We take a look at the growth of the Waukee Community School District and the upcoming second high school expected to be accepting students in the Fall of 2021.
This video was created in Partnership with the Waukee APEX Program. The story was conceived, shot, edited, and produced by APEX Associates Debashish Koirala and Ben Jordison.
Many people are curious what the mascot and school colors will be for the new high school in Waukee. To us, this shows the interest and investment our community has in our growing district.
People have moved to Waukee—in record numbers—for the exceptional education our staff provides and they’ve stayed because we’ve delivered on those expectations. A second high school will allow us to expand opportunities for all of our students and create spaces where new opportunities can be implemented.
Our leaders understand how fortunate we are to have the community’s support as we grow as a district. When we asked the community to vote on the bond referendum in 2018, it was passed at more than 90 percent. To us, this shows that our community is supportive of our decision to grow the school district into two high schools. Because the bond referendum passed, we are able to design a 21st-century facility that allows us to meet the current needs of students and educators.
After the completion of the Waukee Innovation & Learning Center in 2013, it was clear to us that students are learning in different ways than they did in the past, and educators are teaching in a different way—for the better. Most districts in the state are not building new facilities; instead, they have to be creative with the resources they already have with declining enrollments. We are taking a hard look at how we spend taxpayer dollars to make sure it’s in the best interest of our students and staff, to last long into the future of Waukee Community School District.
To circle back to the frequently asked questions about the mascot and colors, we will be working with current staff and key stakeholders to help us through these and all of the important decisions. We do not want to have a split district with an “us vs. them” mentality. Waukee is a tight-knit community, with our schools being the anchor, and we don’t want that to change. Engaging our staff from the beginning has been very beneficial in making decisions on classroom layouts, how we use the spaces in the new buildings, and resources we can provide to enhance learning. This has worked well for us in the past and will continue to build a sense of community and excitement for the new school. We are going to enjoy this journey and have some fun in the process, so stay tuned.
An official groundbreaking event for the new school was held on Dec. 11. We were proud to involve the entire community in the ceremonial groundbreaking. For more updates on the construction of the new high school, visit https://2ndhs.waukeeschools.org/.
Waukee area students in graduating classes 2022-25 could be the first to attend the area’s second high school, which is set to open in 2021.
The fast-growing Waukee Community School District was ready to burst at the seams with Waukee High School nearing capacity. Total districtwide enrollment increased from 2,198 students in September 1999 to more than 10,000 this year with a projection of nearly 13,000 in five years.
Meanwhile, the city of Waukee had grown from 5,180 in 2000 to 20,649 last year. Its recent one-year increase of 9 percent was the highest of any city in the Des Moines area.
The Waukee City Council and the Waukee school district took action in May 2016 to deal with the influx. They approved the joint use of 160 acres of green space for a new high school and a city-owned sports complex. The yet-to-be-named 395,000-square-foot, 1,800-student capacity high school will reside just north of Hickman Road near the Waukee Family YMCA.
Most of the land will be used for the school and its amenities with the remaining space slated for 12 softball/baseball fields and a parking lot.
Voters had to approve a referendum for $117 million in general obligation bonds for the new high school in February to make the project a reality. It required 60 percent for passage. It got 90.27 percent.
Meeting Short-Term Needs
The Waukee Innovation and Learning Center—a facility for innovative partnerships between local businesses, the community and high school students—may be used to house additional Waukee High School programs until the second high school opens. Details are still being worked out.
Ten Elementary Schools by 2022
The district is also adding two elementary schools to accommodate growth. Radiant Elementary, at 5050 170th St. in Urbandale, is under construction and expected to open in the fall of 2019.
Land has been purchased for a tenth elementary school off Ashworth Road, west of Ute Avenue and Highway R22. Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2020 and it’s expected to open in 2022. A name for the elementary school has not been determined.
In the meantime, Nicole Lawrence, Communications Coordinator with Waukee Community School District, said the district is closely monitoring enrollment and bringing on new teachers to ensure classrooms stay at an appropriate size.
