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Reflects on Decade of Leadership at Iowa’s Largest School District

After a decade at the helm of Iowa’s largest school district, Dr. Thomas Ahart is stepping down at the end of the school year as superintendent of Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS). Dr. Ahart has submitted his resignation to the School Board, which meets tomorrow.

Dr. Ahart reflected on his record of improving equity, innovation and achievement for DMPS while leading the district during challenging times that ranged from budget cuts to a global pandemic.

Click here to download a copy of comments by Superintendent Tom Ahart and School Board Chair Dwana Bradley.

Click here to view a video of the press conference held by Superintendent Tom Ahart and School Board Chair Dwana Bradley.

“Leading Des Moines Public Schools has been the honor of my professional life, however, I am ready to begin a new chapter,” Dr. Ahart said. “I will be forever grateful to the excellent educators, support staff, administrators, students and families who have made this district one of the best in the country.”

“In working with Dr. Ahart over the past three years, I have found him to be accessible, candid, and sincere in his approach to his work.  His commitment to DMPS is evidenced by the opportunities he took to advance our district and the role and importance of public education and the multiple ways he showed up for our staff and our students,” noted Dwana Bradley, chair of the Des Moines School Board. “Whether lobbying at the State Capitol or cheering in the stands of an athletic event – Dr. Ahart has always operated with the interests of our community, our district, and our students in mind.”

Some highlights of Dr. Ahart’s tenure as Superintendent include:

DMPS made educational equity a major focus of its work in recent years. As a result, the school district earned the Magna Award, the top honor from the National School Board Association, in recognition of its equity efforts.

A series of Anti-Racist Town Halls brought staff, students, families, and the community together to share ideas and concerns. These events led to changes such as adding two leadership positions to support diverse faculty and staff members as well as adopting a restorative justice model in schools.

The Community Schools model was born, resulting in an expansion of community partnerships providing families living with poverty and trauma with necessities such as food, clothing, medical care, behavioral health supports, and parenting classes. Community Schools also expanded services to families learning English, providing Bilingual Family Liaisons to help them acclimate.

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The BLUE contract was launched, a cooperative effort between DMPS and Drake University in which new teachers earned a Master of Science in Culturally Responsive Leadership. The initiative has helped the district retain 90 percent of new teachers in a field where nearly half leave the profession within their first five years.

The Skilled Trade Academy began at Central Campus, a partnership between the school, business and labor to provide educational, training and job opportunities for students in a variety of technical careers.

DMPS continued work to turn school buildings into Energy Star certified structures, saving taxpayer dollars and fighting climate change, earning the school district the Energy Star Partner of the Year for Sustained Excellence Award for nine years running.

The DMPS Virtual Campus was established, the first accredited online secondary school created entirely by Iowa educators.

The Class of 2019 set an all-time high graduation rate at DMPS.

DMPS was one of the first six school districts in the nation selected for a multi-year, multi-million-dollar initiative by the Wallace Foundation to improve the support and supervision of school principals to raise the quality of teaching and learning in schools.

Six Turnaround Art schools were launched within the North High School feeder pattern. The program, administered by the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, uses art across all subject areas to help students become more engaged and creative in their learning.

DMPS was a founding member of the Iowa Alliance Conference, which will begin competition next school year. The new athletic conference, comprised of 11 high schools across the state, will provide a more level playing field for student-athletes.

Two public votes on school district financial initiatives won overwhelming support. Extending the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) earned more than 64 percent of the vote while the district’s Revenue Purpose Statement on use of sales tax funds received over 82 percent of the vote.

The district expanded its partnership with Special Olympics of Iowa by establishing unified sports in many middle and high schools, pairing students without intellectual disabilities with students who have intellectual disabilities to play organized sports and grow inclusion within the district. The most recent highlight was Roosevelt High School being named a 2021 Special Olympics National Unified Champion School.

DMPS relied on expert public health advice throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to lower the risk of the virus spreading among students and staff while providing educational and support services as the crisis continued over the course of three school years.

Dr. Ahart has also had the opportunity to influence education policy on a national level, serving on the Regulations Negotiations Committee for the U.S. Department of Education’s Every Student Succeeds Act along with the Executive Committee for the Council of the Great City Schools.

“I will always hold gratitude in my heart for this community. Des Moines is where I have truly grown as an educator. Des Moines is where I have raised my family. Des Moines will always be home,” added Dr. Ahart. “I also know Des Moines is different than other school districts in Iowa. As big cities go, Des Moines is a small one, but being an urban center in a traditionally rural state brings with it unique challenges and unique rewards.”

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“During his 15 years in various roles with DMPS, Dr. Ahart has never shied away from the challenges and opportunities that come with leading Iowa’s largest school district,” added Bradley. “He has met every challenge while seeking out new opportunities for our students, staff and families and for this, I simply want to say thank you.”

Dr. Ahart was appointed superintendent of DMPS on March 12, 2013, after serving nearly a year as interim superintendent. He also served as associate superintendent and was principal of Harding Middle School for three years. Before joining DMPS he held positions with Ankeny Community Schools, Marshalltown Community Schools, and the Heartland Area Education Agency. Dr. Ahart also spent eleven years as a high school teacher. He holds a BA in speech and mass communications from the University of Denver and holds a Master’s of Public Administration, Ed.S and Ed.D degrees from Drake University.

Dr. Ahart’s resignation will be effective June 30, 2022.

Bradley noted, in the weeks ahead, the School Board will appoint an interim superintendent for the 2022-23 school year and announce plans for a national search for a new superintendent to be in place for the start of the 2023-24 school year.

Monday, February 28th, 2022

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