Amy Tagliareni wants to focus on Ankeny students

Ankeny School Board member Amy Tagliareni.

By Nikoel Hytrek

October 24, 2023

When she first ran for Ankeny School Board four years ago, Amy Tagliareni wanted to make a change for students who didn’t have a good experience in the district.

Now, Tagliareni is running again because she knows there’s more work to do there.

“I want to see every student in our district succeed,” Tagliareni said. “I want them all to get the resources that they need.”

Five seats—including Tagliareni’s—are open on the Ankeny School Board and 10 people are running in the Nov. 7 election.

One of the groups that need Tagliareni’s advocacy the most, she said, are the students whose test scores lag and who aren’t showing the same academic achievement as their peers.

“We just need to get targeted resources into the right places for those kids who are falling in our achievement gap,” Tagliareni said. “That is a concern of mine, that we start lifting up those kids who need different services.”

That requires recognizing which schools need the help and ensuring the right resources go to address their issues. The resources include staffing—from principals to teachers—to providing extra training in the areas that need to be addressed. It could also involve a curriculum tailored to students’ needs.

The district recently updated its math curriculum, and the literacy curriculum is now under review because literacy scores need some work, Tagliareni said.

Tagliareni also wants to improve the board’s relationship with teachers and build up their morale so they want to come to Ankeny—and stay there—in the first place.

“For decades, we’ve put more and more and more on teachers, and we’re starting to see the burnout from that,” Tagliareni said.

Also harming retention, she said, is, “being told repeatedly they’re not trusted to do their job, being second-guessed on a regular basis by parents and by admin to some degree.”

Tagliareni said part of fixing that is to rebuild the school board’s relationship with school staff, which fractured this year when debates about contract negotiations and teacher benefits drew backlash from district teachers.

She said the board should change the negotiation process so there’s constant communication with school staff. She wants the board to listen to teacher concerns at the same time they discuss contract changes.

Supporting teachers will go a long way to helping the students who need it, too, Tagliareni said. As will the further development of the Innovation Hub, a planned third secondary school. Like Des Moines Public Schools’ Central Campus, students who want more hands-on, experience-based education will come to the Innovation Hub and receive work-based, nontraditional approaches to learning.

The hub is still five to seven years away though. In the meantime, Tagliareni has high hopes for changing how grade levels work in Ankeny. Instead of having students go through four building transitions, the board approved a plan in May to group grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12 in buildings with their respective grade groups. The former building configuration used to be K-5, 6-7, 8-9, and 10-12.

“That’s a pretty big change,” she said. “But research shows that with each transition, students tend to take a bit of a step back. So we’re just reducing one of the transitions for our students.”

Another crucial part of supporting students has to do with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), and ensuring Director Ken Morris has the manpower he needs to help students.

“Forty percent of our kids are touched by some sort of DEI, whether they’re on an IEP [Individualized Education Program], a 504 [plan], they’re low socioeconomic [status], Black or Brown, LGBTQ—that’s a huge chunk of our student population. And we can’t simply continue to just ignore them,” she said.

For students with disabilities, 504 plans ensure they receive the accommodations and support they need to succeed and have equal access to an education.

Tagliareni has voted in the past to hire more staff for the DEI office, and she said she will continue to do so because it matters for Ankeny. For example, boys in the district are overidentified for special education and fewer girls enroll in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) classes.

Finding the root causes of those problems, and others, are part of what the DEI office does. Tagliareni said it’s “vital” to hire more people to support those goals, especially when so many people have a twisted idea of what DEI is.

“We need to look at DEI through the scope of what it means to Ankeny and Ankeny students,” she said. “We need to get out of this mindset of whatever the national narrative is around DEI.”

It includes things like accessibility in school buildings and playground equipment, as well as investigating why students from low socioeconomic backgrounds don’t perform well on tests.

“I just wish people would widen their definition,” she said.

Communication and transparency from the school board, Tagliareni said, is another of her priorities in office.

The district already hosts community forums on important issues, and Tagliareni wants to continue those. She also wants to encourage board members to speak in meetings, ask questions, discuss their points of view, and share their reasons for their votes. Anything less, she said, is a “disservice.”

“Transparency is very important to me,” Tagliareni said. “You may not like me, but you will never wonder why I vote the way I do. Because I will share all of how I got to my decisions.”

  • 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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