News about the district’s progress on the elementary and high school fronts has sparked questions about the middle schools as well. The district’s website dedicated to providing information about the second high school addressed the issue by stating it will monitor updated enrollment data and then make plans for how to accommodate students at the middle level.
The New High School’s Design
The concept for the new high school was developed through a six-month immersive design process between FRK Architects & Engineers, district administration and a visioning committee comprised of parents, students, staff and community members.
“In a series of three visioning sessions, the committee learned about current standards and trends in high schools around the country, reviewed multiple layouts from newer high schools and then created building layouts to reflect district values,” said Lawrence.
Feedback from the committee was used to create the building’s three-story layout, which includes a rooftop terrace, a media center with a second-floor mezzanine, an auditorium with a second-floor balcony and orchestra pit, a commons area for students and several individual and group learning areas for students and staff.
There will also be a single, secure entrance for staff, students and visitors during school hours.
“Open, light-filled spaces that promote collaboration and student development were high priorities for the committee, with student safety being a top priority,” said David Briden, Senior Project Architect and Principal with FRK Architects & Engineers.
Incorporating a pond on to the campus was also an important and notable feature when designing the school’s layout.
“A natural drainage channel through the center of the site allowed a pond to be placed as a focal point around which the city and school district facilities could be developed,” said Briden. “Placing the building adjacent to the pond allows it to take advantage of views over the pond to the north. The natural slope of the terrain creates a structure that tucks into the hillside, helping to marry the large scale of the building with the site.”
As instructional methods and learning styles continue to evolve, Briden said each classroom space would be adaptable and future-ready for students.
The school parking lot will be ready for newly licensed drivers, too, with enough room for 1,360 stalls.
Lawrence said that while the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and Iowa High School Girls Athletic Union (IGHSAU) ultimately determine sports classifications, the district anticipates each high school to compete at the 4A – IHSAA and 5A – IGHSAU level.
“Both high schools will offer similar programming and opportunities to students,” she added.
The second high school’s outdoor athletic facilities will feature a football stadium with a field and track, four practice fields, 12 tennis courts, and baseball and softball competition and practice fields. Additional amenities such as concession stands and team rooms are also included in plans.
The stadium will be built in a bowl-type setting into the ground. Inside, the school will have a gymnasium seating 2,500, an auxiliary gymnasium, and a three-lane track.
Parents Embrace the Second High School
Abby Jones, a Waukee parent whose fifth-grade son could be attending the second high school said the addition was a definite need for the community.
“It’s amazing to think how this area has grown in such a short period,” said Jones. “When I attended the University of Iowa, I remember some of my classmates from the Chicago suburbs said they graduated with a class of 1,000. That seemed huge, but we’re not far behind those numbers anymore.”
“I really think so much of our growth can be attributed to the school district’s commitment to offering students a truly high-quality education,” she added.
During the 2015-2016 school year, 855 kindergarten students enrolled in the district—a sign of even larger classes to come.
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The spring is in full effect and it’s almost summer! That means the weather is getting warm with sunny, hot vibrant energy! The Waukee Centennial Park in the great City of Waukee has so much to offer and surely is a place you don’t want to miss. Make sure to grab your friends, bring your discs and stop by for some disc golf. In this featured video above, you will see Thomas Wiggins and his friend TJ Hendricks doing what they love to do and discin’ it up! The park contains its city’s popular 9 hole course located on the east side. Tee boxes are the round markings and the baskets are indicated by the arrows. The Waukee Centennial Park is located on the corner of Ashworth Dr. & SE Universite Ave across from the Waukee High School. This is a great opportunity for anyone to get out into the fresh air and enjoy the great outdoors! The park has an amazing atmosphere where you may enjoy picnics, kids playgrounds, sandboxes, music festivals, family events, baseball, other sports and so much more. Don’t waste your time sitting at home and wishing you could be out doing awesome things. Get out with your friends and family to Waukee Centennial Park for some outdoor fun!
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Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (also known as STEM) used to be the school subjects that made kids groan with dread. But for the Waukee Master Builders—a robotics team comprised of kids from the Waukee middle schools in grades 7 and 8—the team is a whole new way to explore STEM subjects and have fun doing it.
