By Sarina Rhinehart
Special to The Witness
AMES — Since taking over as the director of the Iowa Department of Education, Ryan Wise said he has visited about 50 school districts across the state,and on April 22, he paid a visit to his first Iowa Catholic school, Saint Cecilia School in Ames, to learn more about how the Department of Education can strengthen its partnerships with private schools across the state.
“This has really been a year of learning for me,” said Wise, who took over as director in July 2015. “I’ve tried to get out into the schools every single week.” While this is Wise’s first visit to a Catholic school in his new position, he is no stranger to the Catholic school system. “I’m myself the product of 17 years of Catholic school,” Wise said. “I grew up going to Catholic schools K-12, and I’m a Creighton (University) grad as well.”
As part of Wise’s visit on Friday, he observed several classrooms, spoke with parents, and even watched a second-grade class perform a readers theater about “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“We were thrilled to have an opportunity to share what private schools offer to young people in Iowa,” said Saint Cecilia Principal Ervin Rowlands. “To share that private schools are an important part of the educational component in Iowa and that we don’t get overlooked.”
Wise said since stepping into his new role, he has wanted to get out into Iowa schools and immediately had dozens of requests to visit. Rowlands said when looking at the schools Wise was visiting, it was mostly public schools so he decided to invite Wise to Saint Cecilia.
“Part of why I’m coming here today is to learn about all of those intersections between private schools and Catholic schools, like Saint Cecilia, and the Department of Education,” Wise said. “There are many areas of intersection, so today is really an opportunity for me to see all of those in action.”
According to Rowlands, a private school such as Saint Cecilia meets almost all the same guidelines that public schools in Iowa do, including participating in Iowa Core.
“To a parent, a Catholic school in Iowa academically would look almost identical to a public school,” Rowlands said. “The main difference, of course, is the faith component.”
In meeting with Wise, Rowlands said they discussed how private schools can continue to have successful partnerships with public schools. For example, after fifth grade, Saint Cecilia students transition into the public school system, so having those partnerships is critical, Rowlands said. Rowlands said he had several parents visit with Wise about why they enroll their children at Saint Cecilia, and also shared about special programs available at the school.
“We are in a unique situation that our parents help us deliver some of the special programs for our students such as STEM activities, LEGO League and other extras for the kids after school,” Rowlands said.
During his travels across the state, schools have been transparent about opportunities for growth, Wise said. He said Iowa can ensure a high quality of education for all kids by strengthening instruction, having a rigorous curriculum in place, and keeping students engaged in their learning.
“Our schools and our teachers are working incredibly hard every day to meet the diverse needs of our state’s kids,” Wise said.
PHOTO: Ryan Wise, director of the Iowa Department of Education, observes a kindergarten classroom at St. Cecilia School April 22 as part of a visit to the school to learn more about private schools in Iowa. (Photo by Sarina Rhinehart/Ames Tribune)
Rhinehart is a writer for the Ames Tribune. This article is re-published with the permission of that newspaper. Visit amestrib.com for more information.