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Jim Lee, Sioux City Journal 

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Metro Sioux City schools receive mixed grades from new Iowa report card

SIOUX CITY | Some metro area schools received top marks while others showed room for improvement, according to the latest Iowa School Report Card. 

The grading system, run by the Iowa Department of Education, evaluates and rates each elementary, middle and high school on a six-tier scale based on test scores and other standardized measurements. The system was developed to meet a state legislative requirement, so parents, school officials and others can gauge success and academic growth of K-12 public schools.

No metro school reached the top-tier, Exceptional, while one, Hunt Elementary School in Sioux City, placed in the lowest level, Priority, for the 2016-17 year. The Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School was the only metro school in the second-highest tier, High-Performing, while three Sioux City public schools -- Irving Elementary, North High, West High and West Middle --  were placed in the second-lowest tier, Needs Improving.

The remainder fell into the Commendable or Acceptable categories, or the district was unable to rate the school for reasons such as newly-opened buildings.

Compared with the previous year, five Sioux City schools improved, while ratings for two schools fell. North High and Irving moved up one spot from the Priority category last year, Liberty Elementary advanced from Needs Improvement to Acceptable and Bryant Elementary and Sunnyside Elementary both improved from Acceptable to Commendable.

Compared to 2015-16, Spalding Park Elementary moved down one spot from Commendable to Acceptable, and West Middle went from Acceptable to Needs Improvement.

Crescent Park, East High, East Middle, Leeds Elementary, Liberty Elementary, North Middle and Riverside Elementary remained at the Acceptable level in 2016-17. Loess Hills Elementary, which could not be rated the previous school year, also received an Acceptable score.

The rest of the Sioux City School District schools to be scored were put at the Acceptable spot: East High, East Middle, North Middle and the elementary schools of Liberty, Loess Hills, Riverside, Unity and Spalding Park.

State officials were not able to rate Loess Hills Elementary, Morningside Elementary and Nodland Elementary, according to the report.

Superintendent Paul Gausman said the report card is one tool that will help the district continue to identify areas where schools can improve, but added that the district also has its own metrics to measure success.

"These improvements demonstrate the work our schools and district are doing under the Focus 2022 Strategic Plan for the Sioux City Community School District. Focus 2022 concentrates on many of the same indicators as the rating system, such as academic growth, graduation rates, staff retention, student attendance, and college and career readiness," Gausman said in a statement Thursday to The Journal.

Compared to the 2015-16 school year, Sergeant Bluff-Luton High School's rating rose one spot from Commendable to High-Performing. SB-L Middle School dropped from Commendable to Acceptable while the SB-L Elementary School's rating remained at Acceptable.

For the 2016-17 school year, the Woodbury Central Elementary School in Moville, and Westwood High School in Sloan were rated High-Performing.

The Westwood Elementary School was placed in the Needs Improvement tier, however. The Woodbury Central Elementary was rated Commendable and the Middle School was Acceptable.

The River Valley School District elementary, middle and high schools in Correctionville and Washta also were in the Acceptable Category.

The Lawton-Bronson Elementary scored a Commendable mark while the middle and high schools were rated Acceptable.

Ratings were based on attendance, graduation rate, annual expected student growth, college and career readiness and related growth, closing achievement gaps, proficiency and staff retention.

Gausman said it is important to remember student achievement is measured in many ways, and the Iowa Department of Education report card is one such summary.

"The challenge I see with the rating system is that most of the data from the ratings is focused on the Iowa assessments," he said of the standardized tests. "The Iowa assessments do not currently measure curriculum and instruction aligned to the Iowa Standards. So, as a community, let’s remember the many data points that indicate school performance and achievement."


Tim Hynds Sioux City Journal 

Transit Plaza merchants, from left: Jason Houser, Jeremy Houser, Richard Goff, Pete Pongdara, Matthew Habben, Bob Roe, Mark Treft, Mary Ellen Habben, Susan Dodd and Allison Ingenthron gathered for a photo at Bob Roe's Point After. Merchants in the Sioux City shopping plaza have donated to The Journal's Mr. Goodfellows charity.

Mr. Goodfellow: Transit Plaza merchants

DONOR: Transit Plaza Merchants

DONATION: $1,000

ABOUT THE DONORS: Donors include Unclaimed Freight Furniture, Anytime Auctions and Treasures, Flowerland, 4T Tack and Boot, Vac Shack, Bank Shot, Bob Roe's Point After, Sweet Repeats, Mom's Thrift Store and Transit General Store.

DONOR COMMENT: "The Transit Plaza family of merchants proudly work together to support and contribute to Mr. Goodfellow. Mr Goodfellow makes the holidays brighter and happier for our Siouxland children and their families. From our Transit Plaza family to yours, Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season."

GALLAGHER: How does your city regulate fireworks?

PRIMGHAR, Iowa | On the night the city council in Sioux City voted to limit the number of days residents could shoot fireworks, the Primghar City Council had a similar discussion.

"We've directed the city attorney to tighten it up," said Mayor Kurt Edwards of the current fireworks ordinance serving the O'Brien County seat. "We're going to limit it (the time period) this coming July and next New Year's Eve."

