Combating teacher burnout in Ankeny schools a priority for Shelly Northway

By Nikoel Hytrek

October 19, 2023

Shelly Northway sees exciting possibilities for the Ankeny Community School District, but she knows it needs strong, focused leadership to keep going on that path.

That’s why Northway is running for one of the five available positions on the Ankeny School Board.

She doesn’t think the current board has been transparent enough about its decision-making, hasn’t done enough to respond to community concerns, and it’s gotten too distracted by voices from outside the district.

“I don’t even know what they’re focused on,” Northway said. “[There’s a] lack of transparency, lack of action, lack of results, lack of listening to those that are involved directly and giving them what they need.”

Northway described witnessing the backlash earlier this year in March and April after the board announced changes to teacher benefits. She said the board sat through those meetings looking surprised to hear all of the reactions, but she wasn’t.

“You have to actually listen to people and what people are saying,” Northway said. “It doesn’t mean you have to interact. But you have to be able to listen.”

With strong, clear leadership, Northway said the school board can work to solve the biggest issue, which is attracting and retaining experienced teachers who won’t burn out within a year or two.

She said doing that will strengthen programs to provide students with literacy and math tutors, but also support students where it matters most since the tutors travel from school to school.

“You have to have teachers that know what is happening, know how to deal with situations,” Northway said. “Otherwise, we’re going to have a bunch of first-year burnouts and they’re going to say, ‘No, thank you, I’m out.’ And that’s not good for them either. It’s not fair to anyone.”

She said there are other holes the board needs to fill as well, including hiring an assistant for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) director, Ken Morris, who is the only person in his office and manages multiple schools and thousands of students alone.

Northway knows most people think DEI only applies to some students, but she noted his work affects everyone and involves students of color, students with IEPs, and students who do work-study programs, as well as many more.

“There’s just so many things that it affects and it touches,” she said. “And literally every student is affected by diversity, equity, and inclusion. Why would you not want to make sure that every student is seen and heard and met at their level?”

It could also help curb bullying and student misconduct, two things she’s interested in addressing as a member of the board. Northway would do it in part by offering more resources for teachers to identify and resolve problems before they get worse.

“It has intensified and become more aggressive over the years,” Northway said of bullying. “It’s not a new issue. We just have to learn a new way of dealing with it.”

There are other school programs Ankeny has worked on that Northway said she wants to see succeed.

One is the Innovation Hub, which will provide more hands-on, career-based learning. She said it will serve students who want to learn about fields like heating and cooling or plumbing. Northway said giving students a chance to explore their interests while they’re still in high school is important to her.

“A majority of students don’t follow the path that they set for themselves,” she said.

In her view, Northway said everything should be focused on the student experience and ensuring they leave with a good education. She also wants them to have a sense of pride in the district they came from. All students should want to stay in Ankeny and raise their families in the same district.

That means focusing on making school lunch available and affordable, handling bullying, and making sure every student—no matter their background—has their needs met.

“These are things that actually affect people. These are things that actually affect students. And these are the real issues,” she said.

The only way to solve them is to have leaders who focus on the needs of the district and ignore outside voices trying to push culture wars and attack small groups of students.

“We need to be open. We need to be honest about why we do things. We need to think about what we’re voting and how we’re voting is affecting us and be honest about it instead of hiding behind other excuses or other agenda things out there that don’t involve Ankeny, Iowa or Ankeny School District.”

UPDATE (Oct. 19, 2023, 4:22 p.m.): The headline of this story was changed.


Nikoel Hytrek

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  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].



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