The Cornerstone – September 2017

Welcome to Great Prairie AEA’s Agency newsletter, The Cornerstone! 


The Cornerstone – March/April 2017

Enjoy this double issue of The Cornerstone by clicking on an article below or scrolling down to view all!

Great Prairie AEA joins “THE PROMISE OF IOWA” Campaign

At their February meeting, the Board of Directors of Great Prairie AEA passed a resolution in support of “The Promise of Iowa” campaign. The goal of the statewide campaign is to focus attention on the future of Iowa public school students and to rally support for public education in Iowa.

Board President Vicki Stephenson said the board’s support of “The Promise of Iowa” campaign is an important step in raising awareness statewide about the value of public education in shaping the next generation of Iowa leaders, workers, and citizens.

The “Promise” campaign is being coordinated statewide by the Iowa Association of School Boards, a nonprofit organization representing the more than 1900 Iowa citizens serving on locally elected school boards. For more information, visit “The Promise of Iowa”

Professional Development – March 2017

Register now for one of the many Professional Development Opportunities from GPAEA. View all in our Course Catalog.

Iowa needs teachers of the deaf

The Iowa Department of Education and Iowa School for the Deaf recognize the challenges of recruiting individuals who hold the rare endorsement of deaf education. The “Grow Your Own” program is designed to encourage licensed teachers to pursue this endorsement and help fill critical shortages in this specialized field. Learn more at

Download PDF: Grow Your Own


AEAs Play Daily ‘Behind-the-Scenes’ Role in a Child’s Education


Written by Beth Strike, APR, who is the director of creative services with Area Education Agency 267

Those of us who have been employed by Iowa’s Area Education Agency (AEA) system are used to the puzzled looks we get from neighbors and friends when we say that we work for the Area Education Agency — or “AEA” — system. Despite our best efforts over the last 40 or so years, too few people still truly understand the vital role that we play in helping all of Iowa’s children achieve–mostly because the majority of the time, that role is “behind-the-scenes” in local school districts.

What is an AEA? Here are just a few of the ways that we are serving your community’s students.

  • Frequently, our staff members are the ones leading the professional learning that your child’s teachers are receiving when there are “no school” or “early dismissal” days. Our staff members receive a great deal of training on best practices in teaching and learning and then work directly with local teachers to help those ideas get implemented into the classroom.
  • Your local school district is involved in the Teacher Leadership and Compensation program which requires that lead teachers have access to high quality professional learning around improving classroom practices. This training likely comes from your local Area Education Agency whose professional learning consultants designed a specialized plan for the schools it serves.
  • Has your school district launched a new reading initiative? Adopted a new assessment? It’s likely that an AEA staff member may have introduced the initiative and is working quietly in the background helping to support classroom teachers with putting new strategies into regular practice.
  • How about the students with special needs in your school district? Those students are regularly seen by AEA professionals who have master’s degrees in key areas like psychology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and more. These professionals work closely with the classroom teacher to identify student-specific targets for growth and help to ensure that progress is being made so that each child can reach his/her maximum potential. However, if you don’t have a child with special needs, you would probably never even know about this important service that impacts over 8,000 children in our area of the state.
  • Step into many classrooms today and you will likely notice a number of students-used materials like play-away books, iPads, robots, and more. Most of these materials are items that school districts could not afford to purchase on their own so the AEA purchases them and loans them out to every school district so that no child goes without the opportunity to learn from them.

These are just a few of the many services provided by your local AEA. Services are funded through a combination of federal-aid and state-aid payments; legislatively controlled property tax; federal, state and private grants; and tuition for classes. Without ongoing support from these sources, the educational experience each child receives in Iowa would not be nearly the same.

Southeast Iowa Area Educators Campaign for State Support

Local superintendents were among more than 150 education leaders at the Iowa Capitol Thursday, united in their vocation and in their request for Iowa legislators to attend to the needs of the state’s students.

“Our focus isn’t just on extending our hand and requesting the state’s financial support,” said Steve Murley, Iowa City superintendent, one of the superintendents attending today’s event. “What we need is an audience with our legislators to help them understand today’s realities in Iowa classrooms. While we’re celebrating the highest graduation rates in the nation, and building our state’s next generation of leaders, we’re also facing increased transportation costs, growing disparities in home life and student behaviors from what we’ve seen in the past, and new dynamics that complicate the business of educating students.

“We’re asking for Iowa’s legislators to listen with the goal of understanding, and show us that they will prioritize their support for our students. The proposed level of Supplemental State Aid will force us to look at reducing opportunities for our students, and will impact everything from staffing to programming,” he added.

Wearing yellow buttons with #keepingthepromise, a reference to the statewide Promise of Iowa public education campaign, representatives from every Area Education Agency, from the School Administrators of Iowa, and from more than 150 public school districts spoke to legislators about the demands of public education and the legislators’ support of their work. 

Districts from Great Prairie AEA scheduled to have representatives in attendance include Albia, Burlington, Cardinal, Central Lee, Chariton, Danville, Davis County, Fairfield, Fort Madison, Keota, Oskaloosa, Pekin, Sigourney, Tri-County, & Wayne.

