Our mask mandate was about our care for others

Every year, Decorah Community School District has three to six teachers who are blessed with being pregnant during the school year. Those individuals continue to serve other children as they prepare to welcome their own children into the world. Our mask mandate was in place to give those teachers the peace of mind needed to do their job effectively. 

We have staff who provide love and care to elderly parents. They work in close quarters with dozens and even hundreds of students and fellow staff each day and then act with love and care for their dependent family members in their personal life. Our mask mandate was in place to give those staff the comfort to serve others while still serving those they love most. 

We have students who live with high-risk grandparents, parents, and family members. They spend every day surrounded by their peers on our buses, in our classrooms, and on our playgrounds. Then they go home and give hugs to those they love. They sit on the couch together and watch a movie, and at the dinner table talking and laughing. Our mask mandate was in place to give those students and families the opportunity to feel safe at school and safe at home.

My wife is currently battling cancer and is an employee of Decorah Schools. My 11-year-old son is a Type I diabetic and is a fifth-grader at Decorah Middle School. My 97-year-old grandmother lives in an assisted living facility. Perhaps these personal realities heighten my empathy for those who love people most at risk of serious issues if they become infected with COVID-19.

The Decorah Community School District mask mandate was never a measure intended to force people to protect themselves, it was a measure put in place to ensure the idea that we are a community of care was more than just words. 

Today, that pregnant teacher is struggling to do their job. Today, that associate who cares for an elderly parent is less able to focus on work. Today, that student who lives with a grandparent with a heart condition is less able to learn. Today, I will worry about the choices of those who come into contact with my wife and son as they go to work and school. 

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) continue to clearly recommend individuals wear masks at school. When I cannot practice social distancing, I will continue to wear my mask for our teachers, employees, and students. I encourage everyone to demonstrate the same care for those around them.

We have seen this movie; we know how it ends

rearview mirrorLast night, the Iowa Senate passed Senate File 159. The issue of Education Savings Accounts, or vouchers, will now go to the house, and if passed, the governor will sign a bill opening the door to steady drastic change. The time is now to consider the future of education in Iowa, and this has caused me to return to one of my very favorite books. The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge, has been one of the most important books in both my personal and professional life.

I see the world around me through a filter of systems thinking rooted in Senge’s work, and what is happening in our state has put a spotlight in my mind on a particular Law of the Fifth Discipline.

Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space. Senge (1990) wrote, “Often we are puzzled by the causes of our problems; when we merely need to look to our own solutions to other problems in the past.” Iowa is not the first state to package “school choice” as the solution to our educational problems. This means Iowans have a chance to travel this path with their eyes wide open. We still have an opportunity to avoid a future where our children and grandchild are wondering, how did this happen.

The state of Arizona started the Education Savings Account journey in the late-1990s with about $1 million of taxpayer money.  Today about $300 million of taxpayer money makes its way to non-public education programs and ventures. Iowa politicians and lobbyists have learned the same school choice playbook used in Arizona, Indiana, Louisiana, and other states from organizations like ALEC and Americans for Prosperity.  Let’s take a look at what we can expect in 25 years.

Arizona children sit in crumbling classrooms. Who is fixing them? This Arizona Republic article was published on February 3, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are wondering why their local school is crumbling around their children, they won’t immediately recognize the link between their current state, and January 28, 2021, but if the governor’s efforts prevail, the link will be there.

This company says it’s ‘not a school’ and has no teachers. But it gets millions meant for charter, private schools. This Arizona Republic article was published on September 18, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are wondering how taxpayer funds intended for educating children, are going toward stock dividends and CEO compensation, they will email and call their elected officials, but won’t automatically recall how Kim Reynolds, Brad Zaun, Amy Sinclair, and others invited profits before learning into our state.

With class sizes as high as 40 students, can Arizona schools keep kids healthy? This Arizona Republic article was published on May 18, 2020.

25 years from now, when Iowans are angry with local school boards and superintendents because of staff reductions and overflowing class sizes, a different generation of educators will be facing the consequences of the choices we are making today.

“Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions” (Senge, 1990).  Unfortunately, humans don’t naturally and automatically recognize root cause, and doing so becomes harder and harder with the passage of time. In Decorah Schools, we have a mission of Learning – Thriving – Creating Our Legacy. We intentionally call out Creating Our Legacy to heighten our awareness that we are the leaders of the systems in which we live and work. Our future is in our control, and the choices we make today ripple into the future farther than we can perceive.

There is still time to change our narrative. The Iowa House will take up Education Savings Accounts in the days and weeks to come. It is critical we recognize that what is happening at our statehouse is not a fixed moment in time. We are creating a future that will be inherited by our children and grandchildren.

25 years from now, I will be 73 years old. I will be retired and a different generation of superintendents will be meeting the challenges of the day. My hope today is that Iowans will take actions that allow those in the future to see us as ancestors who left a legacy rather than ghosts.

You need us soon; We need you now

Friday July 10, 2020, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), American Federation of Teachers (AFT), National Education Association (NEA), and AASA, the American Association of School Administrators (the School Superintendents Association) released a joint statement urging a safe return to school for the 2020-2021 academic year. The organizations stated in part, “Returning to school is important for the healthy development and well-being of children, but we must pursue reopening in a way that is safe for all students, teachers, and staff. Science should drive decision-making on safely reopening schools. Public health agencies must make recommendations based on evidence, not politics. We should leave it to health experts to tell us when the time is best to open up school buildings, and listen to educators and administrators to shape how we do it.”

As school leaders we heartily agree with this sentiment. We firmly believe in the power of learning built on a foundation of relationships and social interaction.  We also recognize that the ability for children to physically attend school allows our local workforce to function and our community to thrive.  We want to see our students in our hallways and classrooms, on our stages, and on our fields and gym floors.  We want to share in the joy of community building and learning together.  Yet, we also see the great risks presented to our students, staff, and families if we aren’t purposeful, diligent, and consistent in practicing essential COVID-19 risk mitigation strategies and practices.

Today, we must recognize that cause and effect are almost never closely related in time. As a community, the decisions we make–and the actions we take–over the next four to six weeks can either greatly increase or drastically reduce the likelihood of any on-site learning for our students in August and September.  We know parents, employers, and our students want our schools to reopen.  We need everyone in our community to take purposeful steps to make that happen.

Here are simple steps we can all take to maximize the potential for reopening our schools:

Protect yourself and others from COVID-19

  • Stay home as much as possible and avoid close contact with others.
  • Wear a cloth face covering that covers your nose and mouth in public settings.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Practice social distancing 

  • Buy groceries and medicine, go to the doctor, and complete banking activities online when possible.
  • If you must go in person, stay at least 6 feet away from others and disinfect items you must touch.
  • Get deliveries and takeout, and limit in-person contact as much as possible.

Prevent the spread of COVID-19 if you are sick 

  • Stay home if you are sick, except to get medical care.
  • Avoid public transportation, ride-sharing, or taxis.
  • Separate yourself from other people and pets in your home.

Recent Winneshiek County history shows us the impact of our collective action.  Between May 30 and June 27, our county logged zero new positive cases of COVID-19.  Since June 28, our county has logged 26 new cases.  A June 10 Governor’s Proclamation lifting restrictions on businesses and mass gatherings, social gatherings around the Fourth of July holiday, and increased summer travel are all likely contributing factors to the return of positive cases to our county.

We still have the power to change our trajectory, to right our path, and to take the actions necessary to make on-site learning a reality for this school year.  We know our parents, students, and community need us soon.  Today, we are saying we need you now.  Thank you for your support of Decorah Schools, and thank you for doing your part to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in our community.

Ron Fadness, Decorah Community School District Board of Education President

Mark Lane, Decorah Community School District Superintendent of Schools

Steve Peterson, Decorah Education Association President

What Can I do About This?

