee and we’ve been working to refine that… in the future I think my goal would be next year that that’s in place,” Risner said. “That would help me [in terms of] providing accurate information, because I think a lot of this is very inaccurate information.”

The district is also working to create dedicated advisory councils for specific areas of instruction such as agriculture or human services. According to Lane, each council would consist of students, staff, and community partners once established.

“Those are things that have to be developed because they haven’t been in the past,” Lane said. “In all of our career pathway areas, we don’t have those, so that’s been part of the issue.”

Lane also said that registration for classes would take place later than normal this year.

“When you re-envision programming, particularly at the high school level, things take a little more time…We’re working hard to put that in place, but while we’re working on that there’s a million other things. We’re doing our best right now.”

“I think it’s a kind of shift from that negative we’re doing this and that and shifting it to the positive, that we’re really focusing now on learning and opportunities for students,” Lane said.

“At the end of the day, we are not looking at the elimination of a program…We’re looking at growing and more opportunities for voice and choice for students.”