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Innovative Campus off to roaring start

Innovative Campus off to roaring start
Charles City’s Innovative Campus faculty includes, front, Julie Molstead, administrative assistant; Alyssa Naumann, para-educator; back, Larry Wolfe, principal; Josh Dean, teacher; Don Betts, Carrie Lane coordinator/teacher. Not pictured is Stena Schmitt, Home School Assistance Program. (Photo submitted)
By James Grob,

Julie Molstead, administrative assistant at the Charles City School District’s new Innovative Campus, told the school board Monday that the program has easily exceeded learning goals through its first nine weeks.

Molstead described the campus as a “flexible learning environment” for students who have different learning styles that do not fit in the traditional mold of a regular classroom setting.

The Innovative Campus is a new program in the school district this year that in part came out of some of the experiences teaching during the pandemic, and that brings together several non-mainstream ways of delivering an education, including the Carrie Lane High School alternative program, School to You remote learning and the Home School Assistance Program.

Larry Wolfe is the Innovative Campus principal. He was previously the associate principal at Charles City High School for nearly nine years.

Nearly 120 students were involved in the program through its first nine weeks. That includes 60 Flex Campus students, 38 Home School Assistance students and 19 Carrie Lane students.

Charles City’s Innovative Campus faculty includes Molstead and Wolfe as well as Alyssa Naumann, para-educator; Josh Dean, teacher; Don Betts, Carrie Lane Coordinator/Teacher; and Stena Schmitt, Home School Assistance Program.

Other faculty members involved include Dan Caffrey, David Voves, Marie Conklin, Naomi Yaddof and Susan Leeper. They serve students and families who choose to continue with School to You, Home School Assistance, Carrie Lane High School and credit recovery.

“We want to get away from just being a diploma factory. We’re going to prepare our juniors and seniors for the future,” Dean said. “We want to come up with a plan for each student, so once they get their diploma, they are ready to go — and we’ll still be here to help you.”

The goal for the new campus is to help all students learn, no matter what they need.

In March, the school board designated up to 30% of the money the district receives from the third round of COVID relief to be the funding source. COVID funding is provided by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER).

“We’re going to see an increased demand for digital learning,” Superintendent Mike Fisher told the board at the time. “It’s not for everyone — it’s probably not for the majority of our people — but we still have a number of students who would like to continue with the digital learning format that we adopted under COVID.”

School-To-You is a state-mandated online learning option, deemed necessary because of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

The academy is its own school, with its own staff, teachers and administrators who are specifically trained to teach remotely, to take the burden off of “brick-and-mortar” teachers who were teaching both in-person and remotely last year.

Through its first nine weeks this year, the program has already helped one student graduate early, had two senior students return to finish their degrees, helped a student who had to move out of state finish two classes remotely to graduate, worked with three students on extended medical leave to stay current in their studies, and worked with dozens of students who work full time to earn school credits and stay on pace for graduation.

Innovative Campus students have also volunteered for community service projects, including assisting the local YMCA, assisting with church congregation members, mentoring elementary students, presenting at Charles City’s Senior Center, engaging with student teachers from Northern Iowa, working with Quilts of Valor, cooking for other people on campus and getting involved in several campus celebrations and other school district events.

In October, 24 future teachers from the University of Northern Iowa visited the Innovative Campus, having conversations with students and with Charles City instructors and getting real-life examples of the variety of student backgrounds, needs and reactions they will likely encounter in their chosen career.

Dean said that future goals include starting conversations with juniors and seniors regarding jobs, colleges, military and other endeavors, connecting with area businesses for student work experience programs and identifying goals and plans of action for the campus to become an Exemplary School Program, using metrics identified by the National Alternative Education Association.

“My personal goal is to make this the best alternative education program in the state of Iowa,” Dean said. “If we can be the best in the country, I’m OK with that, too, but at first we’ll focus on the state of Iowa.”

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