The absolute best thing about working in PK-12 education is getting to believe that you are surrounded by young people who will make the world a better place.  When I visit a classroom, I am always struck by a sense that these are humans who will know better, and do better than generations who have come before them.

As I watch the world around me this weekend, I am disheartened knowing our schools play an integral role in maintaining the status quo of privilege and oppression fueling this sadness, pain, fear, rage, violence, apathy, and hate.

In his book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire wrote, “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

I read this quote, and I can see both the reality of the system in which I work, and the dreams of the people with whom I work.

I work with people filled with empathy, but our institution feels cold and uncaring.  I work with people who just want to serve students, but our system labels, sorts, and ranks.  I work with people who believe each child has capacity for greatness, but I work in a system that says, no child left behind out of one side of it’s mouth, and then funds and supports public education in a way that clearly says we are comfortable with this not working out for a certain percentage of children out of the other.

I have been in a mental struggle with these issues my entire educational career.  I see that our system is part of the problem, which causes me to believe that we have to look to our system as the solution.  The murder of George Floyd, and the peaceful protests and angry riots that have followed have brought me back to the question, what can I do about this.

I believe the answer is learn, learn to be better, learn to continually recognize privilege, oppression, marginalization, bias and hate. Learn to point it out, and to take action to stop it.

When I woke up this morning, I reread James Baldwin’s A Letter to my Nephew.  If you’ve never read it, I hope you will today, and if you have read it, I hope you will read it again.

As I read today, the line that struck me the deepest was, “They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it” (Baldwin, 1962).

More than 30 years after Baldwin’s letter, Dr. Roberta Harro produced graphic representations of exactly what Baldwin was saying in this quote, the Cycle of Socialization, and the Cycle of Liberation.

In the article The Cycle of Socialization, Harro explains that we are born into a specific set of social identities, and that they predispose us to unequal roles in the system of oppression. “We are then socialized by powerful sources in our worlds to play the roles prescribed by an inequitable social system” (Harro, 1997).

In the article The Cycle of Liberation, Harro explains we have the power to make a conscious break from the cycle of socialization, and to engage in a new path. “As people come to a critical level of understanding of the nature of oppression and their roles in this systemic phenomenon, they seek new paths for creating social change and taking themselves toward empowerment and liberation” (Harro, 1997).

I feel lucky to live and work in a community where so many have made the conscious decision to make a break from the churn of the Cycle of Socialization.  Yet, I know hate, marginalization, and oppression happen in our schools, and in our town.

My favorite singer/songwriter, Jason Isbell, recently released a new album, and one of the songs on the album is called What’ve I Done to Help.  The third verse of the song states:

Climb to safety, you and me and the baby
Send our thoughts and prayers to loved ones on the ground
And as the days went by we just stopped looking down, down, down
The world’s on fire and we just climb higher
‘Til we’re no longer bothered by the smoke and sound
Good people suffer and the heart gets tougher
Nothing given, nothing found

What’ve I done to help?

Today, I reaffirm my pledge to do something to help.  I will recognize my privilege, I will recognize my biases, I will be an anti-racist, I will be anti-homophobic, I will strive for equity and access, and I will make the educational system better than it has been.

If you’ve read this far, I hope you will take some time to examine the Cycles of Socialization and Liberation below, and to ask yourself the question, how might I see my life reflected in these cycles.


DCSD Continuous Learning Communication

On Thursday, April 2, 2020 Governor Kim Reynolds determined that it is in the public health interest of the state for Iowa schools to remain closed through Thursday, April 30, 2020.  To help districts and nonpublic schools accommodate student and family needs as flexibly as possible, the Iowa Department of Education has provided guidance on school closures and continuous learning.

Decorah Community School District received this new guidance Friday, March 27, 2020, and in anticipation of the extension of the emergency closure, began work to develop a systemic approach to serving our students and families.  Iowa school districts may consider three approaches to the emergency closure. School districts are required to report which option, or blend of options, have been selected by April 10, 2020.  The three options are:

  • Schools Closed and No Services Provided
  • Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities Provided
  • Required Educational Services Provided

We feel a responsibility to continue to support the learning and well-being of our students.  Therefore, the district will provide a combination of Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities for students in early childhood through grade 8, and Required Educational Services for students in grades 9 through 12.

