40 Year Anniversary of AEAs Marks Improved Standards for Student Support

Brent Siegrist, Executive Director, Iowa’s Area Education Agencies

Brent SiegristA fortieth birthday is an important milestone in a person’s life. Amid the joke about approaching middle age is the comfort of being a little wiser than a person was just a decade ago. As Iowa’s Area Education Agencies reach this celebrated milestone we have the opportunity to reflect on the past four decades of service to Iowans.

Regional education in Iowa took a giant step forward in the spring of 1974 when Senate File 1163 transformed the jigsaw maze of 52 county or joint county school systems into 15 area education agencies with the same service areas as community colleges.  The AEAs, as they came to be called, began operating July 1, 1975.

This legislation erased the division and eased the discrepancies that existed between Iowa schools. Iowa’s AEAs collaborated to improve the education opportunities for our most valuable asset: our young people. Prior to that time, only about seven to eight percent of the handicapped children in the state had educational opportunities in their home communities. Similar discrepancies existed in general education classrooms: only 30% of the children in the state had access to current media materials, and the availability of resources varied greatly between Iowa’s schools urban, rural, large and small.

Today, due to voluntary mergers across the state, there are nine AEAs that are widely regarded as one of the finest intermediate service systems in the country, and we continue to evolve to ensure we’re meeting the educational needs of our next generation of leaders. The demands of today’s learners are much different than those that were acknowledged and supported 40 years ago.

Today our specialized teams provide support and resources in the areas of autism, brain injury and crisis response.  Children can access resources at their schools that were loaned from our lending libraries, ensuring educators and students have access to thousands of resources to support reading and hands-on learning.

We offer support through the Family Educator Connection, a free program promoting partnerships between families and schools in order to provide the best educational opportunities for children with special needs.

We are cooperative purchasing that saves schools 40-70 percent off list price on media equipment and materials, paper and art supplies. math, science, and numerous other content areas.

We are an educator’s resource for professional development, offering courses for graduate credit or license renewal, both face-to-face and online.

Yes, a lot has changed in the 40 years that have passed since the inception of our organization, but today we celebrate each of these 14,600 days in which we’ve made a difference in the life of an Iowan. Our staff members are in lock-step with your local school administrators, teachers, counselors and librarians to ensure that Iowa’s learners have the most opportunity of any state in the nation. And we have no intention of slowing down now.

Brent Siegrist is the Executive Director of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies. He can be reached at bsiegrist@gwaea.org. Iowa’s Area Education Agencies work as partners with public and accredited, non-public schools in Iowa to help students, school staff, parents and communities meet educational challenges. The system was established in 1974 by the Iowa legislature.

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