As the regularly scheduled Marshalltown Community School District Board of Education meeting began Monday night, the mood in the room was subdued. The tragic passing of four of the district’s students, all teenagers, in a fatal car accident Friday night left not only their families grieving, but the entire community as well.
Before any of the items on the agenda were addressed, Board President Sean Heitmann said a few words and asked for two minutes of silence to honor and mourn Adrian Lara Mendoza, 13, Isacc Lara Mendoza, 16, Linette Lopez, 15, and Yanitza Lopez, 17.
“I think everybody here and anywhere else is well aware of the tragic events that occurred on Friday evening here in Marshalltown,” Heitmann said. “I can’t imagine the sadness, the outrage that their families or loved ones are probably experiencing and will be experiencing for quite some time.”
Following the moment of silence, the meeting continued while still maintaining a somber tone to honor the departed. During the Student School Board Representative update, Representative Yessenia Alvarez Zamora briefly discussed how Marshalltown High School students and staff have been coping with the loss.
“As you know, the loss of those four students did leave a significant gap in our community, but the students and staff have been doing a good job of providing excellent social emotional support and being there for one another,” Alvarez Zamora said.
Alvarez Zamora also mentioned that certified councilors were available in the MHS library to talk about what students were feeling and to teach them how to grieve in a healthy manner.
Director of Instruction Shauna Smith and English Learner Coordinator Rachel Inks discussed plans for the Welcome Center during the meeting as well. Plans for the center, which will be hosted out of the Orpheum Theater, have been in the developmental stages for quite a while, and Smith and Inks were excited to share an update.
The Orpheum has been utilized for court proceedings since the Marshall County courthouse was damaged during the tornado in 2018, but since the courthouse is tentatively slated for completion in the near future, Smith was glad to share more details about the Welcome Center project.
“We have been very excited to sit before you and share these details for quite some time, and we’ve been very patient with the courthouse as they use the Orpheum through their renovation project,” Smith said. “It’s given us extra time to think about all the details that could go into the Welcome Center and how we can truly serve our community and students.”
The project is meant to transform a part of the Orpheum building into an area that specializes in “whole-student and whole-family registration and intake.” Smith turned the floor over to Inks, as she has been spearheading the project right alongside Smith.
“The purpose of the Welcome Center is really to offer that new and efficient way for prospective families to choose Marshalltown. We want them to discover what our school systems can do in support of the families that we serve, choose Marshalltown, and thrive in Marshalltown,” Inks said.
Having the opportunity to specialize will also be an important aspect of the Welcome Center, as Inks wants to ensure that families and students with unique needs and circumstances such as immigrant and/or migratory experiences or English learner needs, will be accommodated. The facility will be an asset to the MCSD, in Inks’ opinion, because there is a dense English learner population in the community, and the population is diverse.
Students served in the district speak 42 different languages, and 9.4 percent of students were born outside of the United States. Inks also shared that the facility’s primary focus would be on students that are brand new to the district, not students who are continuing in the district from the previous year.
Inks referenced the National School Public Relations Association (NSPR) Communication Audit Report from 2021 during the presentation, as the auditors had encouraged the creation of a Welcome Center for the MCSD to better serve the needs of non-English speaking and minority families as other districts with similar trends had opted to do this.
“We can enroll our students anywhere in Marshalltown schools, but I believe we can open our Welcome Center and really focus on learning more about our families and learning more about those experiences and really thinking through that lens,” Inks said.
Inks feels that the Welcome Center will allow staff to better equip families and students who may not be familiar with the United States school system for success, and it will allow staff to answer questions and lessen anxiety for those families entering the MCSD.
Inks discussed staffing of the Welcome Center briefly and mentioned that only two new staff members will have to be hired. One individual will have the title of “New Family Liaison,” which is a position created for the facility. The liaison will be responsible for the enrollment and support of English learner and migrant students, as well as family intake review and district-school communication.
The second new staff member will be a bilingual administrative assistant, and will primarily be responsible for administrative and receptionist duties. The other four staff members are already with the district and include Inks as well as Smith, though Smith will remain at the administration building.
Inks discussed the other goals of the Welcome Center, which include redesigning new student registration and intake procedures, as well as connecting students and their families with community resources when needed.
They began exploring the framework for the Welcome Center in Fall 2021, and currently, it’s slated to be open in July of 2023. The MCSD officially takes possession of the Orpheum in January, and designing and furnishing the building will be in progress in winter 2022 and spring 2023.
Heitmann shared his opinion on the project once Inks and Smith concluded their presentation.
“Your passion for this is evident, and I just think this done well is going to be a tremendous benefit and asset for our school district and for our families. This done not well will not,” Heitmann said. “It seems like we’ve got the right people in place to do this well.”
Randy Denham was approved and sworn in as the new Board Secretary and Treasurer during the meeting, since former Director of Business Operations Paulette Newbold resigned.
In other business, the board:
• Heard a presentation on the Marshalltown Youth Foundation.
• Heard a public comment from Marshalltown resident Anna Wolvers regarding the substitute teacher hiring process and the CDC’s recommendation to add the COVID vaccine to the required list of school immunizations.
• Approved the submittal to the Iowa Future Farmers Association for the creation of the Marshalltown FFA.
• Approved an out-of-state field trip request from Marshalltown High School Band Director Brett Umthun.
• Approved an early notification incentive in the amount of $1,000 for eligible staff members who give notice prior to Dec. 22.
• Approved setting a public hearing on Nov. 21 for the proposed lease of Arnold’s Park.
• Approved the MHS Athletic Campus Owner and Architect Agreement regarding proposed updates to the MHS stadium.
• Approved seeking a request for proposal for Vape Detectors.
Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.