The primary reason for the decision to provide this blended approach is our desire to enable all current high school students to receive credit for their school work, and to remain on track toward earning all the credits necessary to graduate high school college and/or career ready.  Credit accrual is unique to high school; therefore, the district will not submit an application to the Iowa Department of Education to provide Required Educational Services for early childhood through grade 8.

While the district is blending Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities and Required Educational Services, there will be little difference in the actual day-to-day experience for students and families.  The comparison table provided below answers key questions for both Voluntary Educational Enrichment Opportunities and Required Educational Services.

You should expect to receive building specific communication from principals by the end of the day Friday.  This communication will provide details about how students and families can access the DCSD Continuous Online Learning website, details about grade level appropriate expectations for learners, and contact information for questions.

Please be aware that since Friday and Monday were previously scheduled no school days for staff and students, we will not be asking teachers or students to engage in any continuous learning activities next Monday, April 13.  Continuous Learning will begin Tuesday, April 14.

While the DCSD Continuous Learning site is still in the final stages of development, I want to share some information about how the District will be sharing Learning Opportunities and Required Services.  When we begin services families will receive a link to the DCSD Continuous Learning Website pictured below.  This page will be the starting point for all grade levels.  The first step for students and families will be to click on their building.

You will then be directed to a page that looks like this, and each grade level will be accessible for further exploration.

Here is an example of a page within the Decorah High School Continuous Learning site.  This page gives details about when teachers will be accessible for a video conference, or telephone call to answer questions, or provide support to students or parents.

I am thankful for the quick and thoughtful work our principals and teachers have put into providing continuous learning for our students.  We expect that we will need to make adjustments and improvements to our approach in the days and weeks to come.  Please know our primary focus is supporting the learning and well-being of our students, and we will do everything possible to ensure that the emergency closure caused by the COVID-19 pandemic does not have a detrimental impact on any student.

Don’t forget to watch for building specific communication from your principal on Friday.

Thank you for your support of Decorah Schools.

Mark M. Lane, Superintendent of Schools

State Supplemental Aid Matters…A Lot

Back on October 1, 2019, I shared a blog titled Count Day Matters…A Lot.  In that blog I described the critical role student enrollment plays in school funding and budget development.

Today, I want to address another critical piece of the school funding formula, Annual Per Pupil Cost.  Each student enrolled in our district generates a specific amount of money.  For the 2019-2020 school year, that amount is $6900.00.  In order to maintain effective operations, and quality services for our students, it is critical that Annual Per Pupil Cost increases at a rate that keeps pace with the natural increases in our expenditures.  For example, when your electricity rates increase, our electricity rates increase; when you are spending more on gas, we are spending more on gas.

Setting a percentage increase for Annual Per Pupil Cost is a function of the Iowa Legislature.  Each year, the legislature sets a percentage increase for State Supplemental Aid (SSA).  That percentage increase is applied to the current Per Pupil Cost, and that new number allows school business managers and superintendents to begin the task of building a budget for the next school year.

The last five years have not enabled school district budget growth to keep pace with the natural increases in the cost of doing business.  The graph below shows the past 20 years of percentage increases in annual per pupil funding.  The graph also shows 15 years of five-year rolling averages.  You can see that the five-year rolling average is currently at the lowest point.  We have to do better as a state in providing this basic funding for our schools.

But Wait, I Read an Article About “Historic” Funding of Education

In recent years, Governor Branstad and Governor Reynolds, and the Iowa Legislature have talked about historic investments in education.  We hear numbers like $150 million dollars for Teacher Leaders and Compensation Programs, or “calling for $103 million dollars for education,” as mentioned in Governor Reynolds’ 2020 Condition of the State Address.  Unfortunately, many recent funding increases have been to categorical funds which can only be spent in certain ways.  These categorical increases reduce the local control of school boards, and can lead to significant surpluses in certain funds, while we struggle to have a General Fund that meets our basic needs.