A new state law allows residents to discharge fireworks from June 1 through July 8, from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., with an extension to 11 p.m. on July 4. The same rules are in effect from Dec. 10 through Jan. 3, with an extension to 12:30 a.m. on Jan. 1. But local governments have the right to shorten those hours or even ban discharges entirely.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal file 

Fireworks pop in colorful display following a Sioux City Explorers home game at Lewis & Clark Park on July 4, 2016.

I didn't realize folks in many Northwest Iowa cities could already shoot New Year's fireworks.

Edwards said his city will reduce the days for Fourth of July fireworks after receiving several noise complaints from residents, many of them pet owners. "If you have people that it bothers, it's all right to restrict it," he said.

Across Northwest Iowa, I found that some cities, like Onawa, adopted the maximum hours allowed by the state, while others, such as Cherokee, banned the discharge of fireworks within city limits, or, like Sioux City, constricted the time frame allowed. Here's a look:

Storm Lake City Administrator Kari Navratil said the issue caused figurative "fireworks" in the Buena Vista County seat last summer.

"We got a lot of feedback, so we crafted an ordinance that allows the use of second-class-only fireworks from 5-10 p.m. on July 3 and July 4 and nothing in December," she said.

Second-class fireworks are sparklers, as opposed to aerials, bottle-rockets or roman candles.

Storm Lake residents jammed a summer work session by the city council and let it be known they didn't care for the debris, the extended time period and the volume of fireworks shot off in the wake of the state legislature's decision to legalize fireworks for the first time since 1938.

DDreeszen / Rod Boshart, Journal Des Moines Bureau 

Then-Gov. Terry Branstad talks with the crowd assembled in his office last May before he signed a bill to legalize the possession, sale and use of consumer-grade fireworks during limited times of the year in Iowa.

Brian Weuve, deputy city manager serving Spencer, said his city banned the use of fireworks prior to the Independence Day sales period. There are a number of reasons, including the fact that Spencer's downtown district nearly burned to the ground after a fireworks mishap in 1931, a fire that ultimately led to the Legislature's decision to ban them statewide seven years later, a ban that lasted generations.

"This history was part of it," Weuve said. "The council also felt there are safety issues and that fireworks are not meant to be shot off in an urban setting."

Spencer's city council discussed the matter over three to four council meetings before making the decision to ban fireworks.

"As far as I know, there has been no discussion about revisiting the issue," Weuve said, adding that fireworks may be sold in the Clay County seat, but not discharged.

Gregg Owens, the city administrator/city attorney serving Spirit Lake, noted his city doesn't allow the discharge of first-class consumer fireworks. The reason: "Public safety," Owens wrote in an email. "They are dangerous."

Tom Van Maanen, city administrator in Rock Valley, said his city council loosely followed the state ordinance, allowing the discharge of fireworks from Dec. 10 to Jan. 3 and from June 15 to July 8.

"Police calls were up in that time last summer, which is a little surprising," Van Maanen said. "With our proximity to South Dakota (where they've been legal for decades), it wasn't uncommon to see them going off on July 4."

Last summer, however, the Rock Valley Police Department received a number of calls, mostly from neighbors reporting that someone on their street was shooting off rockets after 10 p.m.

"The hope is that people would self-regulate and be good neighbors," Van Maanen said. "If they're incapable of doing so, the city will have to regulate it."

Sam Kooiker, city administrator in Cherokee, said his city continued its decades-long observance of keeping fireworks in the hands of firefighters, not private citizens.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Fireworks explode in an eye-catching display after a Sioux City Explorers home game on July 4, 2016. Sioux City Journal Photo by Justin Wan

Fireworks, he said, are allowed with a permit in Cherokee, but the only permitted use is for the city display by the Cherokee Fire Department, one conducted each July 4 at Spring Lake Park.

Scott Wynja, city administrator in Sioux Center, said his city adopted the state ordinance, then amended it by striking December dates. Residents in Sioux Center can shoot fireworks from June 15 to July 8.

"Right out of the gate, we didn't allow the December dates because the council felt it wasn't necessary," Wynja said.

Jim Hussong, mayor of Arnolds Park, said his city council banned the discharge of fireworks, but allowed sales of fireworks, within city limits. Hussong cited safety as the key factor in banning the discharge by residents on private property. He said the council may require fireworks to be sold next year in permanent structures.

"Going down Highway 71 it looked like 'tent city' last summer," he said.

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Mayor Jim Hussong poses for a photo at Arnolds Park, Iowa on Wednesday, May 11, 2016. Sioux City Journal Photo by Justin Wan

Residents and visitors in the Iowa Great Lakes, he explained, have any of a number of public fireworks shows they may attend around July 4, including a big show the night of Independence Day from Smith's Bay. There are also public shows in nearby Spirit Lake and Lake Park on dates that don't conflict with the Okoboji show on Smith's Bay, a spectacle that draws tens of thousands of spectators.

"We also have a benefactor who has supplied fireworks every weekend throughout the dead of summer for shows that coincide with our concerts," Hussong said. "Those shows last 15 to 20 minutes. It's almost like the Fourth of July each weekend during the summer."

Justin Wan, Sioux City Journal 

Fireworks explode in a colorful display after a Sioux City Explorers home game in Sioux City on July 4, 2016. A state law this year lifted a 79-year-old ban on fireworks in Iowa, but across Northwest Iowa, several cities have since restricted the hours for discharging fireworks or have prohibited them entirely.