And the best part: they get to build robots, which is pretty cool, whether you’re a kid or an adult.
The team is made up of seven kids: four boys and three girls. The Builders regularly compete in First Lego League challenges, where teammates practice teamwork and problem solving, research real-world problems and practice coming up with solutions and presenting them in front of an audience.
Sreehari Mogallapalli is the team’s head coach. He works for John Deere as an IT Analyst and volunteers through John Deere’s volunteer program, called Inspire.
“Inspire lets employees volunteer at different organizations and schools,” said Mogallapalli. As head coach, he mentors the students and helps them understand the STEM subject areas and activities. What’s more, if Mogallapalli spends more than 40 hours in a season (which is easily done given their level of activity), Deere will donate $1,000 to the school.
Mogallapalli has the privilege of teaching life skills and volunteerism at the same time. “I want to introduce them to challenges and how to use the technology in the industry to address them,” he said.
Parent volunteers help the kids evaluate problems, identify challenges and ways of solving them, delegate and follow through. According to Tracy Scott, a parent volunteer, it’s a partnership among the parents. Whoever is able to help, does so. “We’re not there to give them ideas or tell them how to solve the problem. We’re just there to facilitate the process,” said Scott.
Despite the fact the team formed only three years ago, they’ve done very well in the competitions they’ve entered. In fact, they won their first competition for the 2014/2015 season. (Each season runs throughout the previous year and culminate in a competition in January of the following year).
“The teammates work together collaboratively to get their projects done,” said Tricia Brock, the team’s assistant coach. “Sreehari presents the kids with ideas, and they decide which problems to address and how to come up with solutions,” she said.
Brock and Mogallapalli agree that teamwork is a major focus of the group. The kids understand one another’s strengths and delegate tasks accordingly.
“Teamwork has taught us that no matter what, we can always solve our problems,” said 12-year-old team member Owen Scott.
The Builders have advanced through regionals twice and have had the opportunity to compete in the state competition. For the 2016/2017 season, they won “Best Innovative Project Solution” in January 2017 for an idea that would limit the amount of bird carnage produced by wind turbines (see inset for more information).
In 2015, they competed at regionals but did not make it out of the competition with a trophy. They did, however, leave the competition with an idea.
The theme that year was “Trash Trek,” and the teams were tasked with addressing problems in their community around trash, recycling and waste.
As part of the challenge, the kids had to learn more about how the community handles trash and the common problems faced by the community when it comes to the way we handle waste and recycling.
They did their due diligence: they interviewed officials at two Des Moines-area waste handling facilities and one non-profit. The team members learned what happens to the trash in their community and common problems recycling facilities face when it comes to community education (e.g., people don’t know what to recycle or how to recycle it). They also learned how one non-profit uses their website to educate Iowans about litter and the importance of recycling, and where they’re falling short. A third organization showed them how industrial waste gets turned into products society uses on a daily basis, even when they’re not aware of it. In other words, the Builders got a crash course in how the Des Moines area handles waste.
They then turned to 100 community members to gauge interest, getting their input on their issues and questions concerning trash removal and recycling.
And so, Trash Companion—a simple mobile app—was born. The team wants to change the way you deal with your garbage by creating an app that will simplify and streamline the process.
The Trash Companion app will let community members easily access pick-up dates, find out what to do with hazardous materials and learn about any fees that may be attached to disposing waste. It will also allow users to set reminders that alert them of their scheduled trash pickup, tell users how they can dispose of old electronics (no more wondering what to do with that old VCR) and allow users to schedule curbside and bulk pickup of items. It will also provide a community calendar with dates for neighborhood-wide waste disposal events.
All three organizations contacted by the team were interested in the app and what they could do to facilitate more efficient recycling, waste disposal and trash removal. “They were all very supportive and wanted to see the app developed,” says Mogallapalli. The idea was also strongly supported by the community members who had provided their input.
The team had an idea, community buy-in and the support of the local businesses that deal with trash. So now what did they need? Programming help, and—most importantly—funding.
Enter the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge. After realizing they didn’t have the funds or the expertise to develop an app, they researched how they could get it built. “They saw the contest as a way to get their app implemented,” said Scott. “They don’t have the resources to get an app built. It would take a lot of money to do that,” she said.