“With this united outreach opportunity, we welcome the opportunity to help legislatives understand the impact of their decisions on the families and children in their respective districts,” said Brent Siegrist, Executive Director of Iowa Area Education Agencies.

Para Educator Courses Offered in Burlington

Teacher Smiling and Helping Students With SchoolworkClick on a link below to learn more about Para Educator Courses. 

Blended Learning Coaching Academy with Marcia Kish

Lisa Jacobs, Instructional Technology Specialist

Changing the way students learn one student at a time.


Academy Format:  Two full days of training for coaches and teachers, monthly Zoom sessions, and a Keynote address for Superintendents in the spring.

Marcia Kish is a Blended Learning Specialist providing professional development across the United States. She is now bringing her message, experience, and practical tools to teachers, coaches, and administrators in Great Prairie AEA. Marcia has a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology and her experience includes 11 years working as a classroom teacher and technology teacher in Worthington, Ohio, 5 years as a professional development coordinator, and one year as the Director of a blended learning high school, Learning Without Limits. Marcia is well known for her “cookbook” approach to blended learning. According to Marcia, “Blended learning tends to resemble cooking in the kitchen—As long as you are willing to start and have some key ingredients; you can whip up something amazing in the blended learning classroom.” Continue reading

Woodley awarded NSPRA’s 35 Under 35

December 19, 2016 – The National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) announced its third class of 35/35 awardees recognizing young professional members who are making a difference for their school districts or education-related employers. Nominations were made by current NSPRA members.

Congratulations to Great Prairie AEA’s Jennifer Woodley for being recognized!

As the Public Relations Coordinator for Great Prairie AEA, Jennifer has assisted many districts in the area of school communication. From social media management to crisis communication her consultation and assistance is aimed to improve relationships with internal and external customers for school districts.

NSPRA Executive Director Rich Bagin, APR, noted, “It is exciting to see these young professionals step up to meet the challenges of our school communication profession. They continue to grow and also have much to share with all NSPRA members.”

The program was started in 2012 and many of the awardees continue to provide leadership for their state chapters and NSPRA. Each awardee’s profile will be featured in NSPRA’s e-newsletters during a span of 35 weeks in 2017. The awardees also receive a $100 discount for NSPRA’s Annual Seminar to be held in San Antonio, Texas this July.

Check out the 35/35 Class of 2016!

Costume Making Makerspace at Ottumwa

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Joni Nicholson, Ottumwa Teacher-Librarian

How do you get elementary students to come back to school on a beautiful Saturday morning in October? Well,the idea of creating a costume and learning how to use a real sewing machine was just the right combination to get 50 students out of bed and back to school. They were attending a volunteer-run event called “Makerspace” which is part of a movement to get students interested in STEM careers and tap into kids’ creative side. This event was offered to fourth and fifth grade students in the Ottumwa School District.

Elementary teacher-librarians, Joni Nicholson and Stacy Moran have done several Makerspace events using electronic snap kits, Makey Makey computer tools, robots, construction blocks and numerous other STEM related activities in the past. This time the two librarians decided to take a “low tech” approach and invite students to make their own costumes using everyday items and material scraps. A recent Scale-Up STEM grant also gave several of the OCSD sites sewing machines and other tools that made this event even more enticing.

If the thought of school age kids using hot glue guns and sewing machines scares you, rest assured that the two teachers spent a good bit of time talking about safety prior to turning kids loose with these tools. With such a large number of students showing up for this event, extra volunteers (including other teachers and a local high school sorority group) were on hand to assist and supervise the students in this creative endeavor.

Moran and Nicholson both donate their time and many of the materials for their Makerspace. They also asked for material donations prior to the costume making project. Students were given time to look at the materials available as well as some costume ideas from Pinterest prior to digging into their individual projects. One entire room was dedicated to fabric choosing and pattern cutting. Other materials included: cardboard boxes, poster board, yarn, feathers, foil, t-shirts, socks, gloves, etc.

Over two hours of cutting, gluing, trying on and in some cases, starting over, it didn’t take students long to repurpose these items into unbelievable creations. A cardboard box and solo cups helped one girl turn herself into a human Lego block. Another participant made a creepy monster with a 3D hand reaching out of his torso. Capes, angel wings, Pokemon characters, superheroes and emoji faces were all popular costume themes. With such a wide variety of materials, no two projects were alike.

At the end of the session students were allowed to take all of their creations home with them. The best outcome, however, was the lasting impression that students had about this Makerspace session. Several students were very proud of the fact that they had used a sewing machine for the first time ever. Others commented on how much they accomplished with a glue gun. In fact, one boy asked enthusiastically, “Where can I go to buy one of these? I want to do this at home too!” Comments like that are exactly what Stacy Moran and Joni Nicholson like to hear. After all, the goal of the Makerspace is to generate excitement about STEM and bring out the “maker” in all participants.

The Cornerstone – November 2016