North Stars Pointing the Way

There’s a storm brewing at the new North; a perfect one of rising student achievement, campus renovation, dynamic new leadership, and technological innovation. The Polar Bears have got it goin’ on.

Right on the heels of the school’s impressive showing in the 2010/11 Iowa Test of Educational Development [ITED], North High became the largest school in Iowa to implement a 1:1 laptop program in October. In conjunction with parent/teacher conferences, every student at North was issued a laptop computer for use both in and out of school. The program is being made possible by a federal School Improvement Grant [SIG]. It’s just the latest in a series of energizing developments at the corner of 6th and Holcomb and will make a fitting capstone for the extreme makeover there, the bricks- and-mortar aspect of which was completed when the students returned in August.

Overseeing the turnaround at North is Principal Matt Smith who’s in his second year there. Already it’s clear that his enthusiasm is infectious. It’s palpable in his presence and has spread throughout the North community. Smith says that since the remodeling work was finished, the campus “looks the way we feel.” And he has no doubt the laptops are just the tool for building on the foundation of success he and his staff laid in year one.

North’s ITED scores were up nine percent in math last year. As impressive as those results were, they were doubled by 19 percent gains in both science and reading. And the school’s 98.5 percent participation rate was an all-time high.

Smith and Mike Vukovich, a School Improvement Leader at North and the coordinator of the laptop initiative, emphasize that the computers will be used to sustain improvement that’s already underway, not to jumpstart a struggling student body.

“We had a pep assembly right before ITED’s last year,” said Vukovich, “and a celebration assembly when the scores came back.”

If that scenario sounds reminiscent of what goes on before and after big football games in high school, it’s no accident. Smith and Vukovich have made low expectations North’s arch rival and use them to motivate their kids the way coaches have been known to use disparaging remarks about their team as “bulletin board material” in the locker room.

“We let them know right from the start that our expectations for them were high,” said Smith.

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