• warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.
  • warning: Parameter 2 to ed_classified_link_alter() expected to be a reference, value given in /home/soloneconomist/www/www/includes/common.inc on line 2968.

Smooth sailing for new Clear Creek Amana school

Tiffin Elementary launches its inaugural year
Tiffin Elementary, the newest in the Clear Creek Amana Community School District’s fleet of buildings, opened Sept. 1. The $14 million building, based on the same design as North Bend Elementary in North Liberty, was built as part of a voter-approved $48 million bond issue passed in 2014. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

TIFFIN— It’s anchors aweigh for Tiffin Elementary, the newest building in the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) School District. The approximately $14 million structure was constructed as part of a $48 million bond issue voters approved in February of last year. Other projects included in the bond were an addition to the middle school, which is still under construction, and a high school addition slated for construction in the spring. A groundbreaking ceremony was held three months after the bond was approved, and site work commenced almost immediately at the corner of Highway 6 and Jasper Avenue.
“It’s been going really well,” said Tiffin Elementary principal Dan Dvorak.
The new building’s design was based largely on North Bend Elementary (NBE) in North Liberty, with upgrades in some areas due to changes in building standards, and with additional pods– or groups– of classrooms.
Inside and out, Tiffin Elementary looks like North Bend, which opened in 2008. Even a portion of the student body does as well, having moved from NBE to Tiffin to alleviate overcrowding at NBE. Most others formerly attended Clear Creek Elementary (CCE) in Oxford, where Dvorak was the previously the principal.
“Combining students from North Bend and Clear Creek has just been very seamless,” Dvorak said. “The kids have been awesome, kids from both schools have been making new friendships. Getting everybody on the same page has just been a lot of fun.”
The staff comprises a mix of 10 new teachers beginning their careers with CCA and veteran teachers moving from other buildings.
“The majority of our staff came from CCE but we also have staff from Amana Elementary and North Bend. Seeing everybody work together and mesh together has also been a lot of fun,” Dvorak noted.
Across the state, enrollment figures are tabulated Oct. 1 for official reporting to the Iowa Department of Education. Dvorak estimated enrollment at Tiffin to be about 30 more students than expected. The building’s instructional capacity, or ideal maximum number of students, is 450; however, the building has a structural capacity to safely accommodate 550.
CCA has had steady enrollment growth over the past several years, causing overcrowding at NBE and CCE and triggering the need for the new school. Projections show the growth will continue. The new elementary site is large enough to accommodate another elementary building, as well as a middle school, when the need for more facilities arises.
For now, Dvorak said the prospect of having a full building, as he did at CCE, is not likely next year but perhaps the year after.
“Being realistic, it’s not that far down the road,” he said.
The large number of students at CCE was an exciting challenge for Dvorak, he said, to find spaces to educate kids and give them the supports they need.
Last year wasn’t as bad due to the fifth graders being sent to Amana.
“That took about 65 kids out of the building, but the two previous years where we had about 450 kids (in Oxford). That was too many kids,” Dvorak pointed out.
Now, CCE’s entire second floor is vacant thanks to the opening of Tiffin Elementary.
And while there’s room to spare at Oxford now, “they’ll grow,” Dvorak said.
The wave of students that swamped CCA’s elementary schools is now sweeping through the middle school. The middle school addition will bring that building’s capacity to 750, which will sustain enrollment for quite a few years, Dvorak said. Bids will be let soon for an addition to the high school, with plans to be completed ahead of the flood that will eventually come through its doors.
Once the high school addition is completed in two phases over several years, its capacity will be 1,200, roughly double the current enrollment. Dvorak agrees they’ll eventually need every one of those seats. He echoed the administration’s sentiment that continued enrollment growth is a good problem to have.
“We’re really fortunate with that. We’re not closing buildings, we’re not laying off staff, which is not a fun process to be part of…especially closing buildings,” Dvorak said. “That’s devastating for a community.” He said he knows first hand how it feels to be downsized out of a shrinking district, but, “if the numbers aren’t there, the numbers aren’t there. You have to find ways and sometimes you have to be really creative. And sometimes there aren’t ways to do it either.”