While we appreciate the intent of the governor and legislature when they approve categorical funds, adequate increases to State Supplemental Aid empower local school boards and educators, and make the greatest difference in purposeful budget planning.

This year, School Administrators of Iowa, an organization of which I am a member, and the Rural School Advocates of Iowa, an organization of which our school district is a member, are calling for the percent increase to State Supplemental Aid to be set no lower than 3.75%.  I will advocate strongly with our elected officials for this percentage of growth, but your voices are what can truly make the greatest difference.

I encourage you to follow Parents for Great Iowa Public Schools.   You can find them on Facebook and Twitter.  They are a great source of information about how parents and community members can advocate for their local schools.

Additionally, I am always happy to talk with parents and community members about our local context, and how the actions of the legislature might impact our district.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for your support of Decorah Schools!

DCSD Condition of the District

Almost a year ago, I came to Decorah to interview to be the next superintendent of schools.  When I was invited to interview I was told I should be prepared to present an entry plan to the board of directors.  I could prepare a handout for the entry plan presentation, but I was told they did not want a Power Point presentation.  The handout I prepared began by communicating my purpose, and how I intended to present information back to the board about what was learned through deployment of the plan.

Since starting work July 1, I have engaged in a variety of activities designed to do what I told the board I would do during the interview process.  Earlier this month, I had an opportunity to have a mid-year check-in with our board members, and I shared a bone diagram capturing key elements of what I think I have learned.

On Wednesday, January 8, 2020, our Decorah Community School District staff met in the DHS Auditorium for a Condition of the District presentation.  We dedicated one of our late start Wednesday mornings to learning key information about who we are as a system.

I think it is important that our community be aware of these key desired outcomes as well.  Therefore, I invite you to watch a summary what was shared with staff using the video below.

Much of the work that is described in the video will be done in order to bring greater clarity to the shared why, how, and what of continually improving our Decorah CSD system.  As we do this work we will strive for transparency in our efforts, and to provide ongoing communication to you our stakeholders.

To that end, I am sharing a working document that is guiding our efforts to ensure we are creating a great environment for our employees to work, and for our students to learn.

Thank you for your continued support of Decorah Community Schools!

Feeling Velkommen


You never get a second chance to make a first impression.  The Decorah Community School District, and the Decorah and greater Winneshiek County community, have made an impressive and lasting impression on me and my family.

In my first two weeks serving as Superintendent of Schools, I have been able to experience a wonderful balance of professional and personal activities.  I have engaged in a full spectrum of dialogue from visioning about hopes and dreams for the future of our district and community, to standing on the corner of Broadway and Winnebago examining the capacity of our buses to make the turn at the newly planned intersection bump-out.

Personally, I have biked the Trout Run Trail with my wife and brother; visited Seed Savers Exchange with my parents and in-laws; climbed to the top of Dunning Springs Waterfall with my children; fed the trout at the Hatchery with my niece; enjoyed pizza while sitting on a blanket on a beautiful Friday evening at Luna Valley Farm; and judged a cooking contest at the Winneshiek County Fair.

In my interactions with people, I am asking four key questions intended to build the knowledge necessary to serve our students, families, staff, and community well.

  1. What might be our district’s and/or community’s greatest strengths?
  2. What might be our district’s and/or community’s most urgent opportunities for improvement?
  3. What challenges or weaknesses might prevent us from overcoming these opportunities for improvement?
  4. What do you hope to see from me as superintendent?

In a future blog, I will share key themes from what I learned by asking these questions of students, staff, parents, board members, and community members and leaders.

In closing, I want to extend a heartfelt thank you from my family for making us feel so welcome in our new home.  Carla, Savannah, Will, Calhoun, and I lived in Waukee, Iowa for 15 years, and we left behind great friends and community connections.  The past two weeks have lessened the stress of this life change, and we look forward to helping make Decorah the absolute best place possible to live, work, rest, play, and go to school!