They entered the competition in August and were chosen as the best middle school in the state—no small feat, since there were 1,800 applicants nationwide. Each state has two categories: grades 6 through 8 and grades 9 through 12. The prize for winning best middle school in the state? A Verizon Ellipsis 10 tablet for each team member and $5,000 for non-profit STEM use.
Now the team is competing against 93 other teams to win “Fan Favorite.” The team that gathers the most votes wins $15,000 and a mentorship with MIT experts to make their project happen.
The Builders found out they won on Jan. 9, right after regionals, and just as they were in the middle of preparing their electromagnetic fence project for the state competition. It was high excitement, and the kids hustled to keep themselves in the running. They had less than one week to create and submit a 30-second video for the Fan Favorite competition. “They were texting each other every day of the week to get their work done for both projects,” said Brock.
The parent volunteers have watched their children flourish with the team. “Being on the team has helped Owen reach beyond what he’s learning in school,” said his mom, Tracy Scott. “More than likely, he’s going to school for a STEM-based profession. He’s learning about coding and wants to learn more languages he doesn’t yet understand.”
Brock agrees. “My son Griffen loves the challenge. He likes to think through the process, he enjoys presenting, he enjoys the programming. He likes the whole thing,” she said. “He really enjoys building the robots and thinking through the problem.”
The implementation of Trash Companion will benefit not only the Waukee community, but could have an impact within the greater Des Moines Metro area.
These kids are doing something we all wish happened more often in our schools: they’re thinking about and tackling real-world problems. They’re implementing real-world solutions. They’re learning about the STEM sciences in the process. And they’re researching and validating their products and ideas before they implement them—all very important (and entrepreneurial) activities that will serve them well down the road.
Reflections on Two Decades of Organized Chaos
By: David J. Wilkerson, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools
On December 7, after more than 22 years of working in the Waukee Community School District, and over 35 years in public education, I walked out the door for the last time as the Superintendent of Waukee Schools.
It’s been quite the adventure. I used to have a sign behind my desk that said, “Pay no attention to the mess. All items are in a well-regulated and systematic state of confusion.” For me, it was to justify the piles of papers that seemed to stack up on my desk. They seemed to miraculously reproduce on their own whenever I ventured out of the office and into the schools.
A lot has changed in Waukee over the past two decades. In 1994, we were serving around 1,200 students in grades K-12 with 85 certified teachers. We graduated 68 seniors that spring. Today, we are serving approximately 10,000 students with 695 certified teachers, and we anticipate 550 graduates for the Class of 2017.
In 1994, the total assessed valuation of the school district was $230 million. Today, it is $3.4 billion. Our general fund operating budget in 1994 was around $8 million. Today, it’s $100 million. We opened the brand new Eason Elementary in the fall of 1994, way out in the middle of the country on a gravel road. It meant the district had three buildings to serve students. Today, we’re completing the Waukee Innovation and Learning Center, which brings our total school building count to 15.
Over the years, we’ve collaborated to help bring the YMCA to the district, to locate city parks next to school buildings, to relocate the Vison Soccer Academy, and participated in hundreds of partnerships with the business community across the metro.
First and foremost, our unwavering focus has been on providing a great quality education for the students and communities we serve. The academic achievements of our students and the steady upward trend in academic performance indicate that focus pays dividends.
As the district moves forward, it will continue to face challenges and opportunities. State funding challenges aren’t going away in the short term, continuing to place pressure on the district to maintain staffing levels at an acceptable level. The challenges and opportunities of growth will persist, with all indications that student enrollment will continue to increase at 500+ students per year.
Broader U.S. challenges also exist. Increasingly, it seems schools are looked to as the panacea for all of society’s ills. Over the years, we’ve looked to public schools to address and solve social issues like teen pregnancy, teen smoking, bullying, suicide prevention and obesity, and at the same time, we complain that our public schools aren’t performing at international levels. We ask more and expect more now from students than at any time in our history. Despite the criticisms leveled continuously against public schools since “A Nation at Risk” was published in 1983, schools have delivered on the promise to educate ALL.
