If you talk systems, Darren Hanna will be a contributor to the conversation. The Emmetsburg Schools Superintendent knows that people cannot work in silos and expect to improve. With thirty-three years in education and 23 of those years in administration Hanna believes systems are designed for structure, support and tools to be successful in making improvements.
Hanna will be leaving the school district at the end of June. He has served the Emmetsburg school system for three years. During that time, he has worked with teachers to make sure they have the tools they need for student success and he has contributed to the community with his work on the Visioning Committee.
His education philosophy was shaped in his years as an elementary and high school Physical Education teacher, an assistant principal, the work at an alternative high school, twelve years as a middle school principal and as the director of technology and instruction. He grew up in Swea City, population 536 and he served in the Waterloo school district which had an enrollment of 4,000 students. That spectrum has helped him embrace challenges which contribute to better outcomes.
He mentions that the various opportunities positively impacted him and his work. “When I start in a school district the experiences help me grow and adapt and I am not the same person when I leave because of those experiences and the people I have worked with.”
Hanna, his administrative team and the teachers have worked collaboratively to develop a system that enables teachers to make decisions based on what is needed for the student(s). It starts with understanding where the student is and then applying tools to improve their performance. A good system impacts the whole.
As an example of progress, Hanna points to West Elementary which fell into the category of Comprehensive School meaning it was a school in need of assistance. Hanna stated that, “We started with West Elementary teacher teams.” In 2019, fourth grade math proficiency was at 64%. This year it was 79%. Reading proficiency was at 72% in 2019. Now it is at 87%. Teachers work collaboratively to review data, set goals, determine strategies and evaluate results. Hanna refers to the instructional strategies as teachers having a tool box.
Hanna points out that during the pandemic students lost a whole quarter of education. There was a downturn in learning which was expected. “Before school started in the fall, we reviewed the best information that we had. We needed to know where the students were in their learning, so that we could apply the tools needed to get them where they needed to be,” Hanna concluded.
Hanna credits teachers for the work they do every day, “All of them wear many hats. So having a system that provides the tools they need to make decisions and changes to help their students makes their jobs easier. It empowers them to move forward.”
Funding for schools is always a challenge. Hanna points out that annual funding is based on certified enrollments. “If there are fewer students that means less dollars. Fixed costs do not change. Now it is more frustrating because inflation has affected all areas of the budget,” said Hanna.
Outside of the superintendent duties, Hanna has immersed himself into the future of Emmetsburg as part of the town’s visioning team. He pointed out that the school reflects a community’s vitality. “We have fewer families and we need to attract more to this community,” said Hanna. There are assets here that relate to quality of life and these need to be highlighted. He referenced a mentor he had once that told him to always think big because working in silos only has a small impact. “Emmetsburg is blessed with people who see that,” said Hanna. He pointed to the Community Showcase that was held last September for the first time. Sixty businesses, non-profits and organizations were invited to showcase what they had to offer and what they do. It was a spectacular event that drew over 300 people. Hanna said it was an example of people coming together to plan an event that provided information and reconnected community members to what is available in Emmetsburg.
The Visioning Committee was recognized in March at the annual Chamber of Commerce Awards Celebration. They received the 2022 MidAmerican energy Catalyst Award.
Of the seven current school board members, only two are still the same since Hanna has been superintendent. “Board make-up always changes because people leave the board and new ones are voted in. It is hard work, especially since decisions need to positively impact the whole system. There is a lot of deliberation and they do not get paid. It truly is a labor of service,” said Hanna.
As of June 30, Hanna will leave this community. He and his wife will move to Anamosa where he has accepted the position of superintendent for the 1300 student school district. After years of being five hours and seven hours away from his two sons, he is moving to be closer to them. One is now located in Waterloo and the other is in Mt. Pleasant. “Being able to be with family in an hour’s drive is very appealing,” said Hanna.
Hanna is very pleased about the incoming superintendent Cory Jenness. “He and his family will be a good fit for the school and the community,” he said.
As Hanna says his goodbyes, he should know that his three years have made a positive difference in student achievement. He leaves the school system with a comprehensive school improvement plan that is working well and enables teachers to chart the course for improved student learning. They are empowered to determine when changes are needed in the process and have the tools to make that happen.
The community will lose a cheerleader who understood what it takes to attract new people to settle here and how important that work is. Anamosa is getting more than they probably understood from just the interviews.
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