GOWRIE - Prairie Valley Community School District in 2012 completed construction of its new weight room and wrestling room addition. The structure adjoins the northwest corner of the district school building, attached to its gymnasium.
"We're very proud of what we ended up with," said Prairie Valley Principal Dennis Hammen. "It's a very good facility, a very usable facility. The best thing about it is it expanded our P.E. (physical education) offerings, so we can do a lot of personal fitness and that's been really popular with kids."
Launi Dane, Prairie Valley co-superintendent, said she is pleased to see the project, a long-held ambition for the district, completed.
-Messenger photo by Brandon L. Summers
Mike Swieter, head strength coach, replaces one of the weights in Prairie Valley’s newly constructed weight room and wrestling room.
"It is officially done now," Dane said. "Everything seems to be up and going, very well received by the community. It's very nice, very well done. It took a long time to get it there, but it is a very nice place."
Mike Swieter, Prairie Valley head strength coach, has particularly been waiting for the new facility to be completed.
"I've been here nine years," he said, "And I've been waiting eight years for this."
The new facility is an improvement. The weight room alone went from 13 stations to 32, Swieter said.
"Anytime you get something new at a school it's just nice seeing it," he said. "But our other weight room was so bad basically the females weren't coming in because it was so packed and we had to do something to get stuff bigger. We needed to get wrestling in here. It was just something we did together."
The new facilities are open to the public on Sunday, with plans to expand, according to Hammen.
"We're still in the process of developing a plan when we can have regular times for the community to come in during the week as well," he said. "But we haven't finalized that yet."
Further projects are not anticipated for the school district.
"As far as upcoming projects, we need to pay off this loan first and then we'll go for the next round," Dane said.
According to Hammen, 2012 was a good year for the school.
"Our students have been a lot of fun to work with," he said. "Very few discipline issues, which is always nice from a principal's standpoint. Education seems to be on track. We have a very good staff that's veteran, knows what they're doing. All in all, a very fine year. We have a good climate, a good culture."
The school district now is seeking a full-time superintendent to oversee its affairs. Dane, superintendent of Southeast Webster Grand school district, and Mark Egli, superintendent of Manson Northwest Webster, have been serving as co-superintendents of Prairie Valley. Egli oversees finances, and Dane oversees personnel.
"We are looking for a superintendent for next year, the 2013-14 school year," Dane said. "That's on the docket right now."
For Dane, spreading her time across two districts has been tough.
"I wish I could give more time to Prairie Valley. My time has been limited over here," she said. "They're great people and they work very hard to have the buildings and the school run well. There's just a lot of factors. That's why they're looking for a full-time superintendent to be here at all times."
In 2012, Prairie Valley fell on the Iowa Department of Education's Schools in Need of Assistance list for its performance on the Iowa Assessments standardized test.
"They received notification from the Department of Ed that they were a SINA school, which means they did not meet the criteria for two years in a row," Dane said. "The high school is on SINA lists for reading, and the watchlist for math. And then the elementary school met the AYP (annual yearly progress) goals."
School administrators and faculty are working hard to improve results to meet No Child Left Behind proficiency standards, which increase yearly.
"They're working to get them off that list, because that's a huge factor. But they currently don't have to do anything special for it," Dane said. "They just have to be aware of it and start working towards getting their school off that."
Enrollment at Prairie Valley was down in 2012 by 22 students, Dane said, a significant number.
"That's not average," she said. "That's a pretty big drop."
The drop in enrollment affects the school's funding, Dane said.
"You lose about $6,000 per kid, about $130,000," she said. "Because it's based on visit per pupil, cost is about $6,000 and money is always an issue."
The result of this financial loss could result in a closer look at the district's budget, including personnel. Already, the school shares teachers and utilizes online courses.
"We may have to look for some cuts this year. It's just a concern everybody has to be aware of. When you start losing kids, you start losing money," Dane said. "Personnel-wise, I don't know how that will affect what we do next year. We may have to do some more sharing with neighboring school districts. You just don't know."
More positively, the school continues its one-to-one program, which issues each student with a laptop for academic and personal use. The results have been positive.
"For the most part, I think it's been good for the kids," Dane said. "It helps kids do work."
Despite concerns, Dane is optimistic about 2013.
"I think once we get a full time (superintendent) back here it will help build the relationship back," she said. "It's been a good two years for them to try and get everything back on track, but they still have a lot of work to do. It's a great district, there are still a lot of caring people. But they also need to be aware of financials, and that will be on the back of everybody's mind as they move forward."