NORTH LIBERTY– Van Allen Elementary school will welcome many new faces this August, including one in the principal’s office.
Carmen Dixon has been assigned to replace former principal Brad Laures at the Iowa City Community School District elementary school in North Liberty.
Dixon’s education and career experiences illustrate seemingly boundless energy and her remarkable ability to tackle multiple tasks at once.
Originally from Cedar Rapids, Dixon attained an undergraduate degree in both Early Childhood and Early Childhood Special Education– with a minor in Behavior Disorders– from the University of Northern Iowa. She started her educational career in Cedar Rapids, teaching in early childhood programs and programs for children with behavior disorders, and, while teaching, earning a professional master’s degree in education from Morningside College in Sioux City. In 2000, Dixon was hired in the Iowa City school district as a behavior strategist consultant, simultaneously earning a second master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Administration from Drake University.
The wealth of experience in a variety of settings gained her another dual position: for the last two years, Dixon has served as the principal at Hill’s Elementary School and the Title I Coordinator for the school district, both roles she really loved.
“It was hard to tell the staff I was leaving,” she said.
It was apparently also hard for the staff to let her go; the group crafted a letter to the Van Allen staff as a means of both honoring Dixon as a wonderful leader at Hills, and introducing her to the Van Allen community.
“It is with heartfelt sadness and a deep sense of pride we are sending this letter,” it began.
Even the students hated to see her leave. One Hills student with whom Dixon built a strong relationship painted a picture of his farm that she could take to her new office, so she didn’t forget him or their time together.
Beyond educational accomplishments and career success, it’s making lasting connections such as these that are among Dixon’s most prized achievements.
“Building relationships is huge, and you do that by letting people know you care about them,” she said. “You build trust one conversation at a time.”
Dixon started in her new post at Van Allen on July 1, and is already establishing a rapport with the new set of teachers with whom she will work. A professional development experience in St. Louis allowed her to get to know some of them more personally, and Dixon said she is most looking forward to “building a learning community by collaborating and working together, for the kids.”
This includes parents, Dixon noted.
“Parents know their children better than anybody,” she said. “To increase achievement, we need parents as partners. That’s very important.”
Though it will take awhile for her to meet all the Van Allen families– there are 650 students enrolled at Van Allen, compared to just 160 students she had at Hills– Dixon has been visiting the summer Before-And-After-School program in the building to get to know some of the students already, and she encouraged parents to stop in to meet her.
“I hope to be a really visible team player,” she said.
She’s a member of a team at home as well, with husband Bryan and their three children ages 17, 13 and 10. The Dixon family lives in Iowa City.
Getting to know everyone, and letting others get to know her, is the first step in Dixon’s kids-first approach.
“The best thing I’ve learned is to listen, to take my time before making decisions. It’s easier knowing we are here for a common goal, and that’s the kids,” she said.
“If, at the end of the day, I know that I’ve made the decisions that are best for the kids, I’ve had a really good day,” she concluded. “If I just do what’s easiest, I don’t sleep well at night.”
Former Van Allen principal Laures, as he offered his goodbyes in the last school newsletter of his tenure, also had this to say about Carmen Dixon:
“I have known Carmen since my arrival in the district,” Laures wrote. “As you can see, she comes with a variety of experiences. What you can’t see is her commitment to kids, which is second to none. Van Allen is in great hands with Carmen.”