Tiffin Elementary’s attendance extends to Forevergreen Road to the north, to the west edge of the district’s property in Tiffin (excluding Deer View Estates), to the south edge of the CCA district, and then zigzags toward Coral Ridge mall on the east.
The principal, in his 10th year with the district, sees another surge of students coming from a proposed development on the west side of Coralville, nearly large enough to be its own town.
“There’s nothing there (now), it’s just waiting to be developed. People just keep coming and coming,” Dvorak said.
When Dvorak started as an assistant principal at CCE, the district had two elementary buildings: CCE and Amana. North Bend opened with 165 or 170 students, but quickly filled.
“We opened it, we filled it, we added a wing, filled it again, and now we’ve taken 90 kids out of there so they’re at about 350 this year,” Dvorak said.
That kind of growth justified the bond issue, he added. “I think what’s even more powerful is if you look at the bond issue and the support that it passed with, it shows our district says that there’s a need for the new building. We didn’t just need a new building, we needed that extra space.”
The district attracts not only more students, but also teachers eager to be a part of Clipper country. CCA has been able to attract top-notch candidates for its teaching positions Dvorak said; it’s not uncommon for the district to receive 100-150 applications, depending on the time of year, for one elementary teaching position.
Dvorak speculated part of what makes CCA so attractive is the community itself.
“It’s a growing community, it’s positive and vibrant, it’s got a lot of good things going for it,” Dvorak said, in addition to its proximity to Iowa City, Cedar Rapids and Coralville and the multitude of opportunities those cities provide.
But the district’s relatively small size remains a big factor in its appeal, Dvorak continued.
“I think one thing that’s really important for our school district is maintaining some of that small town atmosphere where people just genuinely care about each other, and do things for people at the drop of a hat,” said Dvorak. He believes the school plays a role in making connections with not only the students, but also with their families and the communities in which they live. “We’re all working together. It really takes a community.”
Building those relationships starts at the front door, Dvorak said. “When you come into the school you’re welcomed. It’s a warm, rich environment, (and) people know when they come to the office that they’re going to be helped. Their questions are going to be answered, their needs are going to be met. We’re going to be honest and respectful and straightforward with them.”
Dvorak is frequently out of his office to be present in the hallways, classrooms and the community. “You stop to take the time to talk with the kids, take the time to visit with the parents; if Grandpa or Grandma comes to pick up their child, you introduce yourself.”
He also encourages students to stop by his office. “The door’s open, come in, say ‘hi’ or whatever. On the other side, there may be times (when discipline is needed), but since we’ve already made that connection, that process is easier,” Dvorak said.
Establishing strong relationships is a district-wide philosophy, Dvorak said; and he puts families at the heart of it all.
“Moms and Dads are the best teachers. They’re the first teachers the kids have and we want the parents to be highly invested and involved in their kids’ lives,” Dvorak said. “We want them to read to them everyday, spend time with them, celebrate the good things that are happening and if something bad happens, let’s learn from it and move forward.”
Dvorak, a native of Elberon, earned his teaching degree from Central College in Pella and started in the Benton Community School District in the early 1980s. Declining enrollment led to his position being reduced to halftime and his move to the East Central district in Miles, north of Clinton, for two years. After that, he served Turkey Valley for three years before moving to Johnson County and a position at Northwest Jr. High for eight years.
Dvorak spent six years at Iowa City West High as the dean of students and head football coach. From West, Dvorak came to CCA.
“It was a chance to do something different,” Dvorak said of his move to the Home of the Clippers. “It’s turned out awesome. It’s been a great fit for me.”
As he starts this academic year in a brand new building, Dvorak falls back on a simple lesson he has learned during his 30-some years in education: everybody needs someone who cares.
“Even if one person cares about them, they’ll work hard, they’ll go that extra mile …and it just takes one person,” Dvorak said. “I believe we’ve got a whole school of adults who are those people that really, sincerely care about kids.”