It works for Storm Lake

There is little question that the Storm Lake Charter School has been good for students in general, for immigrant students in particular, for keeping students in school, for improving graduation rates, for introducing students to college or vo-tech instruction, for helping retain young people in rural Iowa, for making those who struggle know that someone is standing by them willing to help pull them along.

It’s all good.

But we sense trouble underfoot. Storm Lake is about to ask for renewal of its charter school. State officials are frowning on charter schools in hopes of a single educational model. There are just three left in the state. What works in Storm Lake might not work in Des Moines or Schaller. But it works in Storm Lake.

Here’s how it works:

Students who choose the charter school take five years of high school. Classes are taught through the high school faculty and Iowa Central Community College. They graduate after five years with a high school diploma and an associate of arts degree from Iowa Central, or a vocational certification.

It leads to further study toward a bachelor’s degree or to a decent job as a machinist, electrician or HVAC technician.

The students love it. So does local industry. It is good for Buena Vista University as students off to a strong start seek that bachelor’s degree.

If Iowa values innovation, if it embraces local control, if it needs more technical labor, if it is concerned about drop-outs, if it wants to keep young people home, then it will approve the Storm Lake Charter School application in March through the Iowa Board of Education.

If the charter is rejected, then the state should replace the program with something of similar value. The problem is, we can’t think of a model that would work as well for Storm Lake.

This community faces special challenges because of its inordinately high immigrant population. The school district does better than any in America turning these struggling students into model citizens. If we have found a local solution that works, why mess with it?

Because it costs money in the form of community college tuition. Because it does not fit the one-size-fits-all model. Because someone in Cedar Falls or Des Moines did not dream it up. It bubbled up naturally from the old League of Schools, the first regional academy for vo-tech skills in Iowa based in Storm Lake. Now, 40 years later, state officials are talking up regional academies. Forty years from now, they might be talking up charter schools based on the Storm Lake model.

Let this community lead on integrating disadvantaged, hard-working immigrant populations in its own way. Approve another four years for the Storm Lake Charter School.

Iowa grows

Iowa’s population grew a bit for the 26th straight year, the Census Bureau estimated this week. The state demographer, Gary Krob, said that young people continue to flee the state. But births outpace deaths and immigrants move in to make up the difference. The growth, while steady and stable, continues to occur in pockets of the state. Rural Iowa continues to empty out.

Most of the growth occurs in the Ames-Des Moines and Cedar Rapids/Iowa City corridors. They are fueled by government, academic, health care, finance and insurance jobs with better incomes than the rest of the state.

Storm Lake and Denison are among the few rural communities enjoying growth. That’s because of meatpacking and the immigrant labor that fills the plants. The City Beautiful will grow even faster as more housing units crop up. City officials estimate that we need another 400 or so housing units to meet existing needs. And, we saw that between October and November Buena Vista County’s labor force grew by 400 people. Clay County’s grew by 10. BV County has a labor force close to 11,000. Clay and Carroll counties are smaller than 10,000 workers. The schools here are bursting at the seams.

The Census never is able to mount an accurate count in BV County because of the number of undocumented immigrants. It is obvious to us, at least, that the county is growing faster than the rest of the state (which is less than 1% per year). We have a feeling that Storm Lake’s growth is picking up pace. Great days are ahead.