There are those who seem to want schools to look and act the same as when “we were kids.” Ignoring the fact that “when we were kids,” there was no such thing as the Internet, computers didn’t exist in schools, and the thought of a phone working without being wired directly to a wall was pure fantasy!
So please, drop the mantra of “back to the basics.” We need to support innovation and creativity and encourage students and staff to dream of what can be and provide them with the resources to chase those dreams. Innovation has been the cornerstone of the U.S. economy, and our schools need to foster innovation in all aspects of education—not try to revert back to a former time.
Please be patient and supportive with the new district administration. Give them the same support and commitment you’ve given me and the district over the years. Things may look and feel a little different, but that is a GOOD thing. Different doesn’t mean less than, it just means different. Fresh new eyes will bring fresh new experiences.
School boards come and go. In Waukee, I’ve had the privilege of working with a large number of individual board members, but they have ALL volunteered for the board for the sole purpose of supporting and guiding in a positive manner. We’ve been fortunate and blessed with great school boards. Please keep that tradition going.
I read recently that someone said school districts are like a book. School leaders write the chapter that encompasses their time there. Some chapters are longer than others, but we each write our own chapter. It’s time for a new chapter, and I’m excited and extremely optimistic that the Waukee Community School District will continue to lead the way, and provide awesome opportunities for students.
Thank you and God bless. I can’t begin to express what this district has meant to me or the amount of appreciation I have for all of you.
Welcome to the 2016/17 school year! It was 100 years ago, on July 29, 1916, that the vote was held to consolidate several rural school districts into what is now the Waukee Community School District.
Do you think any of 187 men who voted in that election could have imagined what Waukee Schools would look like today?
As we enter the new school year, the most important things will remain the same. We’ll continue to provide a strong educational program for students; our teachers will still be committed to our children, challenging them to be the best they can be; and we’ll still have a community that supports our schools.
However, some things will new and exciting this year. We’re welcoming two individuals to new principal positions in our district. Cary Justman, who most recently served as principal at Dallas Center-Grimes, will be taking over as principal at Waukee High School, and Katie Ferguson, who has been an assistant principal in several Waukee elementary buildings in recent years, will be taking on the role of principal at the new Grant Ragan Elementary. Also, Cindi McDonald will take the superintendent reigns in December and Kirk Johnson and Terry Hurlburt have left their principal positions to take on the roles of associate superintendents.
The new Grant Ragan Elementary is complete and ready to welcome students. It’s a beautiful, modern facility of which the community can be proud. Grant Ragan marks the fifth time we have built the same elementary facility in the district. Shuler, Maple Grove, Waukee and Woodland Hills Elementary share the same design. We’ve simply “tweaked” each building with different finishes. This has saved the district hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past eight years, both in architect fees and change orders.
We will also be opening the new Waukee Innovation and Learning Center (WILC) in early October to support our APEX programming for juniors and seniors, and a new transportation and operations facility in December or January.
In addition, we have hired 59 new teachers in the district. Thirty-four of these teaching positions are in response to the rapid student enrollment growth that we continue to experience and are new/added positions that did not exist last year.
This past May, we graduated 549 seniors. We are anticipating approximately 840 kindergarten students. We plan to break ground on another new elementary school in February on the west side of Alice’s Road, in the city of Urbandale (across from the water tower), to open in the fall of 2019. And of course, the planning process for a second high school will kick into full gear during this school year.
Look for periodic celebrations and updates around the 100-year anniversary of the district throughout this school year. You can follow these events and enjoy some historical reminiscing on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/WaukeeCSD and also on our Twitter account @WaukeeCSD and the hashtag #WaukeeCSD100yrs.
Also, we will appreciate your patience during the first few weeks of school as bus routes stabilize and driving patterns develop. We are adding over 1,000 new/different students to our bus routes, as well as some completely new routes to best serve our families. There are still a lot of road construction projects and closures to navigate.
We are excited to once again fill our hallways and classrooms with students eager to learn and grow! Welcome to another great school year!
David J. Wilkerson, Ph.D., Superintendent of Schools